As if the plastic-soldier carnage in Army Men 3D weren't enough, 3DO is back in an even more over-the-top sequel in Army Men World War. The plot of the first Army Men is similar to this game's - the Tan army is on the warpath, and it's up to a lone Green-army soldier to defeat it. Unfortunately for you though, you happen to be that soldier. Sure, you're told you're getting backup, but that never really happens in this type of game.
After an initial cinematic, the game quickly launches you into the meat of the conflict. You find yourself on an enemy beach, charged with the task of taking a Tan encampment's radio communications. Succeed in this mission, and you'll progress up the beach, through the jungle, and into the heart of Tan-army territory. Armed with only a rifle, a bayonet, binoculars, and unlimited bullets, you face 16 frenetic battles. Initially, the controls seem simple enough. Use the directional pad to move, press X to shoot, use R1 to zoom in, and use the triangle and square buttons to cycle through weapons. Unfortunately, sluggish response coupled with restrictive environments quickly unravels this simplicity. The time between tapping a direction and moving is too great, and it's far too easy to get stuck behind even the smallest of objects. When the heat's on and you're surrounded by five or six enemy soldiers, the tasks of aiming, switching weapons, and attacking become a frustrating mess of tangled fingers.
Besides control issues, progressing through Army Men World War's levels is akin to playing Tomb Raider, without the requisite cliffs, caves, and crevasses. Each mission's goals are distinctly spelled out, and a comprehensive terrain map ensures you'll never become lost. Within each level, you can also acquire grenades, explosives, mortars, bazookas, and a variety of other war-waging tools. Helping to lift the game out of its cookie-cutter status, some missions also require a bit of strategy to complete - for example, avoiding enemy contact or finding the best route for outrunning a fleeing jeep. While it's no 3D war sim, and the experience is entirely too linear, Army Men World War is at least a bit more diverse in the gameplay department than previous Army Men titles. Furthermore, melting enemy soldiers with the flamethrower can provide countless hours of sadistic enjoyment.
Although the negative effects of hit-and-miss controls on gameplay is common these days, rarely do a game's graphics have such a detrimental effect on gameplay. However, in Army Men World War's case, that's exactly the problem. Given, the toy soldiers' character models are both amusing and decently detailed. Given, the jungle backdrops and scenery are ample enough to exhibit realism. And yes, the interstitial Plastic Toy News snippets between battles are gleefully amusing. These are all positive aspects, one must concede. However, everything is too freakin' dark! If it were only the realistic shading of the dense-jungle environments, things wouldn't be so bad. However, the entire game's visibility level is one of dark, darker, and darkest. Maybe it's the required use of dark greens, olive drabs, and earthy brown colors, coupled with an overuse of black. Maybe it's the fact that small tan soldiers hiding in brownish areas are near undetectable. Regardless, even if you crank your television's brightness and contrast up about 20 ticks, the game's still too dark. Furthermore, if you do this, then you'll begin to notice the game's texture warping, so either way you lose. What you end up with is an average-looking game brought down by overall light level - ouch.
Although there are problems with the plot, gameplay, and the graphics, Army Men World War does excel in one area - sound. Gunshots are both loud and alarming, tearing through plastic soldiers as if they were Mars bars on the receiving end of a George Foreman binge. The sound of explosives is particularly impressive, giving one the urge to overuse these devices. The utterances the enemy soldiers make when walking, grunting, and leaping are also a delight to the ears. Furthermore, the background music is adequately varied, and it is majestic and awe-inspiring in that way that only war anthems can be. Frankly, not since the Guns of Navarone have the sounds of war been this good.
What you get with Army Men World War is a decent sequel to the original Army Men 3D, but one that's only barely superior. There's decent variety in levels, the two player flag mode is fun, and the reward value for completing the game is high, but the game's overall replay value is simply drawn through the mire by inadequate control, murky graphics, and cookie-cutter plot. Had more time been spent on the game's graphics and gameplay, Army Men World War might have turned out to be more than just a good premise wrapped in an average game.