The latest in the series, Army Men: Sarge's Heroes for the PS2, improves upon what has come before in what remains essentially a cleaned-up port of the N64 adventure game. We got a chance to play a near-final copy of Sarge's and came away with a good idea of what's in store for the US release.
The familiar set of Army Men characters stars once again in this part of the chronology. They include Sarge and Vikki Grimm, the two main characters, as well as a supporting cast of grunts and a colorful, stereotypical set of bad guys, including the Tan army's menace, General Plastro, and the Blue superspy, Brigitte Bleu. Alternating between Vikki and Sarge in the story mode, you are armed with a standard M-16 and can find an assortment of other weaponry such as a sniper rifle, bazooka, flamethrower, firecrackers, and grenades.
The Tan and Green armies have been warring for what seems like an eternity, but General Plastro has found what may tip the scales in their favor in an untapped resource: the toy soldiers of the other world -the real world.. The Green army, having made several forays into this new land, is faced with a disease called plastrification. Brave soldiers, who have taken portals to this world, have returned stiff and immobile, with bases attached to their feet. The answer lies in the capture of the Tan army's General Tannenberg and the defeat of Brigitte Bleu, who supposedly holds the secret to antiplastrification.
Each of the levels requires the completion of a number of tasks, such as safeguarding a supporting character, destroying enemy troops, and reaching a certain rendezvous point, like the timeless tin of soldiers. The missions, in which you team up with one of the other heroes, are particularly enjoyable, although safeguarding their well-being can be a chore at best. These missions require you to sit around and shoot their attackers instead of charge headfirst across enemy lines, which would be much more fun.
Before each level, a cinematic sequence relaying the latest events in the story is unveiled. The cinemas are extremely well done, with good voice work accompanying the impressive graphics. The 17 environments are crisp and polished, with a good amount of attention to detail. Surfaces and textures have a more realistic look to them than ever before, even with the addition of shameless plugs and corporate logos in their level designs. The enemy character models move fluidly--they flee, shoot, turn around, lob grenades, and die impressively. However, your own character model is drab and small, and up close, the animation isn't very impressive when pitted against PS2 standards. Zooming in with the sniper rifle will give you a good look at just how plain some of the characters are. Explosions are plentiful and impressive, if a bit over the top, and the bullet effects add to a very frantic environment during the story mode. There are an abundance of characters onscreen at once--they all shoot, burn, and run at a good pace with very little apparent slowdown.
The control set is simple enough, with a face button for shooting, jumping, crouching/crawling, and selecting weapons. The left- and right-trigger buttons control both strafing and zooming. While circle-strafing is definitely possible, the animation while you're turning is a bit choppy--almost as if the camera is lagging a frame or two behind. The camera flip button lets you instantly perform a 180-degree turn, although no turning animation accompanies this. It seems that your character is just instantly facing the other direction when you activate it. During the story mode, Sarge and Vikki can get a target lock-on for improved aiming, which is necessary for any kind of success with the otherwise shoddy targeting system. The enemy AI also seems to be brutal at times, their aim unerring even when strafing, jumping, and ducking behind cover.
The sound effects accompanying the whizzing bullets and ricochets are effective, but they aren't up to the quality of the cutscene's voice acting. The carnage of an exploding toy soldier battlefield was aurally well represented, although there was a distinct lack of any enjoyable background music.
Sarge's Heroes 2 offers a number of options aside from its single-player adventure mode, including a viewer for watching unlocked cinemas, a collection of character bios, and a pair of multiplayer modes named deathmatch and family for competitive and cooperative play. The multiplayer modes are passable enough, although the relatively small size of the damage meter, destructive capabilities of the weapon power-ups, and limit of two players make them a temporary diversion at best. Turning the options to unlimited lives is a necessity for any kind of prolonged competition. A number of unlockable characters, level passwords, and cheats round out the package.
Sarge's Heroes 2 on the PS2 looks like a graphically competent action game that might attract fans of the series. It will remain to be seen whether or not the Army Men franchise will succeed on the PS2. Check back here for our upcoming review.