The Army Men series has had a prolific, but less than illustrious, history. Based on the little green army men that almost everyone played with as kids, these games have focused primarily on the strategy and action-adventure genres but have rarely been able to deliver anything other than a subpar experience. The exceptions to this have been the Army Men helicopter games. The latest installment in this series, Army Men: Air Attack 2, improves upon the groundwork laid down by the previous Air Attack, making it the most playable game in the series yet.
The quality of the Air Attack games can be at least partially credited to the older titles in EA's Strike series, such as Desert and Jungle Strike, to which they bear a remarkable resemblance. As in the Strike games, Air Attack 2 puts you in control of a helicopter, which you must guide through a series of mission-based levels, each with its own set of goals. Ranging from guarding military installments to rescuing downed soldiers to stealing secret weapons from behind enemy lines and out-and-out demolition, the variety in the mission objectives keeps Air Attack 2 from getting stale and keeps you engaged from mission to mission.
Air Attack 2 has the same gameplay found in the first Air Attack game. You can move in all directions in this plastic 3D world using the left analog stick, strafe using the L1 and R1 buttons, and deploy various artillery, as well as use your chopper's winch, using the controller's face buttons. The different military hardware at your disposal depends on the helicopter and copilot you select between missions. These choices also have an impact on other aspects of the gameplay, such as weapons accuracy, winch speed, chopper speed, and the amount of abuse your craft can handle. These features offer nothing new in the way of gameplay, but their tight and responsive control more than make up for that.
Of course, since this is an Army Men game, any military equipment you might come upon is molded green plastic. Other toys, such as toy dinosaurs, wind-up dogs, and a toy with an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Potato Head have been thrown in the mix as well. The missions alternate between the real world, with locations such as a back yard and a living room at Christmas time, and the Army Men's native plastic world, where you'll find yourself navigating miniature cityscapes and rocky mountain ranges. All of the terrain looks good, and the graphics have been cleaned up since the first Air Attack, making all the settings and the toys that inhabit them look just a bit more like their real-world counterparts. Air Attack 2 rarely suffers from slowdown, and it only surfaces during the firefights of the grandest scale. The soundtrack has been completely overhauled and complements the game. The cheesy guitar rock found in the first game has been replaced with a more cinematic score. While you won't find yourself humming tunes from the game, the instrumental score punctuates heavy firefights and makes the game that much more engaging.
If there is any single outstanding flaw in Air Attack 2, it's the difficulty level. There are a total of 22 missions, each with multiple goals, but most can be easily bested in one or two tries, save for the final mission. And due to its mission-based structure, there is little motivation to play through the game more than once. There is a secondary goal, where you must collect all of the plastic articles (represented by little blue Lego-type blocks) scattered throughout each level. After you've run through the game once, collecting little blue Lego blocks isn't really enough motivation to go through each level again. In the end, Army Men: Air Attack 2 is a whole lot of fun while it lasts.