I really didn't know what to expect from 3DO's sequel to their original action/adventure game Army Men, a title that was not without some noteworthy problems. If the game was going to rely on simple nostalgia as a drawing card for us gamers who used to play with these tiny plastic creatures as kids, it seemed doomed since the original game would have scratched that itch. Apparently, though, legions of multi-player fans made enough noise and commotion to convince the company that the need for Army Men II was a viable option and they chose to exercise it.
What I found was a game that was definitely improved over its predecessor. Unfortunately, even though many of the weaker areas of the game are successfully addressed in this iteration (a sure sign that 3DO continues to listen seriously to fan feedback), other wounds are opened, albeit none of the fatal variety. There is, however, one major fault that lays a pall of smoke over the virtual battlefields and, indeed, it concerns movement.
Sarge and his troops are now much easier to control through the use of two methodologies, each of which works quite well. You can order Sarge and his brothers in arms around obstacles, through sticky situations and over previously impassable barriers by utilizing the point-and-click options (incremental steps or by holding the LMB down and leading him with your cursor like a carrot in front of a horse). Also available is the tried and true method of using keyboard arrow keys to march him through his paces.
Unfortunately, all these workable movement options can become unnecessarily frustrating due to the baffling lack of a coherent path finding feature. All too often the player will have to coax Sarge and his troops from point A to point B to point C by employing an annoying series of tiny steps or they'll wander like lost souls in the wilderness. Even worse is the very real threat that Sarge's men can actually get in his way at times causing potentially catastrophic battle casualties if confronted with an in-your-face enemy troop at an inopportune time. But, even with these problems, movement is still improved over the original.
If you choose to use the keyboard as the main input device, the good news is that most of the key commands can be remapped to your own specifications. There are a couple of methods for initiating multiple troop movement. One is by clicking on individuals while holding the Control key down and the other requires drawing an on-screen rectangle around them. Both work nicely but the entire exercise can fall prey to the ugly path finding snafu.
One of the new features that represents a double-time step forward in the series is the wonderful addition of cumulative experience points for the individual squad members. This results in a more elite force as the missions roll by (assuming you can keep them alive) and gives added incentive to more carefully position your troops from situation to situation. The more elite the trooper is (up to five yellow/gold stars), the more accurate he'll be in combat and the more hit points he'll develop. This feature alone adds a new level of strategy to the basic game.
Also welcome are the many new weapons and vehicles now available. My favorite is the aerosol can and lighter that can be used as a flame-thrower (love to melt those Tan troops into a gooey mess right in their shoes) but the more practical new weapon is the sniper rifle, a deadly addition to Sarge's ever growing arsenal. Another very handy feature is the usage-count that accompanies most weapons as well as the easy shift from one weapon to another (maximum of six can be carried at any given time).
In the area of weapons and health, power-ups play a much bigger part in Army Men II. Just moving Sarge over a box on the ground will garner additional ammo or health benefits for himself and his men. If you happen to be at the limit of six items (Sarge's maximum load) and come across a new weapon you want, dropping an item is no longer a penalty as it now assumes the shape of a power-up that can be reclaimed later. Of course, you can still acquire items that enemies drop as well.
The biggest advance in vehicular capability is the venerable PT Boat that can carry up to six units at a time. Steering can be problematical at times due to that aforementioned pathfinder glitch but I suppose the zigzag effect could be considered tactical -- not! Other important modes of transportation include tanks, half-tracks, jeeps and cargo trucks, all of which are controlled by the same methods used in troop movement.
One of the notable new game features is the switch back and forth between the "real world" and Sarge's plastic world through the use of portals or teleport devices. In the real world, you'll get to carry out missions in locations such as a kitchen (watch out for those burners!), the yard, a garage and the bedroom. Unfortunately, the mix of missions leans more toward the "plastic world" but that's what add-on mission packs are for, right?
Successful completion of each mission automatically invokes orders for the next one in the full campaign game. For the most part, the single-player missions are well balanced and ultimately fair but be prepared for a few that will be devilishly difficult to complete due to seemingly out of reach objectives. But, there is always a way and finding it becomes a large part of the challenge in addition to fighting tooth and nail (wait a minute...these things are plastic!) over every inch (literally) of the combat zone.
Multi-player fans haven't been left out of the picture as evidenced by the huge segment of the manual that addresses multi-play issues. I have seen some discontented rumblings around various sites on the Internet by the multi-player contingent that seem to revolve around the lack of an option to play any of the "real world" maps in on-line competition. Not being a multi-play fanatic myself, I can't vouch for the accuracy of those grumbles but perhaps, if true, that would auger well for a future scenario builder or map-maker option by 3DO in the next iteration.
Despite the few nagging problems I've mentioned, I found the entire game to be more enjoyable than the original. To my way of thinking, if sequels don't grow and exceed the roots planted in the original, then they deservedly become labeled as failures. But, if the opposite is true, as in this case, then I'm left with the happy task of giving due credit. Perhaps in this case, we could scare up a medal for Sarge!
Graphics: Pleasingly clear (most of the time), nice backgrounds, interesting environments, and some clever obstacles, although at times the graphics are a bit mundane and suffer from a (dare I say it?) plastic-look in the speeding PT Boat sequences. Overall, though, better than average, with some well done (and funny) cut-scenes.
Sound: Even though the music isn't always exactly right for every situation, I found the unusual choice of classical music to be immensely satisfying while playing. The urge to turn it off wasn't as overwhelming as it so often is in this type of game. The voice acting ranges from good to great and the sounds are very appropriate.
Enjoyment: Although a much better package than the original, the unfortunate in-game confusion and congestion caused by the lack of a "smart" pathing feature is annoying at times, resulting in undesirable consequences when trying to complete missions, especially those incorporating a time consideration. Gameplay would have been excellent, but for that aspect. Still, I enjoyed Army Men II more than the original.
Replay Value: Not as bad as you might think for an action oriented game. Mission objectives remain the same regardless of how many times you play, but the means for completing them can differ depending on the experience of the troops, weapons used, and other factors.
People who downloaded Army Men 2 have also downloaded:
Army Men, Army Men: World War, Army Men: Air Tactics, Army Men: Sarge's Heroes, Army Men: Air Attack, Army Men: Sarge's War, Army Men: RTS, Army Men: Toys in Space
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