3DO has been milking the whole concept of little plastic army men as real-life soldiers for quite some time now. The PC has seen a couple of Army Men strategy games, while the console systems have received some weak games, such as Army Men 3D and Army Men: Sarge's Heroes. But you shouldn't give up on the Army Men series just yet. Army Men: Air Attack is a mission-based helicopter shooter that actually makes the little green guys fun to play with again.
Remember the Strike series, Electronic Arts' line of mission-based helicopter shooters? Remember how bad the last few Strike games were? Air Attack plays a bit like the old, good Strike games. You, as a helicopter pilot for the Green army, embark on several missions in an attempt to defeat the insidious Tan army, led by General Plastro. Some levels take place in the plastic world, while some take place in the real world. Certain items act differently in each world. For instance, a lifeless real-world teddy bear becomes a valuable attack bear when brought through the portal and into the plastic world. The mission design is varied, with a heavy emphasis on "wipe out every enemy in sight" levels. Other missions will have you guarding trains, freeing colonies of bugs, and defending your base from an ant invasion. You'll have some pretty standard weaponry on your chopper, including machine guns, missiles, homing rockets, and napalm. But you can also use various objects in the environment as weapons. Don't like the looks of the well-defended Tan base up ahead? Pick up an apple, or perhaps a pinecone, and drop it on the enemy defenses. As you progress through the game, you'll earn new helicopters, each of which is rated in armor, mobility, weaponry, and winch speed. Your copilot selection also has an effect the accuracy of your guns, missiles, and winch. Each copilot has a "personality," which manifests in three or four different one-liners.
Army Men: Air Attack makes good use of the analog controller. The left stick controls speed and heading. The right stick can be used to strafe left and right, but the L1 and R1 buttons accomplish this just as well. By combining turning and strafing, you can effectively circle-strafe around your enemies, making short work of them before most of them can even draw a bead on you. The winch works great, and items are easy to grab and drop, unlike in the later games in the Strike series, where you must have pinpoint accuracy.
With the exception of your copilot's chatter, which gets a little grating after a few levels, the sound effects are well done. Nothing too special or realistic-sounding. Little touches - like the bugs shouting, "We're free!" (in voices reminiscent of the little man insect at the end of The Fly) when liberated from their roach motel prisons - give the game a little more flair. The graphics are about as good as you can expect from a game based on a collection of green and tan plastic toys. Each unit has a bit of plastic shine. The terrain looks like grass, dirt, and mud without looking too blocky.
The main flaw of Air Attack is a general lack of difficulty. There are really only two or three missions that pose a real challenge; the rest of them are cakewalks once you've gotten the control down well enough to dodge bullets. But even though you'll be able to skate through most of the game, there are a couple multiplayer modes that keep the game interesting. Cooperative mode lets you go through the main game with a friend. Flag Nab-It is a game of capture the flag, where you must infiltrate your opponent's base, steal his flag, and take it to your base to score.
While it may not completely wash away the bad taste left by Army Men 3D and Army Men: Sarge's Heroes, Army Men: Air Attack is a fun little mission-based shooter that is worth checking out. The ease of the game makes it a good rental, but the multiplayer is good enough to warrant purchasing the game. Fans of the 16-bit Strike games will be pleasantly surprised, also.