The Army Men franchise has been very successful for 3DO over the years, yet few Army Men games since the original have made it to the PC. It was probably only a matter of time before an Army Men installment let you control an entire brigade of those little green plastic men in a real-time strategy game, which is exactly what Army Men: RTS does. The game originally debuted on the PlayStation 2, but Army Men: RTS feels right at home on the PC. That's no doubt partly because it was created by Pandemic Studios, an experienced developer of real-time strategy games. Army Men: RTS maintains the broad appeal of the series, as its basic design makes it very easy for players to pick up and enjoy, though die-hard fans of the genre will find it frustrating at times.
Army Men: RTS places the Green army under your direct control in a series of campaign missions and single-scenario battles called the "great battles." The campaign has you chasing after a rogue Green general who joined your archenemy, the Tan army. Your pursuit will place you on battlefields ranging from a backyard to kitchen countertops. The owner of the house that's the stage for the battles in Army Men: RTS must be quite messy--there are toys and garbage spilled all over the place. The mess is a benefit to you, though. Some of the things lying around can be used to harvest resources. There are two resources you'll need to construct an army: plastic and electricity. Plastic can be found in items like dog bowls and action figures, and you can even harvest some from dead units. Electricity can be acquired by finding things like watches or flashlights. Some missions also have power-ups that will boost troops' speed or firepower.
The campaign has varying objectives for each mission. The Green army will face challenges like having to destroy a Tan base, capture an infinite source of power, or escape from a basement infested with ants. Each mission also includes two secondary objectives called medal goals. Completing one goal will grant you a silver medal, while finishing both will give you a shiny gold medal. Accumulating medals will unlock new great battle scenarios. Completing one medal goal in a mission is easy, but getting both goals can be quite difficult at times. That's because the goals can conflict with each other. For example, one goal may be to finish the mission in a certain amount of time, while the other requires you to find every power-up on the map. You most likely wouldn't find all the power-ups in time on a mission you're not familiar with.
Army Men: RTS plays like a standard real-time strategy game. While there are some missions where you have only a small squad of soldiers, most of them allow you to build a base and produce troops. In these cases, you'll start out with a bulldozer that is used to build structures like the HQ and the resource depot. The barracks produce infantry and the garage produces vehicles. All these buildings can be upgraded to produce advanced units. You can also build defensive structures like a sentry tower and an AA gun.
The units themselves are well prepared for the war against the Tan army. There are several types of infantry--the basic grunt, the grenadier, and the sniper are only a few of the little green men you'll command. There are also several types of vehicles like the tank and helicopter that support your infantry, and a medic vehicle can be deployed to repair units and buildings. You need to field a balanced army in order to survive encounters with the enemy. Grunts form the backbone of the Green army, but they get chewed up by just about anything if they don't have any backup. Part of putting together a balanced military force is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the different unit types--for example, tanks can't fire at air units, mortar men can only attack buildings, and bazooka men are effective against vehicles. There's quite a bit to keep track of, but not so much that it gets confusing.
Despite the variety of units, Army Men: RTS does have several limitations that will turn off hard-core RTS players. First of all, you can only create up to four unit groups. Considering that there are so many different types of units, this is a severe constraint. What makes it worse is the fact that you can't easily select units. You can't double-click on a unit to call up everyone of its type, so you'll have to rely on selecting them by clicking and dragging a bandbox around them. Fortunately, the bandbox won't select non-combat units when you're trying to select a group. In addition, the unit pathfinding in Army Men: RTS has some problems--units will normally find their way around obstacles with ease, but once your units get into large groups, they will have trouble trying to get around each other. This can make attacks really frustrating because your front-line units may get stuck behind other units, leaving weaker support troops unprotected. Another limitation that will disappoint some RTS fans is the lack of a random skirmish mode. The great battles aren't enough to bring added replay value to the game, especially since the environments seen in them are straight from the campaign.
The computer's artificial intelligence in Army Men: RTS is decent, but it also has a few weaknesses. Non-combat units will flee if they are attacked, and the medic will constantly move to heal injured units. Dump trucks will automatically find resources to harvest, and it will even set its own priorities according to your current stores of plastic and electricity. The major problem in the AI is the lack of a behavior setting. Your units will automatically move to attack enemies when they get within sight. It really becomes an issue when trying to destroy enemy defensive structures. Your mortar men need another unit to have the towers in their sight, but that unit will move to attack the tower unless you have it selected and constantly hit the S key to force it to stop.
The Green army will often employ hero units to get the job done. Cutscenes between every mission help add to the heroes' personalities. Sarge, the tough leader, is found in every mission. The other heroes are unique versions of other basic troops. Their presence adds character to the basic elements in the game, and as such it can be depressing to see them die in a mission.
The game's 3D graphics aren't incredibly impressive, but the game has enough style to make up for it. Each of the house's rooms is detailed thoroughly. The kitchen counter has stovetops and cutting boards with chopped onions, while the living room has video games and toys lying around everywhere. You would definitely get caught up in the game's whimsical nature if it weren't for Sarge's deadly serious tone. The rest of the game's audio is utilitarian--it gets the job done, but it isn't anything to write home about. The music is militaristic and well suited to the game, but it eventually becomes repetitive. The sounds themselves are bland, and most of the troop types have a small number of speech clips.
Overall, Army Men: RTS does a good job of creating a real-time strategy game based on the classic line of plastic toys. Although not particularly challenging, the campaign mode will keep you busy for a while. The lack of a skirmish mode is a drag, but at least there is a multiplayer mode in which you can challenge your friends to a plastic duel. The bottom line is that the game is very easy to play and quite fun despite its limitations. Gamers who have had no RTS experience will be able to dive right in. Meanwhile, though hard-core RTS players won't find Army Men: RTS to be one of the more sophisticated games in the genre, they'll at least be able to enjoy its originality.