Wednesday, December 12, 2007

America's Army: True Soldiers(Xbox 360)

Game Features:

Offline Players: 1-2
System Link: 2-16
Cooperative: 2
Online Multiplayer: 1-16
Online Cooperative: 2-4
Downloadable Content
Online Leaderboards
Online Voice Support
EDTV 480p Support
HDTV 720p Support
HDTV 1080i Support
Dolby 5.1 In-Game
Xbox 360 Exclusive

So you like first-person shooters, do you? Take your pick if you own an Xbox 360: WWII, sci-fi, sim, modern military, even cartoon-style. To say there is a glut of FPSes for the Xbox 360 is nearly an understatement, but an overage of good FPSes? Well, that is an entirely different matter.

Falling into the sim-style FPS category is Ubisoft’s America’s Army franchise, which has government-owned roots on the PC. Used as a clever way to bolster recruitment, the U.S. Army released America’s Army on Independence Day 2002, and has continued to release new versions, patches and update packs to this day.

Console owners haven’t been so lucky when it comes to playing the mil-spec FPS action that is known in the hardcore circles simply as “AA.” America’s Army: Rise of a Soldier released in 2005 for the original Xbox, and was quickly lost in the FPS shuffle, due to such powerhouses as Halo 2 and Ubisoft’s own Rainbow Six series. Rise of a Soldier was so-so in every facet—not the best way of establishing a foothold in the ultra-competitive world of console first-person shooting.

Fast-forward almost three years later and we magically have a new AA title in our midst. America’s Army: True Soldiers has come in like a lamb, without the heavy PR pushes that seem to be part and parcel of the gaming industry. But now we’re starting to think the “soft” release of America’s Army: True Soldiers has more to do with its quality—or the lack thereof—and not because games supported by the U.S. military are easy sells.

You’ll probably realize soon after the sixty dollars is spent on America’s Army: True Soldiers that it is going to be an “adventure,” but not the kind that is associated with the military’s former ad slogan. The user interface and menu screens are intelligent and well-designed, but as soon as the training modes kick up, it’s time to take cover or be hit with a barrage of suspect FPS gaming.

The first glaring issue, at least to those used to the high degree of polish in late-model Xbox 360 games, is the rough look to America’s Army: True Soldiers. Yes, foliage is animated (as is the lower cloud cover), and the lighting and shadowing associated with said moving foliage sways as well, but that’s about all that there is with which to be impressed. In fact, the shadows look blocky, too, but at least they match the low polygon counts in the character models. Some of the background skins look okay, but they are mainly made up of the oversimplified textures that seem to be a common theme in America’s Army: True Soldiers. And to top it all off, the frame rate suffers from having so many animated bits per scene, which really puts a damper on the smoothness when it’s actually time to move your soldier. And, speaking of soldiers, the first interaction with NPCs is disheartening, too. The commanding officers don’t even care to look at you, and they conveniently float and pivot above the ground as if to say, “I am mightier than you, recruit.”

When you do decide to stop sitting there in awe of how bad America’s Army: True Soldiers looks compared to Call of Duty 4, and actually decide to get moving, you’ll be even more depressed with your purchase. Your character moves in staccato steps, due to the frame rate and odd programming that seems to have allowed the push for sim gameplay to get in the way of the fun. Your character will simply seem slow to respond to any inputs; whether it’s rising from the prone position or releasing from that dream cover spot. The slowness to respond continues when a weapon is armed, as the code seems to have issue with the change in modes. Grab a grenade, a different weapon or go from regular sighting to iron sighting at the wrong time, and there will be a hitch in your soldier’s giddy-up.

If the general gameplay mechanics of a FPS are blatantly off before a player even gets into the “s***”, then you know it’s going to be bad when AI enemies and friendlies with the same bad mechanics are brought into the mix. The friendly AI in the mission action is just plain laughable when compared to what a real soldier is trained to do in hot situations. Your teammates seem to almost taunt enemy bullets with how they sit out in the open. The enemy AI isn’t much brighter, as all adversaries under it seem to be horrid shots and wouldn’t know cover even if it snuck up behind them and bit them in the rump roast.

Terrible marksmanship and a lack of understanding of the cover concept mean that many firefights turn into intimate encounters in America’s Army: True Soldiers. Not a bad thing, until you realize that the radial menu system for choosing weapons is clunky, and releasing from your own cover spot is a lesson in futility. Throw in the aforementioned issues with frame-rate dips and a healthy dosage of hit-detection problems (or maybe the 5.56 round is as ineffective as they say it is), and you have yourself a three-ring circus.

You won’t find many instances in real combat where two good guys and two bad guys can exchange point-blank rifle fire—with no cover, mind you—for ten seconds. You’ll see it with regularity in America’s Army: True Soldiers, and it tends to become funny after awhile. There are fewer instances of these odd, close-quarters situations in the multiplayer arena—the element in which America’s Army: True Soldiers shines its brightest—but all of the mechanical breakdowns described above apply to each and every soldier on the battlefield. There are definitely some redeeming factors of the multiplayer arena, such as the support for sixteen players and above-average clan functionality, but the lack of gameplay polish takes the luster out of even these few positives.

We could literally go ad nauseum on and on about the problems with America’s Army: True Soldiers: massive clipping, mission cue mishaps, lack of checkpoints in the training and War Game missions. On the brighter side, America’s Army: True Soldiers is mil-spec due to its governmental support, so there is a good lesson to be learned here about the current weapons and tools used by our troops so they can protect and serve. But if America’s Army: True Soldiers is an indication of the quality of these weapons or tools deployed to our troops—or of the quality of the training or tactics deployed by our military—then we are in big trouble.

Avoid this one like jungle rot unless you really need schooling on modern military tools and nomenclature.

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