Army Men: RTS on the GameCube can't help feeling like a relic. Indeed, by video game standards, its original 2002 release on the PC and PS2 is ancient history. The fact that Global Star has seen fit to resurrect the Army Men name, which is arguably the most notorious of 3DO's franchises leading up to its final days, makes this release feel almost creepy...like a posthumous performance by a recently deceased actor. What Army Men: RTS has to its advantage is that when it was released nearly three years ago, it was actually pretty good. It feels dated, yes, but a lot of the quality still stands up, and with strategy being a scarce commodity on the GameCube, it's hard to argue with the game's bargain-basement price tag.
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 loosely mirrors some of the plot points in Apocalypse Now, and you'll find plenty of references to other classic war movies throughout the game's 15 missions.
Army Men: RTS closely follows the conventions laid down by past real-time strategy games, and though it simplifies and streamlines a lot of it, Army Men rarely strays from old-timey RTS conventions. 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 that can then 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, while 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 Army Men: RTS hits the points it needs to. 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, you'll have to escort a village of funny-voiced Lego men to safety while also 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. Furthermore, there's a special operations mode that 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 a pretty good level of control over your units. You can select all the units in a certain area by tapping the X button, or you can select all units of a specific type by moving your cursor over a unit and holding down the X button. You can add more units to your selected group by pressing the B button, and previously selected groups can be selected again by pressing the Y 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 the hang of, though it's strongly recommended that you go through the game's tutorial before jumping into the main campaign, because the controls are not necessarily that self-explanatory.
The highly conventional gameplay structure makes Army Men: RTS feel pretty dated, and the graphics make this trait even more pronounced. The game wasn't graphically impressive in 2002, and it just looks old now. The frame rate is extremely choppy during in-engine cutscenes, and though explosions and other displays of special effects can cause things to chop up a bit during gameplay, it's otherwise pretty stable. Army Men: RTS maintains a pretty modest scope with the size of its levels, as well as with the level of its detail, but the game still does a good job of capturing the feel of its different environments. You can tell when you're in the kitchen, the living room, or a planter box out in the garden with just a quick glance.
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 the limited vocabularies 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 droll English accents not unlike the character Winchester from M*A*S*H. The music has a very epic, sweeping feel to it, and its militaristic seriousness acts as a counterbalance to the game's otherwise lighthearted presentation.
With 3DO quickly becoming a distant memory, it feels really weird to see an Army Men game coming out in 2004. Army Men: RTS was a significant high point for the franchise, and it retains some of its fun even today. But most GameCube owners looking for a good strategy experience are probably better off with one of Nintendo's strikingly original Pikmin offerings.