Well, since it’s been ages since I last reviewed a Playstation One game – I thought that I’d take a look at a 3D action platform game called “Small Soldiers” today, since I was given a second-hand copy of it fairly recently.
Before I go any further, I should probably point out that I’ve only had a chance to play this game for a couple of hours – so this review only reflects my experiences so far. Likewise, I also played this game using the ePSXe emulator rather than on my old PS1 or PS2 – because it has save states.
Need I say more?
But, that said, let’s take a look at “Small Soldiers”:
This game is based on a movie from the late 1990s that, surprisingly, I’ve never actually seen.
So, I can’t really say whether or not this game is faithful to the original source material – but it’s a movie tie-in game made by EA.
And, as pretty much any gamer will tell you, this usually isn’t a good sign.
But is this game the exception to the rule?
In “Small Soldiers” you play as a Gorgonite alien called Archer, who must defend his home planet against an invasion by a group of evil robotic humanoid commandos, led by a man called Chip Hazard.
And that’s about the entire story of the game.
Interestingly, although this game has a rather sparse story, it’s still much more original than the majority of sci-fi action games out there for the simple reason that it’s one of the few games I’ve ever played where the humans (or robots who look like humans anyway) are the bad guys and the aliens are the good guys.
Although I’m guessing that this plot element was taken from the original movie, it still breaks a lot of cliches within the genre.
What about the gameplay?
Well, it isn’t perfect – but it isn’t terrible either.
For the most part, it’s fairly standard 3D action platformer gameplay.
But, the weapons in the game aren’t always that accurate and it can take a little while to get used to them and to work out exactly where you’re shooting.
However, this is mitigated by the fact that you can press the R2 button and the game will switch to an “over the shoulder” perspective, which allows for more precise aiming:
And, although there are a fairly impressive array of power-ups for the default arm-mounted machine gun you get at the start of the game, as well as mines and other alien creatures you can summon to attack the humans – this game is missing one crucial weapon that all 3D action platformers should have.
There is no melee weapon and/or melee attack.
Yes, you heard me correctly, the only weapons you can use in this game are guns, mines and summonable monsters.
This means that even if you are standing right next to one of the bad guys, you can’t just punch him or shove him – you have to waste time and health aiming your weapon at him and firing.
Still, on the plus side, you get to use fairly badass laser gun turrets at various points in the game and there are even some enemies that can only be defeated using these turrets.
But, although the combat in this game isn’t particularly perfect or intuitive, the level design is reasonably good.
So, far, I’ve played the first four or five levels of the game and each level is large enough to make you want to explore, but small enough to ensure that you don’t get lost.
And, yes, this is a game from the days when levels were expected to be non-linear.
So, expect to spend a while searching for keys, (badly-hidden) secret areas and doors.
Personally, I love this about the game – but if you are the kind of gamer who doesn’t like to think for themselves or explore when you’re playing, then you might find this to be frustrating.
The key system in “Small Soldiers” is kind of interesting because you don’t actually search for keys.
Instead, you search for these wierd dragon-like talismans which you have to bring to an area near the beginning of the level which has the same colour lighting as the talisman.
Usually, this area will be a raised platform of some kind, but sometimes it can just be an area on the ground.
Once you do this, a chanting alien will materialise out of nowhere and give you a key.
Whilst I love the theatricality of this and the fact that you sometimes encounter additional enemies on your way back to the key area, I can’t help but feel that this was a rather sneaky way to extend the amount of time that you will spend on each level.
The jumping in the game isn’t perfect – but it isn’t terribly flawed either.
For the most part, the camera angles actually allow you to see where you are going to jump and you can usually jump to where you want to jump if you time it correctly.
But, at the same time, you sometimes have to swing from branches and loops suspended from the ceiling and this can occasionally get mildly frustrating.
As for the levels themselves, there’s a moderate amount of variety here.
Most of the levels I’ve seen so far are fairly gloomy and atmospheric – although the darkness that obscures your view of the distance might just have been included as a way to save processing power.
But, saying this, there is at least a small amount of variety, both in terms of settings and in terms of the style of gameplay that each level requires.
Whilst most of the levels that I’ve played involve searching for keys and exploring, the first and fourth levels of the game are much more action-orientated and slightly more linear.
Whilst this means that you can complete these levels fairly quickly, it provides a refreshing change of pace and prevents the game from becoming monotonous.
Although the voice-acting in “Small Soldiers” is fairly average (and I’m not sure if some of the dialogue was just lifted from the movie), this game really outdoes itself when it comes to the background music.
All of the levels I’ve played so far are filled with dramatic ambient tribal chants and/or spectacular instrumental music in the background, and this really helps to give the game a slightly “cinematic” feel.
All in all, this isn’t the best 3D platform game that I’ve ever played- but it’s far from the worst either.
Although the lack of a melee attack and the very slightly unintuitive aiming system mean that it’ll take a bit of practice before you can fight well, “Small Soldiers” is still a surprisingly entertaining and playable game.
Yes, it isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but it’s still very good fun.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.
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