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SummaryI suddenly don’t feel so bad about melting these guys on light bulbs.
The GoodThe Army Men games are a series that I desperately want to love. I love those little, plastic, green men. They played a big part in my late childhood leading up to my adolescence. In fact, if you were to search my apartment hard enough, you’d find a few of them still stashed away. The idea of the Army Men universe is extremely appealing, but the execution usually comes up short. Out of the many, many Army Men games I’ve played, the one that sticks out as the most enjoyable for me is Sarge’s Heroes. I feel that it best matched my idea of a great game featuring plastic soldiers, but too many of the mechanics were loosey-goosey. To summarize my problems with it, it had some of the most daft AI I’ve ever encountered and a camera that didn’t even try to keep up with the action. I was expecting the sequel to fix these problems and improve on what was good about the first game, but unfortunately, that’s not what I got.
I must say that Sarge’s Heroes 2 at least starts off on the right foot. The best parts of the first title were the levels that took place in the “real” world, where you’re just a tiny toy soldier fighting your way through enormous environments. So Sarge’s Heroes 2 starts you off in the real world in a short and simple mission that takes place on a dining room table. The third level has you climbing to the top of a fridge from the inside. The giant objects look pretty cool and some of the fictitious food products have mildly amusing names. Those levels right there got my blood pumping, and I was ready for more.
You once again take the role of Sarge (though, you are forced to play as Vikki for a few missions) as he tries to defeat the tan army led by General Plastro. The plot is about twice as ridiculous as the first game’s. It involves a serum that reverses the effect of plastrification, an affliction that turns toy soldiers from the plastic world into the figurines we’re familiar with. The serum can also make toys come to life somehow, and Plastro is using an army of them to destroy his enemies with the help of a blue spy. Ugh, it’s awful and it jumps all over the place. Really, it’s a framing device, I guess, so you can basically ignore it, which I suggest you do.
The camera finally stays locked behind you, and thank goodness for that. Now short-ranged weapons like the flamethrower are useful since you can actually see around corners. Sarge still moves like a tank, but since the absolutely daft AI has been carried over from the first game, it’s still pretty forgivable. There are also some cool, but needless, power-ups, like a suit of armor that gives you a chrome-like veneer. There are a few new weapons, but nothing overly exciting. There’s a fire cracker that does pretty much the same thing the grenade does, and an air strike that takes way too long to be useful.
The BadIt's disappointing, but despite fixing a number of problems found in the first game, Sarge’s Heroes 2 winds up being a bigger mess. I can basically sum up its largest flaw with two words: escort missions. It seems that over half the missions in this game shackle you to a lumbering dimwit with the self-preservation skills of a Twinkie. I really don’t know why the hell they’d do this. My CPU controlled allies have a higher mortality rate than pigs in a slaughterhouse. Once, I failed a mission because my ally walked his stupid ass in front of me the moment I was firing my bazooka. And every time something like this happens, it’s back to the beginning of the mission for me.
So why do they even exist? It’s not like they have endearing personalities that make up for their severe deficiencies. The story doesn’t benefit from their continued presence. They sure as hell don’t help much during a firefight. There were a few escorts in the first Sarge’s Heroes, but they tended to hang back and stay out of harm’s way. Most of the time, however, you were a one-man-army, mowing through the tan frontline. Here, your allies are literally just hindrances that do nothing more than annoy. The game would have been improved greatly if they were just removed altogether.
What really disappointed me was the level design. Like I said, it starts off promisingly by offering an open-ish dinner table level, but it’s downhill after that. The original Sarge’s Heroes had strikingly large levels that had many nooks and crannies to be explored. A few of the original’s levels even allowed for multiple routes to be taken to your objective. The level design in Sarge’s Heroes 2, however, is disturbingly linear. The levels that take place in the plastic world are typically a series of tight corridors and walled-in mazes. These are not the colourful, well-designed levels that helped redeem the original’s flaws. These are nothing like them at all. Only a couple levels hold even a glimmer of the original’s creativity, the rest are just tripe.
While Sarge’s Heroes 2 boasts a whopping two levels more than the first title, they’re much, much shorter. Most of the levels can be completed in well under ten minutes, many of them can be accomplished in under five. A few of them seem to be only half finished; the last level in particular’s final area contains an awkwardly placed barrier. I guess this is for the best. Failing because of dimwitted AI is bad enough when I’m only five minutes into a level, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be after fifteen.
A lot of the game’s design is just balls. It sometimes feels like they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Aside from the tan soldiers, there are also a number of toy robots that you often encounter, and they’re so easily outwitted that I don’t think I was ever even touched by one. It’s sad because I’m pretty sure they were meant to be difficult. They’re often placed at critical moments, but since they’re so laughably easy to kill, they’re pointless. I’m not sure the attack AI for the insects was even implemented, since I never saw one try and attack me. I usually just walked past them, because they certainly never made an effort to stop me.
The Bottom LineI can’t believe I’m saying this, but Sarge’s Heroes 2 really made me appreciate the original Sarge’s Heroes. I’m serious; the first title is a masterpiece in comparison to this lurching monstrosity. It’s a real disappointment too, because I really expected that they’d take what they did in Sarge’s Heroes, fix all the issues, and expand on the original’s idea. Instead, it’s like they didn’t even try. I’m surprised they even took the time to fix the camera issues. This game is absolutely TERRIBLE. It’s an atrocious entry in an already questionable series of games.
At this point, I feel like a battered spouse. I want to love the Army Men series, but it makes it so hard. Yet, I stick with it, wishing that it will get better. I keep coming back in hopes of finding something that finally satisfies, but all I get is more disappointment. Here I go again, because I’m hoping to find the Playstation 2 port of Sarge’s Heroes 2 in hopes that it’s the experience I’ve been craving. My reasoning is this: Since the PS2 port came out so closely to the N64 version’s release, perhaps it got all the attention and became a better title, while the other versions suffered. In my heart, though, I know I’m just headed towards more disappointment. Why do I do this to myself?