Army Men: Air Combat is a slightly upgraded version of Army Men: Air Attack, which appeared on the PlayStation last year. Some changes have been made to take advantage of the N64's extra controller ports, but the mission structure and control scheme remain largely untouched. Luckily, the PlayStation game already had the distinction of being the best game to bear the Army Men name.
The story is as simple as the plastic Army Men figures themselves: The Green army is at odds with the Tan army, and the two factions are battling each other on every possible front. You, as a chopper pilot for the Green army, must engage the Tan forces in several different mission-based levels, which take you from the Army Men's imaginary plastic world, through portals into the "real" world, and back again. 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 co-pilot selection also affects the accuracy of your guns, missiles, and winch. The game controls well. You're given dedicated controls for strafing left and right, so it's easy to circle-strafe around your foes and blast them with your guns and rockets.
Aside from the main adventure, which can be played alone or cooperatively with a second player, there's also a strong multiplayer element in Air Combat. The multiplayer missions include shooting contests, rescue missions, capture the flag, and a race to see who can winch the most food into a machine at the center of the map.
The music in Air Combat isn't all that great. Some tracks fit in well with the action and don't get in the way, but some rely on some fairly grating and unlistenable guitar samples. Beyond the music, the sound effects are appropriate, and the occasional voice samples (mostly used when achieving mission objectives) are nicely done. The game's graphics properly portray the concept of small plastic toys fighting in large, real-world settings, and the explosions are pretty nice - particularly when you destroy ground units with your missiles.
With the addition of four-player multiplayer, Army Men: Air Combat is the best game to bear the Army Men name - granted, that isn't exactly a tough feat, given the generally low quality of most of the other games in the line, but Air Combat manages to stand on its own as a fun mission-based action game. Fans of Electronic Arts' Strike series would do especially well to check this one out, as Air Combat owes much of its gameplay to the older games in the Strike series.