An isometric RTS from the creators of Grey Goo and Command and Conquer? Don't get your hopes up
It says a lot that I’m a bit of a Petroglyph fan and I didn’t realize they had a new game out. For those not in the know, Petroglyph were formed in 2003 by ex-Westwood employees and boasting several of the creators of Command and Conquer (and so the entire RTS genre) in their ranks. Greats such as Star Wars: Empire At War and their most recent title Grey Goo keep me strongly anticipating a new game from the studio.
8-Bit Armies then I was excited about once I finally heard of it. It’s a real back-to-basics approach to the RTS genre, with voxel graphics, GDI-like units, and an isometric viewpoint akin to C&C Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2. Build up a base, gather resources, create an army, and annihilate the enemy while fending off their attacks. Give it a little bit of imagination, personality and a compelling campaign and 8-Bit Armies could be a really fun throwback of an RTS. Oh dear.
Campaign Gameplay Video
Complete playthrough of the early campaign missions.
Subscribe to GameWatcher YouTube Channel for our latest upcoming PC video features!
8-Bit Armies is very much in the Command & Conquer style of RTS, down to a tee and then stripped back even further. You start with an HQ, slowly build your base and your forces up and then attack the enemy. Build a refinery (and harvesters) to gather resources from little oil fields dotted around the map and protect the harvesters at all costs. Build defences for your base in the form of Machinegun and Rocket Turrets. Expand your base, get a Tech Lab to build more advanced units and structures, keep everything powered by having enough Power Plants, and even build a Nuke if you have access to it and fancy a laugh.
Then there’s the titular army. There’s only one side with identical setups. Build a Barracks and you can create soldiers, build a Motor Pool you can create vehicles, and build an Air Base and you can create helicopters. Soldiers include infantry, rocket launchers, and mechanics to repair vehicles (despite there being a sniper on the main menu there’s not one in the game). Vehicles are harvesters, tanks, machinegun jeeps, and slightly pointless artillery. Helicopters are scout, attack, and transport. And that’s it.
Don't expect things to stay this pleasant.
When I say “stripped back” I mean it. For all the simplicity of Command & Conquer there was a lot of additional design there. Buildings weren’t just there, especially when taking the Brotherhood of Nod into account or especially Red Alert, they had movement and cool designs. Units are worse though. They have absolutely no charm or personality, no voiceover, no response to commands, it’s just boring to command them. It’s made worse by only having one side, so you always know exactly what you’re facing.
The single-player campaign features 25 missions and are all profoundly dull. There are no cutscenes or mission briefings, and only the most basic objectives like “destroy all Tech Labs”. There are optional objectives but these are more like silly “challenges” such as “don’t build tanks” or “complete the mission in 10 minutes”. The missions dole out new units and building types stingily, meaning you’ll be several missions in before you even gain access to tanks, and hours more before helicopters.
Worse, all campaign maps are just not-at-all-disguised multiplayer maps, and there’s not 25 of these so all of them get repeated. Co-op missions are available, which is welcome but there are only 10 of these and they follow basically the same boring setup. Furthermore the AI is atrocious. I’ve had units take the longest and most dangerous way to a destination, Harvesters basically go into an enemy base, guys who refuse to stay put and instead put themselves ahead of turrets so they get attacked first, that kind of thing.
Only a few helicopters and this team is nearly out.
And opponent AI? Enemies who’ll drive into certain death, who simply won’t counter any of my moves and won’t attack me even when I’m sitting in the middle of their base destroying it. It’ll keep trying to rebuild the buildings I’ve destroyed, but not dealing with the 20 tanks doing the shooting. Once you have full access to all units you’ll quickly find that Nukes are useless and that the way to victory is just build a load of tanks, a load of Attack Helicopters, and then attack. There’s no counter for this and you’ll win every time. Dull dull dull.
Which goes double for the multiplayer. The co-op is nice but the versus multiplayer reminded me why I’ve not played RTSs against random people online since about 1995. Every game you’ll almost certainly face someone with supernatural clicking abilities and the power to conjure money out of thin air. On my first game of Team Versus, 3v3, one guy managed to create about 100 Attack Helicopters and 50 Tanks and wiped out me and all my teammates before I’d even built a single helicopter. As mentioned, there’s no real counter for this other than to do the exact same and be exactly as fast. Which isn’t fun.
Well, this is fun.
