When considering the purchase of new hardware, the heavy advertising of flagship titles almost makes the decision a no-brainer. After all, who fancies shelling out £200+ just to play something crap? Thus, I’m mildly ashamed to admit it, but during the build-up to the PS Vita’s launch, I was always keeping a watchful eye on developments over at Metacritic. Just like a lot of other gamers, I wasn’t about to be duped into buying an awesome new console without the software to fully justify it.
In the end up, I guess I just played it safe. In fact, according to the sales figures, a lot of people did the exact same thing by opting for the home comforts of FIFA and Uncharted. Since the initial purchase however, a brief rummage below the surface revealed a multitude of lesser known titles that, despite implying lower quality with a budget price, at least made the Vita launch a tad more interesting. Army Corps of Hell was one such game. A Pikmin-style action/strategy mash-up with a few redeeming features that somewhat elevates it from the clutches of a painfully average abyss that a lot of launch titles find themselves in.
After about 30 seconds of gameplay, it becomes apparent that Square-Enix were aiming for a sub-crowd of hardcore gamers that couldn’t care less about little niggling formalities such as, say, a storyline? Instead, Army Corps of Hell begins with a rather striking graphic novel-style intro depicting our hero (the self-proclaimed “King of Hell”) plummeting to the ground amidst a bunch of puzzled Goblins. Then, with a little hocus pocus, he apparently brainwashes them into becoming his devout minions, with which the player is tasked to lead against wave after wave of vicious monsters in a bid to reclaim the throne.
The first mission acts as your brief tutorial as you quickly come to grips with what you’ll be doing with the majority of your time in the plains of Hell. Using the analog sticks on your Vita, you must navigate the King and his loyal little minions from one platform to another, slaying a menagerie of demons until you reach the end of the stage. Exhale, inhale and repeat. In fact, it becomes pretty clear pretty early on that Army Corps is one shamelessly repetitive game. However, once you come to terms with this simple truth, it becomes easier to focus on what the game does well which is, thankfully, just enough.
Although the King of Hell sounds like a badass, and even looks the part with horns and whatnot, his combat abilities are pretty much entirely sidelined in favour of his leadership skills. When you think about it though, why would you risk your own ass when you’ve got a bunch of little green dudes willing to die for your cause? Your horde of Goblins, numbering a modest 30 to begin with, come in three variations: Soldiers, Spearmen and Magi. You’ll be prompted at the beginning of each mission to select your load-out of minions, carefully administering them as your current goblin-count dictates. This is where a small dose of strategy is injected, as certain enemies and obstacles can only be overcome via efficient use of certain goblin classes. You begin with Soldiers, who like to pounce on an enemy (regardless of size) and combine their efforts to perform a deadly “Stalvo” attack. Soon after, you’ll unlock Spearmen and Magi, who offer ranged attack options with their spear attacks and magic spells respectively.
Some welcome RPG elements also make an appearance in the game, such as looting and alchemy. This is done quite simply by ordering your slaves to violently desecrate the corpse of a fallen foe for materials that can be used to craft new weapons, armour and items. All for the good of the Corps.
In game, things can get pretty chaotic. However, when it really hits the fan, Army Corps unfortunately begins to crack under the pressure. Eventually, all the environments begin to follow suit with the gameplay by becoming grossly regurgitated and poorly textured. This is a real shame considering how good some other Vita games look. Even the initially varied enemies begin to feel repetitive as you’ll find yourself employing the same strategies over and over again to defeat them. Thankfully, most of the boss battles are there to save the day just when you think you’ve taken all you can stomach from Square-Enix’s solid, but cripplingly bare-boned, effort.
One of the most unforgiveable qualms however, undoubtedly rests with the games lock-on system. What is a mild hindrance to begin with soon escalates to a near game-breaking flaw when on-screen enemies pile up. Especially when you command 20 goblin Soldiers to pounce on a particularly nasty baddie, only for them to begin looting a corpse inconveniently situated near your reticule. Inexcusable, considering how such a trivial issue could be solved by simply denying loot until all nearby enemies are killed.
Although not strictly a budget game, Army Corps of Hell can be picked up for as little as £15. And while the small asking price shouldn’t be the deciding factor when reviewing a game, I still think it’s worth noting considering what’s on offer here. It may be seriously flawed, but the Pikmin-inspired action mashed up with blood n’ guts flying to a heavy metal soundtrack really gives the game a true identity. Something which a lot of big budget titles often lose. A great starting point, if anything great should be said about it. It’s not for everyone, but one quick session later and it’s hard to deny that Square-Enix are certainly on to something here.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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