Remember the days of Command and Conquer? Remember how the simple rules of the early games gradually got more and more complicated as time went on, moving away from the easy to master, hugely rewarding gameplay that made people fall in love with the series? As more rules were added, more people seemed to be turned off, and by the modern day, real time strategy games had become obtuse almost to the point of ridicule.
The answer to this, according to Petroglyph Games and SOEDESCO at least, is to go back to the early days with an 8-Bit themed strategy game. No six inch thick instruction book, no millions of units to remember, nothing complicated at all. Even the graphics are as simple as possible, coming across with a charming, colourful, voxel art style. But has the roll back of the clock been successful with 8-Bit Armies?
The first thing that smacks you in the face when you start to play 8-Bit Armies is the art style. The sprites are big and bold, properly retro in look, and even the buildings that can be constructed look fantastic. The little men that run around – and as you progress through the game, the new units like tanks and helicopters that you can unlock – look fantastic and in motion are really good. There’s something charming about a gang of your guys rocking up to an enemy base and razing it to the ground that really warms the cockles of the heart. The sound is pretty damn awesome as well; rumbling engines and gunshots, big explosions and heart breaking screams as your little guys get ground to pieces under the tracks of an enemy tank. In terms of visuals and audio, absolutely everything is present and correct with 8-Bit Armies, entirely in keeping with the game.
There are two factions to play with here; the Renegades and the Guardians. This is another throwback to the early days – Nod and the GDI, anyone? – and as such works very well. As you’d expect, the different factions can unlock different units, and so finding the the optimum team can be a lot of fun, taking different factions for a test drive to see how you fare; the Renegades can get a nuclear missile, for instance, while the Guardians get a satellite weapon as their ultimate tier armament.
In the spirit of the early games, you start by choosing your faction and then there are a series of single player missions to undertake, each one with multiple objectives. These usually comprise of destroying certain buildings or wiping out enemy forces, building specific structures, and then partaking in a rather challenging time based one. It is these which makes 8-Bit Armies tricky and time consuming, with some of the later missions taking a good half an hour to accomplish, as the enemies defences get better and better, and the good old “Tank Rush” tactic quite often is found to fail. Changing up your strategy on the fly is sometimes needed, as if you can’t get past the front line of turrets, you’ll need to start considering various ways of attack.
Progressing through the missions sees the amount of units you have at your disposal increase, both in terms of fighting units and buildings that can be made. From an army consisting of men armed with machine guns and harsh language, your forces will easily work their way up to waves of tanks and self propelled artillery and air units; there’s plenty of variety to go at.
As is normal though, certain units depend on specific buildings being built, so the Tech Centre will allow you to build new units and so on. Interestingly, if you build multiple buildings, such as a Barracks, it reduces the time it takes to train a unit, so two Barracks makes it almost twice as fast to produce a soldier – the same goes for tanks and the like from the Vehicle Factory. More Refineries allow more harvesters to be deployed and emptied faster, leading to more money being available. Again, economic warfare by blowing up the enemies Harvesters can be a very good tactic, as after all, if the enemy has no money, they can’t build anything! But hey, we all learnt that back in the day with C&C!
In addition to the single player missions and skirmishes that are available, you can also play online against human enemies. As you’d expect, fighting a real life person is a lot different than pitting your best strategy against an AI enemy. The online modes work really well too, with no slowdown detectable when fighting, and there seems to be a healthy population of players available. I certainly didn’t have any trouble finding a match. Winning said matches is another matter altogether though.
All in all then and 8-Bit Armies does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a love letter to the early RTS games, dressed up in very appealing retro graphics, but with the modern heart of a well defined combat system beating away in the depths. It’s challenging and accessible in just the right measure, with the optional objectives being well thought out. Great graphics, great gameplay and a very well designed online mode make this game an absolute no-brainer for anyone with an interest in strategy games, and it even makes a strong case to appeal to those who aren’t usually that interested.
Give 8-Bit Armies a try and I think you just might be pleasantly surprised.