Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune Review
We typically associate quality and achievement with long-running franchises, but many gamers aren’t aware of names that simply need to be put to rest. Army Men has the comical and unfortunate reputation of sporting some of the worst games ever to grace a console and television screen…and things aren’t getting any better with Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune. I previously had the “misfortune” of playing Army Men: Green Rogue for the PS2, and I thought that was one of the most abysmal titles I had ever played, but this one gives it a run for its money. In fact, next to Riding Star, this may be the worst title on a PlayStation platform that I’ve played in years. Yes, it’s a budget title and clearly designed for a younger age group, but I’m taking that into account during this analysis. It doesn’t matter how old you are; if you can’t control your character for beans, you’re going to get frustrated awfully fast. Toss in some laughable technicals and physics, and you’ve got something that’s better reserved for the trash bin than the bargain bin.
The graphics consist of crippling flaws and errors that turn what should’ve been a pleasant, charming background into one colossal eyesore. There’s shimmering and aliasing and clipping and poor detail and coloring…did I miss anything? Look, we’re well aware of the lack of money backing low-budget titles, but we’re certainly not expecting God of War visuals, either. If you can’t produce a passable graphical presentation, than don’t bother to develop the game in the first place. The only high point in Soldiers of Misfortune is the occasionally appealing and intriguing set designs. At the very least, the youngsters will appreciate the look of a typical kid’s room, overloaded with makeshift forts and other obstacles and constructions made up of toys and other common household items. But beyond that very slight redeeming quality, there isn’t anything even remotely positive about the graphics. Would it really have been that difficult to cut down on the serious technical issues? It doesn’t have to be flashy, but it could’ve been somewhat clean, right?
The sound is almost equally terrible, as the soundtrack represents the only highlight and that’s not good news. The ambient effects are almost non-existent, the combat effects are just plain horrendous, and the fact that there’s no voice acting is probably a blessing in disguise. No, intense explosions shouldn’t accompany the firing of a toy dart gun, but a muted “pop” and the ensuing generic cry from one of those Tan army figurines is pitiful. It just sounds as if nothing is going on in the environment; you wouldn’t be missing much if you turned the sound off. The soundtrack isn’t exactly awful, but it’s far from professional and inspiring. It gets points for fitting the atmosphere we’re presented with, but you’ll get tired of it fast and it downshifts from somewhat charming to tiresome. The game’s concept should’ve allowed for plenty of ingenuity when selecting music tracks, but not surprisingly, the developers chose a few standard ones and then just stopped. All in all, the sound and graphics are bad enough so the game is already hobbling before we even begin the gameplay.
Then, when we get to the gameplay, the hobbling ceases and the entire production falls flat on its face. The injuries it suffers are so severe, it’s barely breathing so even the mere idea of crawling across the floor is out of the realm of possibility. Elaborate metaphors aside, everything about Soldiers of Misfortune is either funny, frustrating or both. You will undertake a set of quests that offer some variety, but due to the crucially flawed control scheme, none of them are going to be entertaining. The first mission has you wandering through the kid’s room, seeking out 12 supply crates, all the while taking down well-positioned enemy soldiers. After reading the mission objective, we figured this would be an easy enough quest, but boy, we must’ve vastly overestimated our abilities as gamers. Either that, or we’re too used to playing normal games with normal control schemes. We almost don’t want to explain, but sometimes, this job requires us to take the bad along with the good. …and in this case, there’s lots and lots of bad.
Here’s how you move little Timmy around: the movement scheme is similar to the likes of old-school Resident Evil titles, where you turn and then move forward once you’ve established your direction. It’s a slightly smoother process because you use the analog stick, but it’s still ridiculously slow and cumbersome. Even worse is the fact that you aim with the right analog stick. Now, some of you are saying, “well, that makes sense.” It would make sense if it actually accompanied the character’s movement, but instead, the right analog is exclusively for moving the aiming reticle; it’s completely independent of the left analog. Therefore, you end up maneuvering Timmy around first and then taking the time to aim second, as trying to do both at the same time is a futile and annoying endeavor. This causes all the gameplay to crash and burn long before you can even complete the first mission, and it also makes the entire experience waaaay more difficult than it should be. If this is designed for a younger audience, they’re going to have all sorts of problems.
As I just mentioned, the variety is kind of a bonus, but it’s a completely linear adventure and the repetition only adds to the tedium. For whatever reason, Timmy has shrunk to about the size of a common housecat, or maybe he’s just wandering around environments that are ten times the normal size. This is disconcerting, and fighting the invading Tan army is about as fun as…well, as playing with little plastic army men. Contrary to the laws of plastic physics, they can actually move, but they won’t move far, especially if they’re guarding an objective item. The entire process consists of you spotting them, putting your character in position, then desperately trying to get the aiming reticle over the enemy. It’ll turn from green to red and then you’ll pop off a few darts; you’ll need five or so to take down any given soldier, but you won’t be able to move when firing. Well, you can, but we just got finished explaining how terrible this works. Thus, all you do is stand there in the open, hoping the enemy’s aim sucks.
Thankfully, their aim does suck most of the time, but that won’t stop you from losing health rapidly after getting hit by opposing ammunition. The camera sits too close to the action and often screws you over royally; just tilting the camera in a certain direction can leave you completely blind. Once, we moved slightly to the left and we were facing a completely red screen, which turned out to be the rear of a railroad train car. But this is the kind of tragic flaw that kept happening and we just couldn’t handle it for very long. The graphics and sound represent one foot in the grave and the gameplay kills the entire production, and that means there’s absolutely no chance at a resurrection. In fact, it’s so painful that this is one of those times where you wish the game had never existed in the first place; it’s just a blight on the gaming community, plain and simple. Bad technicals, bad controls, bad camera, bad pacing, bad detailing, bad effects, bad, bad, bad, bad. Even if the game released in the first year of the PS2’s existence, it would’ve been a failure, and that’s all you really need to know.
Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune continues the tradition of disastrous video game productions. Way back when, I described the gameplay in Green Rogue as "the place good control goes to die." That same description can be used here. If you’re looking for a cheap, quality game for the kids, there are plenty of options on store shelves, and this most certainly isn’t one of them. Budget projects are one thing, but this is unacceptable on all counts.
2/2/2009 Ben Dutka