Army Men is a squad level strategy game which gives you control of Sarge, a little green plastic army man, and lets you lead up to 20 or so infantry and a few vehicles. In theory. On the whole you just run around doing the job for yourself, because the men can't be easily controlled.
You are supposed to be able to order them to attack a target, defend a location, patrol etc, but the AI smacks of 1990's real time strategy - this sort of rampant incompetence hasn't been encountered since the likes of Command & Conquer were gracing store shelves. Ironically, your troops' stupidity is quite useful at times, as they eagerly draw enemy fire while you deal with the tasks at hand.
You "control" the action via the keyboard for the most part. You can use a joystick or gamepad, but I wouldn't recommend it. With the keys, controlling the type of weapon Sarge is equipped with and how he's using it is pretty simple. You can order Sarge to kneel or lie on the ground, positions plastic army men could be expected to assume. This impacts the level at which he fires and the ease with which he can target enemies.
In real-time strategy titles, the keyboard is used sparingly and the mouse is unobtrusive and generally the only way to go. In Army Men, the mouse control is sluggish leaving the keyboard as your best choice.
Visually the game is a bit plain as well. But then, this is a budget re-release. The graphics do serve their purpose, and reminded me of plastic toy soldier-style games from my childhood. The character animations look realistic enough (for toy soldiers!), and the movements of the Sarge in particular are impressive.
Sound effects are slightly unusual for a game based on little plastic men, and I had hoped for something along the lines of children screeching and kapow'ing along to the action. For that matter I had hoped to be racing around carpets and ducking between match boxes, but you can't have everything...
While Sarge can't carry infinite weaponry and ammunition, he does have the ability to carry his rifle and a couple of other weapons. There are flamethrowers, grenades and bazookas in the heavy weapons category, and explosives, trip-mines and mine detectors to back them up.
Thanks to this pretty wide selection of tipples, it's often important to make very sure of which weapon to use for each situation. Normally this would be a fairly strategic element to a game, but in Army Men it just creates an air of unpredictability. If you don't choose the correct weapon for each situation, you end up dead and have to replay the level.
Infantry-based weaponry isn't Sarge's only refuge - he can drive tanks, jeeps and trucks too. With the tank you can fire in a different direction to the one in which you are travelling, but it's pretty hard to control two 360 degree movements. Vehicles come along every once in a while, and are quite fun to use, though sadly they don't last.
There is also a proverbial "get out of jail free" card comes in the form of air strikes and paratroopers. If you are pinned down you can signal for them to take out your enemies, but they are strictly limited use.
The game is set out in several campaigns, as well as being able to train in Boot Camp - a non-linear map that demonstrates how to use the various weapons at your disposal, and how to command your troops. It's a useful training device and you might as well heed its teachings before tripping out into the field.
The campaigns in Army Men are linked across Desert, Alpine and Bayou terrains, which must be played in order. Each section has four main missions and some sub-missions. They are large maps, although not too large - it may take only a minute or so to cross from one side to the other with Sarge at running speed.
To start with, the campaign missions are fairly easy, but they become increasingly difficult and annoying as you progress. They are generally non-linear, and usually objectives consist of moving to a certain position or destroying a particular unit. Simple objectives do not make simple missions though, with a surprisingly large number of foes attempting to prevent you from finishing each mission.
What primarily makes the going so tough though is that you cannot save missions midway, meaning that you are constantly replaying each one in order to complete it. Your game is saved automatically post-mission, but that's not good enough, because it's so stupidly easy to die in Army Men.
A system of save points during the game would have been preferable - safe-houses throughout the maps I suppose, so that you could save and resume should death become you, as it were.
Army Men doesn't boast much in the way of replay value. Should you get stuck mid-campaign you won't be able to progress any further, and you will be resigned to replaying earlier missions to get your kicks.
I had the opportunity to test out Army Men on a LAN though, and in terms of gameplay it hardly resembles the single player campaigns. Ironically, by branching away from the single player mode's incessant "almost-RTS-ness", a much more interesting and enjoyable combat simulation emerges, with different coloured Sarge's battling it out like assassins to kill the target. Weapons, air strikes and the like are scattered around the play area, and it's generally the luck of the draw that dictates who finds the more powerful weapons.
Playing best-of-3 matches proved good fun for the most part, although if you want to play over the internet you will have to settle for using Mplayer or HEAT.Net, neither of which is ideal.
In all honesty, if it weren't for the multiplayer aspect, I'd probably not have played Army Men for more than a few hours, as it made an otherwise disappointing campaign-based strategy title into an engrossing, action-packed army game.
For a budget title, Army Men would normally be resigned to obscurity, but you know, I kind of liked it. The multiplayer element is unquestionably the best section, as the single player lets it down somewhat.
Seeing as the latter is what most people will play though, I can't highly recommend Army Men. But on the other hand, it is only a fiver, so if you're bored one afternoon, why not?