Say this is your bag, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a game. I checked several times over the game’s launch weekend, Saturday and Sunday at various times of day, and the maximum number of games I encountered was five. And out of those five, three were full and one was empty. I had to click ‘Join’ on the remaining game about six times before 8-Bit Armies acknowledged I’d done something, and in the Lobby it kept making me Ready and Unready at random. Of course when I finally got in I wished I hadn’t. Furthermore if trying to create a new one you’ll be disheartened at the lack of options available - none in fact barring choice of map, and no ability to turn off Nukes for example. Not that I ever saw a Nuke in multiplayer.
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows Vista SP2 or better
Processor: 2.6 GHz Dual Core
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTS 250/ATI Radeon HD 3870
Storage: 2 GB available space
OS: Windows 7
Processor: 2.6 GHz+ Quad Core
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 550 Ti/ATI Radeon HD 6800 Series
As you can see, there’s nothing really demanding about 8-Bit Armies in the specs department. It loads quickly, and despite those problems I had with the multiplayer otherwise technically everything worked for me and anyone should be able to play this as long as they meet the minimum requirements of “own a PC”.
Graphically Petroglyph have gone for a voxel engine with an isometric camera angle similar to Tiberian Sun or Red Alert 2, which I am very happy with and I particularly love how colourful it all is. However I should point out that it’s not 8-Bit, it’s basically a “Minecraft look”. Which I don’t care about, but I do care that the lack of personality in the game extends to the looks. Maps have little charm or anything to make them stand out, and even those set around a volcano or a penguin sanctuary don’t have much to make them visually appealing. The penguins don’t even move.
So I guess rivers of molten lava are cosmetic then.
Audio / Voice Acting
The only voice acting is the deliberately C&C-evoking computer voice, which is nice enough but units are completely silent meaning that half the fun of commanding these guys is gone. The actual sound effects are meant to evoke old-school arcade games but instead they come off as “basic”. The music is from well known C&C and Grey Goo composer Frank Klepacki, which I can’t complain about but I can’t say I noticed it that much. It’s pretty good, but not one of his best.
I can see what Petroglyph were trying to do, but I feel they’ve missed the mark widely. A nice, simple, uncomplicated back-to-basics RTS that anyone can jump into sounds great. 8-Bit Armies is certainly that, but Petroglyph have leaned too far on the “simple”. It sounds impressive when you say that the experienced RTS team behind Star Wars: Empire At War and Grey Goo are making a fun colourful RTS in the style of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, with a 25 mission campaign, separate co-op missions, skirmish, and multiplayer. In fact that’s a pitch I’d Kickstart the s**t out of.
But there’s only one side, none of it (units, buildings, maps) has any personality or charm (beyond the pootling of the harvesters), the campaign is deeply unimaginative and is entirely built around the few skirmish maps with boring objectives, the multiplayer is already home to either far-too-good or deeply suspicious players with not enough games on at any time to make a difference, and every match can be won by just building a load of tanks and attack choppers and storming the enemy. Which is not what I wanted from this type of game.
One interesting note before the slightly damning verdict: the main menu has a curious “Coming Soon” button which when clicked on suggests that a new fantasy-based side is on the cards. If Petroglyph can add several totally different new sides that hark to big names in the RTS genre, representing Command & Conquer, Warcraft and perhaps later armies based on Starcraft, Total War and the like then it could be worth another look. Until then 8-Bit Armies is woefully lacking.
8-BIT ARMIES VERDICT
We can’t remember the last time a game disappointed us so much. Petroglyph are a gifted RTS developer filled with industry veterans, and their last title Grey Goo was superb. 8-Bit Armies though is not. We can see that they wanted to create a classic-style back-to-basics RTS with a Command and Conquer feel but they only got halfway there. The basics are in place, but with none of the spark or imagination that makes an enjoyable game. It’s all too shallow, boring, without any charm or personality, and has a truly awful single-player campaign to boot. And I wouldn’t touch the multiplayer again with a V2 rocket. Call us when you’re ready to Kickstart a proper isometric RTS Petroglyph, not a half-baked one.
TOP GAME MOMENT
That intriguing “Coming Soon” page.
A voxel engine isometric RTS in the style of old-school Command and Conquer!
Without any of the charm, personality or imagination that made those games enjoyable. AI's pretty atrocious too.
25-mission campaign consists entirely of the same handful of multiplayer maps reused over and over again, with boring objectives.
Few multiplayer matches available and those are probably filled with suspiciously good players that decimate all they see.