The real-time strategy genre hasn't really been terribly successful on console hardware, usually because the games have been shoddily ported over from the PC. But with Army Men: RTS, Pandemic has taken 3DO's long-running Army Men franchise and placed it into an incredibly solid and straightforward real-time strategy console game. PC RTS fans will probably find very little of interest in Army Men: RTS, as the mission objectives are no different from what you'd find in the original Command & Conquer, and the game itself isn't nearly as deep as most modern real-time strategy PC games. However, console gamers who haven't been spoiled by the likes of Starcraft or Red Alert 2 are in for a treat.
Army Men: RTS follows the story of Sarge and his platoon of roughnecks as they creep behind enemy lines to take out Colonel Blintz, an ex-Green Army officer who suffered a disfiguring head wound during combat and has subsequently "gone Tan." The story's similarity to Apocalypse Now is certainly no accident, and you'll find plenty of references to other classic war movies throughout the game's 15 missions.
The game closely follows the conventions laid down by past real-time strategy games and rarely strays from them. You'll start off each mission with a handful of troops and, depending on the circumstances, a bulldozer. The bulldozer can be used to build structures, such as barracks and garages, which can be used to build more troops and vehicles, respectively. To create an effective army, you'll need to build a resource depot to gather plastic and electricity, the core building blocks of all your units. Plastic can be harvested from items such as Frisbees, dog bowls, and toy robots, and electricity can be harvested from items such as batteries, walkie-talkies, and toasters. Resource management definitely plays a big part in successfully executing many of the missions, but not so much so that it overshadows the actual job at hand.
The mission objectives in the game's main campaign mode break no new ground for the genre, but the game covers all its bases well. Some missions will charge you with tasks such as overrunning a Tan Army base or simply moving your troops from point A to point B. In one mission, your objective is to secure the living room from the Tan Army to gain control of the PlayStation 2 console, which represents unlimited power for whoever controls it. In another, you'll have to escort a village of funny-voiced Lego men to safety, while protecting them from the Tan Army. There's really nothing new here, but each mission is executed well enough to excuse any lack of innovation. And if the main campaign isn't enough for you, Army Men: RTS also includes a great-battles mode, which puts you in one of eight large-scale base-building missions, as well as a special operations mode, which puts you in one of eight missions with very unique objectives. Sadly, there are no multiplayer modes in Army Men: RTS, though when you consider the limitations inherent in a split-screen multiplayer game, it's probably for the best.
One of the biggest hurdles for real-time strategy console games has been the controls, but Army Men: RTS gives you the perfect level of control over your units. You can select all of the units in a certain area by tapping the circle button, or you can select all units of a specific type by moving your cursor over a unit and holding down the circle button. You can add more units to your selected group by pressing the square button, and previously selected groups can be selected again by pressing the triangle button. Units will generally do what you tell them to, though their pathing abilities are somewhat questionable, and they will usually take a straight path rather than seek out an easier alternate route. In general, the controls are relatively easy to get a hang of, though it is strongly recommended that you go through the game's tutorial before you jump into the main campaign.
The graphics in Army Men: RTS are rarely very impressive, but the game handles the presentation competently. The levels deftly capture the feel of their respective environments, making it plainly clear whether you're in the kitchen, the living room, or a planter box out in the front yard. Units are simple but detailed enough that you can identify them on sight, even from the most zoomed-out perspective. The game's biggest graphical limitation is the amount of control you have over the camera, and it can occasionally be frustratingly difficult to find and select units that are positioned behind another object.
Just like the game's look, the voice-acting in Army Men: RTS evokes a certain whimsical feel and does a good job of instilling each of your units with some personality, though their limited vocabulary can become tiresome over time. Sarge comes off as a gruff, tough-but-loving drill sergeant; Colonel Blintz has a calm, vaguely European accent; and your medical units have a droll English accent not unlike Winchester from M*A*S*H. The music has a very epic, sweeping feel to it, and its militaristic seriousness acts as a counterbalance for the game's otherwise lighthearted presentation.
It's not without its limitations, but Army Men: RTS is easily one of the best real-time strategy console games to date. The smart control scheme virtually eliminates the control problems inherent in RTS console games, and the varied mission objectives keep the game engaging all the way through. Hard-core RTS fans might find the game's simplistic nature a little off-putting, but casual fans of the genre should definitely check it out.