In video games, my greatest guilty pleasure is the Army Men series. I love the green plastic figures from which the heroes and villains of that franchise are derived. Those mass produced, platform footed soldiers provided a frequent source of entertainment for me as I grew up, starting with a Toy Story Bucket O Soldiers. That’s where my love of the Army Men games stems from; I can’t account for why I love to play them.
Between 1998 and 3D0’s bankruptcy in 2003, the company produced somewhere around 20 titles in the series (not counting ports, some of which could be considered entirely different games), and the quality of these titles are shaky at best. Few of them manage to breach the threshold of mediocrity and many descend into the realm of being unplayable. Even the ones that can actually be referred to as “enjoyable” come with the caveat of “despite its many deficiencies.”
Army Men 3D is not one of those games.
THE NEW DIMENSION
When the Army Men series first appeared on the scene in 1998, it featured a 2D fixed isometric perspective. Army Men 3D is a remake of that, lifting the missions and structure of its 2D sibling. But while a 1 year gap may seem like a bit early to be remaking a game, it helps justify its existence by shifting the camera into a third-person perspective and moving platforms from Windows to Playstation. Being able to see a game change dimensions is always a pretty cool experience, but that’s one of a scarce few positive things I can say about the game.
The Army Men series is almost invariable centered around an ongoing war between the Green Army and the Tan Army. Very little is said in the way of what motivates this war or even what differentiates the two sides, but the important information is there: Green = good, Tan = bad. I guess when you’re a dude born with a bazooka fused to you palms, your career options are probably limited.
For Army Men 3D, you play as recurring protagonist, Sargeant Hawk, who’s as generic as the toy he’s based upon. You’re given a series of missions within three locales that are tied together very loosely. There is an overarching plot involving the collection of three keys for a rumoured Tan super-weapon, and there is some pay off at the end. There’s no real world-building, nor is the war really explained. It seems to just come down to the colour of one’s plastic.
THE ONLY COMPETENT MEMBER OF THE WHOLE WAR
You’ll quickly find that Sarge is the only competent member of the whole war. Enemy soldiers don’t move, or more accurately, they don’t move well. Sometimes you’ll see them scurry across the battlefield in paths that they’re scripted to follow once you wander up, but once their feet are planted, they often only rotate to hit you. If you move out of view, they won’t follow. Chuck a grenade at their feet, and they’ll just stand there waiting for it to go off. As you fidget behind cover to get a shot at them, they will wait patiently. Just to make things more pathetic, a lot of their weapons have very limited range, and they’re helpless to do anything as you stand out of reach, lining your sights up with their face.
Surprisingly, there are some soldiers with legs more limber than their comrades, but they’re bewilderingly daft and laughably ineffective. They run at you, struggling to navigate even the most level of terrain. The plastic used to craft them is evidently of very cheap quality, because they take a dive after anything firmer than a slight breeze hits them. Only the tanks can survive more than a sneeze, even the enclosed turrets on one of the earlier levels crack with a single bullet, a sight that is absurdly hilarious.
The friendly AI is worse. They’re just as daft and weak as the enemies, but your mission depends on their well being, and that’s a bugger. Few missions that included fellow greens went well for me. On one mission, you have to lead them through a minefield by first defusing the mines with a sweeper. Every time I’d interact with them, they’d take two steps, find a mine I hadn’t swept, and explode. It was uncanny. Sometimes, they’d be so excited to see me that they’d rush at me before I could even finish sweeping and immediately explode. Another level has you guarding a grey ally, and the mission kicks off with you getting rushed by enemies. The grey can take exactly one hit and the enemies always zero directly in on them.
Not that Sarge is really that much better off. A machinegun can cut down your little green man in an instant if you’re not careful. They can also pivot to aim at you in a split second and have ridiculous accuracy. That’s annoying, but with a little Green ingenuity, you can easily outsmart the Tan menace. The game itself, on the other hand, has a tremendous advantage against you and exercises it frequently on later levels. The developers seem to find it funny to spawn a bazooka soldier directly at a level’s final objective in one final gambit to prevent you from reaching it. Dick move, game.
Then there’s the vehicles, the inclusion of which looks good on paper, if nothing else. The reality of it is that they’re a nuisance that should only be interacted with if no other alternative is present. Very little thought went into the tanks and jeeps you encounter. The sound of their engines is a grating hum, not unlike the hum of a vacuum cleaner, and their controls are drunkenly terrible. As you accelerate, the sensitivity of the steering accelerates with it, meaning a gentle touch at top speed will result in the vehicle taking a sharp turn, usually into an obstacle. It’s almost like the game itself accelerates around the vehicle, playing everything in fast forward.
ONLY PLASTIC DEEP
Army Men 3D was released during a brief period when there was still a modicum of good will for the series. The original Army Men was generally well received, well enough that when the series went into a tailspin, many looked back at it as though it was a classic being repeatedly besmirched. Army Men 3D, would be a pretty early example of that besmirchment. It’s an extremely slapdash attempt to translate the isometric Army Men to a 3D shooter.
A lot suffers as a result. Vehicles feel pointless, encountering friendly soldiers incites a feeling of dread, and the weapon selection is so stunted that there are few reasons to swap away from the default rifle. Outside the plastic cast, it’s a game that’s bereft of any of the personality or character found in the original, and fails to provide any convincing reason to tolerate its inept design. Only my complicated relationship with the series was able to compel me through to the end, but unless you find yourself with a similar need to dredge the swamp of Army Men titles, I’d recommend avoiding this entry altogether. It would be a stretch to say it’s a bad game, but it does little to justify its existence.
This review was conducted using the backwards compatibility on the PS3 and a “Greatest Hits” copy of the game. The game was pulled from a bargain bin by the author.