Portal Runner Preview
Find out all about 3DO's latest installment in the Army Men saga, which puts a unique twist on the little green men's adventures.
3DO takes the Army Men franchise on a time-traveling detour in Portal Runner for the PlayStation 2, an action title starring the series' Vicki G. The game's plot revolves around Vicki's attempts to rescue Sarge from her archnemesis Brigitte Blue. Of course, like all villains, Brigitte has an evil plan to stop the perky green heroine. As a result, Vicki must journey through various eras in time, armed with just a bow and arrow, to get back and kick some plastic blue butt. The game offers a departure from the previous Army Men titles by focusing on more traditional gameplay elements such as solving puzzles, collecting items, jumping platforms, and exploring.
Portal Runner is easily the most visually ambitious game in the Army Men series to date. The game offers five worlds to explore with prehistoric, medieval, and space themes blended with the "their world" and "our world" levels players have come to expect from the Army Men games. Each of the various locales Vicki finds herself in is large and detailed, showcasing a great deal of color. The specialized arrows Vicki uses--fire, explosive, water, lightning, trident, prismatic, and gold--all have distinct effects that reflect their types of attack. Environmental touches, such as mist hanging over ice platforms and rainbows visible near waterfalls, give the worlds distinct personalities. The various items Vicki collects--jewels to increase the size of her life bar and hearts to refill it--are bright and colorful.
Vicki herself looks quite fetching. While her model isn't quite as detailed as it could be, it gets the job done. As she journeys to each world she is given a new outfit that reflects her surroundings, resulting in a new look every time (sometimes fatigues just won't do). Vicki's partner in her new adventures, Leo the lion, almost fares as well. Leo's model is solid and he looks imposing enough, though his mane is unfortunately a bit on the stiff side. Enemies in the game, such as rock creatures, dinosaurs, knights, and aliens, are all well modeled and suitably menacing. Even the gingerbread men look pretty dangerous, as far as baked goods go.
Gameplay is shaping up to offer a nice amount of variety to keep the action from getting too repetitive. Over the course of the game, you will have to explore some levels controlling Vicki or Leo individually, while in other levels Vicki and Leo will work together on foot. In yet other levels, Vicki will actually ride Leo. In levels where Vicki and Leo work together, control of Leo is fairly limited. Leo follows Vicki through a level and can be ordered to "stay" and "attack." A meter can be charged to power up his attack to make taking out enemies easier.
Control in the game works fairly well. You move Vicki with the left analog stick, and you strafe in a fight with the L1 and R1 triggers. The camera can be rotated with the right stick. Pushing in on the stick will re-center the camera behind Vicki, when needed. The select button cycles through the available views in the game. Basic actions in the game are pretty well mapped out. Square fires Vicki's arrows, while X triggers her jump and climb. The circle switches to a first-person view, with an aiming sight for precision shooting, and the triangle, finally, cycles through Vicki's inventory of items and the eight different arrow types she can carry. When Leo is accompanying Vicki, L2 charges up his attack meter and sets him on an enemy, while R2 orders him to stay.
The control setup takes a bit of getting used to, but it works fairly well. Vicki's not quite as agile as Lara Croft, but her array of moves gets the job done. The independent camera, which is a bit awkward at first, works very well during the required platform jumping in many of the levels. The ability to move the camera and lock it at a specific angle while jumping seems to keep falling deaths to a minimum.
The preview build we played with handled pretty well. The game's frame rate was a fairly constant 30 frames per second, although it did dip and stutter depending on the environments and action onscreen. The platforming segments felt about right and provided a nice showcase for the independent camera control, which worked like a charm. When running and firing at enemies in the third-person view, the game provided a certain degree of auto-targeting, which made taking out enemies pretty easy. The only rough spot so far seems to come when controlling Leo, who's a bit limited in his actions. With just the two commands, interacting with him isn't as immersive as it could be.
On the plus side, level design is a solid mix of accessible gameplay peppered with hidden elements to satisfy more-seasoned gamers. All that's basically required to complete a level is to meet the various objectives spelled out at the start. However, more intrepid gamers will be rewarded for exploring and finding every crystal and secret area in the level. Clearing a level with 100 percent will unlock certain things, including hidden gallery images. In the single-player game, there will be 20 levels to explore over the five worlds. A multiplayer mode is included, which will allow two players to duke it out on six multiplayer maps taken from the single-player game. The space level even offers an extra challenge, thanks to the ability to turn gravity on and off, which results in some spectacular jumps. So far, the game is showing some potential and looks to be a solid entry in the PlayStation 2 catalog once it's been tweaked. Portal Runner will be released this fall.
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