When publisher 3DO went out of business last year, many figured that the company's inviolable Army Men brand would simply disappear right along with the company. That was until budget publisher Global Star Software came swinging to the rescue and took over the Army Men brand. Army Men: Sarge's War is the first Army Men game to appear under the Global Star name, and it sticks to basically the same level of quality for which most of the other Army Men games are known. Unfortunately, that isn't really saying much, and considering that there are literally dozens of better third-person-perspective, run-and-gun shooters on the market right now, it makes it pretty tough to recommend Sarge's War.
In Sarge's War, you play as Sarge, a gruff, battle-hardened, plastic soldier who commands a squad within the Green army. Like in the previous Army Men titles, your antagonists are the vile Tan army. However, Sarge's War actually starts out with the two sides working toward a peace agreement, with only a small sect of the Tan military holding out. Of course, this small sect almost immediately turns into a much larger threat, and eventually, it will be up to you to become an army of one, as it were, and smash up the renegade Tans. As much as this might sound like the makings of a good, old-fashioned shoot-'em-up, the action in Sarge's War sadly doesn't quite live up to the premise.
The biggest fault in Sarge's War is unfortunately with the gameplay and control design. The game controls basically like your typical third-person shooter, but with a couple of poorly conceived differences. Instead of going the usual route of having a trigger button as your fire button, the developers assigned this function to the Xbox's A button, and set up a first-person camera toggle and an auto-lock target to the R and L triggers, respectively. This control scheme is a little wacky to get used to at first, and if you just decide you hate it, there are a couple of alternate schemes available from which you can choose. However, no matter what scheme you choose, your ability to control Sarge is absolutely dreadful. Sarge himself handles far too squirrelly, and the aiming mechanics aren't much better.
The auto-aim feature, while seemingly able to catch the closest target, doesn't seem to help much, except when using weapons with a wide fire-spread, such as the shotgun, or with a tight firing scope, such as the sniper rifle. Everything else seems to just hit or miss at random. The game also completely lacks any sort of useful cover mechanics. Yes, you can duck by pressing the X button, but unless you're behind an especially sturdy object that won't blow up, it basically does you no good, as you can't shoot or even peer around corners, or do anything else that you can do in even the most rudimentary shooters these days.
Further compounding the general unpleasantness of Sarge's War's gameplay is the seemingly nonstop onslaught of dull missions. Each and every mission is exactly the same, with only a couple of varying objectives popping up from time to time. Usually you'll just have to pick up a conveniently placed time bomb and drop it on one of the Tan army's big pieces of artillery or onto a fence that's blocking your path, and in the time between finding the bomb and planting it, you can shoot every bad guy in your path. Occasionally, you'll find yourself using a turret gun or staving off marginally more difficult enemies (such as some elite Tan soldiers that can turn invisible); but for the most part, it's just a straight shot through each level with very few twists or turns to speak of. After about four to five hours, you should be done with the entire single-player game (at least it retails for a low price).
This just leaves Sarge's War's multiplayer component, which is to say, not much. There are three different modes to choose from, including death match, team advance, and capture the flag, and they're all quite boring. This is primarily because there are only four maps to choose from in the game, and they're all terrible. Each map is quite small, and there are only vaguely different design schemes between them. As it is, the game's shooting mechanics are barely conducive to a single-player experience, let alone a decent multiplayer experience. Even more maddening, is the fact that Sarge's War is Xbox Live aware, yet it is not playable online (the game only allows you to access friends list features). Granted, it's unlikely that the game would be any more enjoyable to play online than it is offline.
Sarge's War marks the debut of the Army Men series on the Xbox, but it's pretty clear that the developers didn't really spend much time taking advantage of the system's power. Aside from a slightly shiny plasticine look for the soldier models, everything in the game looks drab as drab can be. Muddy textures, ugly set pieces, and level designs that actually seem like they were lifted right out of older Army Men titles, make up the bulk of the graphical design, along with an erratic frame rate and subpar computer-generated cutscenes. Most of the game's audio seems as though it was lifted off some generic, copyright-free sound effects and music CDs, and the voice acting is pretty much nonexistent, save for Sarge's gruff narration (that sounds as though the actor is channeling Michael Ironside's Sam Fisher just a little too hard for comfort), and the occasional diabolical cacklings of the game's main villain. All told, it's pretty hammy, unpleasant stuff.
After playing through Army Men: Sarge's War, it's likely that you'll find yourself wondering why anyone bothered to salvage the Army Men license at all. Over the years, the series has shown its flashes of playability, but Sarge's War isn't one of them. This game never shows anything above the most minimal of efforts, and even then, it seems as though you're being entertained as if by accident. In the end, you're probably better off without Sarge's War.