When I was younger, I owned an N64. I had access to a Playstation through a friend, but still missed out on the Playstation exclusive Army Men: World War games, so my former experience with them is relegated to magazine advertisements. This made the sub-series rather confusing, since they each came out with the World War subtitle, but each time appended yet another title. They looked like expansion packs, and with names like Team Assault and Land Sea Air, I actually thought they were multi-player focused.
I’m not sure what the point of that preamble was, other than maybe to illustrate that having two subtitles is dumb. Moving on, I actually really enjoyed Army Men: World War, which I found somewhat surprising. I always thought that what I liked best about the Army Men series was the enlarged, real world locations that transplant the battlefield to familiar places, like kitchen counters. World War proved that I’m always up for some dumb fun with the little plastic men, regardless of locale. The second game in the sub-series, Army Men: World War: Land Sea Air, merely proves just how much you can screw up, even when trying to build a game off an established framework.
BACK TO THE FRONT
On the surface, Land Sea Air will be intimately familiar to anyone who played the first World War. The song remains the same: you’re a green plastic soldier locked in an eternal struggle with the opposing tan army. True to the name, the battlefields have the distinct feel of the Second World War. This time around, the levels are divided into five operations with three missions a piece. As the name touts, additional vehicle missions have been injected in, with an expanded variety, giving each operation one on-rails section ranging from tanks to planes. Mechanically, it’s not much of a divergence.
That’s probably the nicest thing I can say about the game; it’s at least similar to the first game. The same delightful anachronism is retained, with troops wielding their M16’s and battling helicopters on WW2 era battlefields. The variety between missions and operations is still broad, though many of the settings and setpieces are carried over from the previous game. That’s not to say that everything is recycled, just a lot of it is. No new weapons are added, as far as I can tell, aside from the ones mounted to new vehicles. There aren’t really any new settings or locations, repeating the ruined cities, the jungles, and the forests of the first game in the sub-series. My initial impression about the sequels in the World War series being mere expansions doesn’t seem that too far off when it comes to Land Sea Air.
I’M DONE FOR, GO ON WITHOUT ME
After spending so many hours with Land Sea Air, I can only wish it was more of the same. The game feels more like if World War was designed by Skeletor. It’s an exercise in frustration and has allowed Land Sea Air to claim the title of Army Men game that has had the most swear words thrown its way. It feels like it hasn’t been play tested, because I can’t imagine anyone playing it and not asking the director to be less of a dick.
It starts humbly enough, throwing a stiff but reasonable opposition at the player, but it all goes south starting with the fifth level, which involves manning a pair of gun turrets to defend a bomber. Someone calls out what direction you’re about to be attacked from (11 o’clock, 6 o’clock, etc.), and you have to gun down the fighters as they come at you. It’s a mission that demands perfection that can only be achieved by playing it a few dozen time’s to learn where and how the enemies spawn. The fighters that assault your craft spawn at close range and failing to down them within an unreasonably brief amount of time results in taking damage. The mission goes on for a long time, so even if you’ve shot down every incoming fighter as they come into view, the small amounts of damage you take each time builds up until you’re taken down. By the time I was able to finally able to survive, I had memorized where the enemies spawn from, down to the angle I had to aim at and still barely managed to squeak by.
I’d thought that, perhaps, this would be a one-off stumble and that the game would get back on track, but a lot of the design requires this sort of perfection. A few missions later, I was placed in a tank, and I’d never been so miserable to be placed in one of those iron (or plastic, whatever) behemoths. You man the guns as the machine totters through the ruins of the city, and your job is to simply ensure that anti-tank crews don’t anti your tank. The biggest threat is, of course, other tanks, which are made deadlier by the fact that they have prior knowledge of where you are and don’t miss their shots. So the moment they roll into view, they’re ready to fire and they don’t give much of a chance to counter that. The whole mission has absolutely no mercy and will continue rolling in new tanks until the very end, just to ensure that you don’t make it. Once again, this requires you to keep trying until you know where these tanks are going to come from, and aim at their position before they have a chance to roll completely into view.
THE MOLES ARE ANGRY
This isn’t just isolated to vehicle missions either. The enemy AI in the infantry sections have had their senses heightened and their equipment upgraded. Similar to Army Men 3D, your plastic soldier is only about one machine gun burst away from death, and the tans don’t miss. Unlike Army Men 3D, where the machine guns are hampered by poor range, the enemies in Land Sea Air can hit you from the other side of infinity without effort, and if they’re alerted to your position, they never lose track of it. It doesn’t matter what cover you put between them and you, nor does it matter whether or not you’re prone or standing, they can hit you. They don’t miss!
This turns the gameplay into a round of Whack-a-mole where the moles fight back and have bigger mallets. You once again have to memorize enemy positions and find out how best to counter them; finding locations where you can’t be hit but allow you to target them. It’s maddening, especially because the Army Men series general janky-ness is on display here. I had one situation where I needed to take out a machine gunner who was hiding behind a tree, and he was firing repeatedly into it, which meant the moment I exposed one inch of my green butt, it was going to be shot directly off. So I carefully tried repositioning so I could get to a place where I could hit the dude, when suddenly his bullets magically phased through the tree and perforated my plastic hide. My memories of what happened after are fuzzy, but when I awoke, I was miles from home and had the taste of blood in my mouth.
A LOST CAUSE
Does any of that sound fun to you? I don’t feel I even need to get into any of the game’s facets or even give any more of an overview of the mechanics because all of that is clouded by how aggressively painful it is to play. The levels are designed like they weren’t played by anyone aside from the creator, so absolute knowledge of every intricate detail is required. It’s a long, unforgiving, choreographed bullet ballet that demands repetition to see it through. This is by far the worst Army Men game I’ve encountered to date. Neither Sarge’s Heroes 2 nor that god-awful airplane mission in Soldiers of Misfortune have managed to make me so miserable.
Just to add on top of that, it’s a huge disappointment. I actually liked Army Men: World War, in spite of some reservations. I had high hopes for the World War sub-series, but it turns out that it’s just another minefield in the franchise. There are still two World War games to get through, surely the rest can’t be this bad?
This review was conducted on a backwards compatible PS3 using an original copy of the game. It was purchased by the reviewer, and despite their every impulse, still manages to survive to this day.