It’s hard keeping track of all the Army Men releases. For example, the back of the case for Army Men: World War bills it as the follow-up to Army Men 3D. In what way? In terms of narrative, Army Men II continues the story. If you look at genre, sources indicate that Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes came out nearly a month earlier on Playstation, and earlier than that on N64. Heck, if we just look at the Army Men series as a whole on the original Playstation, Army Men: Air Attack was released second. By almost every metric, Army Men: World War is not the follow-up to Army Men 3D. Just to make things more confusing, Army Men: World War on PC is an entirely different game with a style more akin to the original sub-series.
That was a bit off-topic, but circling back, the Army Men series is a sprawling tangle of games. It covers a multitude of genres, consists of a handful of sub-series, and features a variety of ports that are unrelated to the original. The individual games alone might be designed by an entirely different group of people, so the quality of one, doesn’t necessarily predict the quality of the next.
Case in point, Army Men: World War.
THE PLASTIC WORLD AT WAR
The World War series consist of four games, all on the Playstation (aside from the unrelated one on PC). What separates them from the other games in the franchise is their groundedness. Forget portals to other worlds, giant kitchens, and super-weapons; the World War series is straight up plastic warfare without the frills.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing that separates it from your typical war game. The main campaign itself borrows heavily from the Second World War, but with the aggressors replaced with green and tan plastic soldiers. It keeps fairly faithful to the ubiquitous toys, so instead of period accurate equipment, you’re still rocking an M16 and dodging fire from helicopters. However, you’re doing this while charging the beaches of Normandy and creeping through a Pacific island jungle. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that feels exactly like a recreation of Saving Private Ryan using the restrictions of the dollar store figurines and helps the game retain its own personality.
TOYS FOR TROOPS
World War consists of over a dozen missions across three theatres of operation. There’s a strong, playful variety among the missions, both visually and in terms of gameplay. Environments are very detailed, especially for an early 3D game like this, and the visual separation between the early jungle levels and the mountainous terrain of the later levels is quite stark. Likewise, the objectives range anywhere from busting POW’s out of camps to manning a train-mounted cannon. It’s a game that is very good at presenting new situations, and while it doesn’t flow all that well together, it keeps things interesting throughout it’s running time.
Though, it’s a rather short running time. I personally finished the game in a couple sittings at the default difficulty. Speaking of which, the game’s challenge fluctuates wildly throughout. I dropped a number of lives on the third level attempting to get past a helicopter guarding a bridge, but flew through the first few missions of the last campaign. One mission has you load up on a tonne of bazooka and mortar rounds to try and take a bridge from the enemy, but when the time came to actually do so, I was shocked by how little resistance they put up. It was quite an anti-climax; most of that ammunition was useless.
At other points, the game requires near clairvoyance to avert disaster. On the aforementioned train level, near the very end is a collision that you’d need prior knowledge of to avoid on the first attempt. It’s not as bad as Army Men 3D’s tendency to drop bazooka infantry directly at the end of the level, but there are moments where the game deserves to have a middle finger thrown at it.
REALER COMBAT. PLASTIC-ER MEN?
Whereas the original Army Men series went off the rails into absurdity with Army Men II, and Sarge’s Heroes introduced us to a more cartoon-y take on third-person shooting, World War is decidedly grounded. There’s no real storytelling or dialogue, and aside from the anachronistic inclusion of technology from different eras and the obvious focus on plastic infantry, it doesn’t deviate too far into farce. Nothing shows up on the battlefield that would imply that these are toys fighting it out, which is pretty unusual for the series. Even the series’ staple flamethrower makes scant appearances (I only witnessed it used by enemies in the main campaign). The colour scheme is extremely subdued to depict a harsher battlefield, though this has the disadvantage of making the graphics dark and murky.
Yet there’s still a degree of playfulness to it. Soldiers still melt, chunks fly off when shot, and if you’re hit by an explosive, your rigid figure bounces away like a lifeless toy. Each mission is capped off with a spinning newspaper displaying a headline related to your recent success. Aside from the setting, it doesn’t seem to make much effort to present a realistic experience. It strikes a nice balance, keeping the series identity in tact, but presenting something slightly more straight-faced.
I honestly thought that I wouldn’t like the World War series. Back when I was young, I was admittedly jealous of the Playstation receiving games in the series that I didn’t have access to on my N64, but as I got older, I began thinking that what I loved about the Army Men games was its depictions of war within familiar environments, such as kitchens. This proves not to be the case, as I actually found myself enjoying World War. It was actually quite shocking, especially given my experience with the series thus far.
Sure, the game suffers from the Playstation-era uglies, and it features a lot of the series staple eccentricities, such as absolutely daft AI and a tendency to overestimate the player’s clairvoyance, but it offsets these issues by displaying the same inventiveness that has also elevated some other games within the Army Men series to a tolerable standard. It’s always throwing new surprises at you, and it almost seems aware of its deficiencies in a way that allows it to work around them. If there’s one major downside, it’s a pretty short game. If I was writing this at the game’s release, that would be enough to make me suggest a rental, but since this is the far-flung, dystopian future, it can be found cheap enough to be worth it.
This review was conducted on a backwards compatible PS3 using an original copy of the game. The game was paid for by the author.