Army Men: Sarge's War Preview
3DO's latest entry in the Army Men franchise takes the little green men in a new direction on the GameCube.
3DO's Army Men franchise has been one of the mainstays in the company's portfolio since the first game hit the PlayStation in 1998. The subsequent entries in the series have taken the franchise in several different directions by focusing on different types of gameplay and developing an extended cast for the games with varying degrees of success. The latest entry in the franchise aims to make some radical changes to the Army Men landscape. Army Men: Sarge's War focuses on one of the most recognizable characters in the games, Sarge, and puts him in an action game with a darker edge to it. We had the chance to check out an early build of the game to see how this reinvention of Army Men is coming together on the GameCube.
The game's darker tone is set by a story that revolves around Sarge's conflict with Malice, an insane troublemaker who is displeased by the impending peace accords between the green and tan armies. In order to perk himself up, Malice plants a bomb in the middle of Green Town where representatives from both armies are gathering to sign a peace treaty and celebrate the event. Unfortunately Sarge discovers Malice's plans too late and is unable to stop the explosion, which wipes out his troops, including Vicki and General Plastro, as well as a healthy chunk of Green Town. The annihilation of his comrades gives Sarge ample motivation to take out Malice and provides a solid framework for the game.
Army Men: Sarge's War features a linear, mission-based structure that should be familiar to action-game veterans. You'll have a primary objective in each level with a varying number of assorted secondary objectives, such as capturing the tan army's flag hidden in each level or destroying a certain number of structures. The levels are broken up into sections that you'll travel between over the course of a level. Gameplay is pretty standard for a third-person shooter, and the controls let you lock onto a target, strafe, crouch, and perform all the actions you'd expect from a game in this genre. While the control is still being tweaked, the game handles pretty well even in its rough state. In addition to the single-player mode, the game will offer a split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players.
The graphics in Army Men: Sarge's War are surprisingly solid given the early state of the build. The game's look keeps with the dark tone of the story and makes use of a muted color palette, which contrasts with the brightly colored, cartoony look favored by earlier entries in the series. Even Sarge's own green coloring has been dulled down quite a bit to help him blend with the game's darker tone. The "plastosheen" look, which was one of the visual hallmarks of the previous games, has also been scaled back considerably. In terms of the character models and environments, Army Men: Sarge's War provides a solid, albeit conservative, visual package. Sarge's model features a good amount of detail and animates fairly smoothly. Enemy troops don't look quite as sharp, but they look good enough. The environments in the game do a fine job of conveying the gritty look the game is going after, although the geometry we've seen so far is very boxy. The early levels we've played are set in the ruins of Green Town and feature ruined buildings crawling with tan troops. The low-key graphics are being dressed up some by the inclusion of little touches, such as chunks of plastic blowing off Sarge and his foes as they take damage and scripted events such as air strikes raining plastic death from the sky. The frame rate was already fairly stable in our build, although it did hitch noticeably during awkward camera moments and when the onscreen action got too hectic.
The audio in the game plays a large part in conveying the game's darker tone, thanks to Sarge's moody voice-overs and commentary, as well as the ambient sound in the levels. Sarge's Snake Plissken-like growl and gunfire and battle cries off in the distance are effective at providing context for action in the game. You'll also hear a solid selection of effects for the various weapons in Sarge's arsenal. The game is slated to offer Dolby Pro Logi II support.
From what we've seen so far, Army Men: Sarge's War is shaping up to offer a distinct change of pace from the previous Army Men games. The game's darker story takes a bit of getting used to given the comical nature of the early games, but the tone is consistent enough to sell you on the events in the game. The gameplay is equally solid and is complemented by the promising performance of the early graphics engine. While other consoles on the market are facing a glut of shooters, the GameCube is still pretty thin in that area, which makes Army Men: Sarge's War a game that fans of the genre may want to be on the lookout for when it ships this spring.
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