Army Men 3D is a three-dimensional war game wherein you act as a commando-like soldier in a world gone completely Saving Private Ryan, plastic, and lilliputian. It's a world with some narrative behind it, so a history lesson is necessary before we proceed. After shifting solely to software development awhile back, 3DO introduced a lighthearted real-time strategy game to the PC revolving around little plastic army men named... Army Men, and since it sold well, the company developed the concept into a franchise. To date, another PC strategy game as well as this one (a third-person shooter) has been released, while a third-person N64 adventure game (Army Men: Sarge's Heroes) and a PlayStation helicopter game (Army Men: Air Attack) have been announced.
Army Men 3D places you as Sarge, a lone soldier whose missions involve rescuing captured troops and returning them across a minefield, taking on an enemy fortress unaided, retrieving sensitive documents from spies in the field, sabotaging bridges and radar dishes, and the like. You're in the Green army, which is at war with the Tan, and you've got an arsenal ranging from machine guns and bazookas to flame throwers and grenades all of which you use to fight the good fight. There are even jeeps and tanks for you to drive around and over people.
Sound like a good concept? It is. There are a few really neat things about the game. Sneaking around as a commando and ducking behind rocks to avoid enemy fire can be very fun, and a number of the missions present some enjoyable challenges. Likewise, the mechanics behind the grenades and mortars is great. When you press the fire button, a square-shaped target moves away from you to the maximum distance the mortar or grenade can be shot or thrown and continues back and forth until you let go of the button to launch the shot. However, there are a number of factors that pile up and drag Army Men 3D way down.
The graphics are the main offender here; they are muddy beyond even those in Sega's House of the Dead on the Saturn. This is less an aesthetic complaint than a practical one, because you'll often not be able to distinguish an enemy soldier from a cactus or brush, and the terrain often has inexplicable sticky spots, both of which can get you shot. The later levels in the bayou look better than the desert stages (where pop-up runs rampant) and save the game from getting an even lower graphical score. There are some control and gameplay problems at work, as well. The control set-up feels somewhat incomplete because of the lack of a gun sight in the look mode and no strafe button at all. The gun sight is substituted by a computer-controlled intelligent aiming function that hones in on foes in the area toward which you've pointed your muzzle, but sometimes it gets confused when enemies are clustered together. If an enemy is farther away and not shooting at you, you might choose to ignore him for a moment, but the aiming function won't always let you. The prerequisite strafe button is replaced by the ability to roll left and right, which is probably a bit more realistic, but the need for more precise control becomes apparent the first time you get caught in a crossfire.
As it might sound, it's very easy to get killed in Army Men 3D. You can be right near the end of a level, walk around a corner, and get eaten right up by a machine gunner. It actually happens a lot, so it makes you start wishing for less powerful bullets or mid-level save spots. The way it stands, there are a lot of instances when you'll quit the game out of frustration, only to continue later out of stubbornness - meaning that the game is often maddening, but at least it does provide compelling enough reasons to continue.
Other items worth mentioning: The music and sound aren't very strong, and the game is a little bit on the short side. The game camera is near perfect in the single-player mode because it sticks right behind your back, but since it's trimmed back toward the horizon in the two-play capture-the-flag game, it's too hard to see around. Beyond all that, the only thing left uncovered is probably the enemy AI, which alternately seems either too smart or not smart enough.
It's obvious that there is a good game buried under all this, but it just seems to be down a little too deep to get any sort of recommendation. With some major spit and polish, plus several more months of development time, Army Men 3D could've turned out a lot better. Still, we haven't seen enough commando-type war games like this, and it leaves me wanting more. Let's hope a superior sequel will come along or that another company will build upon what we've seen here.