Developer: Red Storm
Release Date: November 15, 2007
When the America's Army series launched five years ago on the PC, it was hailed as a fairly ingenious idea. The original, Rise of a Soldier, was released as a free downloadable game in the hopes of bolstering recruiting and showing the kids out there just how cool it is to join the armed forces. Critics found the title to be both well-made and fun, and it garnered a fairly positive reception. A few years later, the game made the transition to the consoles, and while some bemoaned paying full price for something you could get for free online, no one made much of a fuss since now everyone could enjoy this little gem, not just those with the machines to support it. Now, the series has gone console-exclusive with the new America's Army: True Soldiers, and the most important lesson we're about to learn is that lightning doesn't strike twice. This game is utterly awful.
First, let's hit up the good because it won't take long, and we can then move on to all the things about this game that make me want to shatter the disc and cut myself with the pieces. First, the character progression system is nicely done, and as you play, you really feel a sense of going from a green recruit to a professional soldier. Success in missions grants you skill points to use to increase your Fortitude, Marksmanship, Medic, Physical Training and Valor abilities. Upping these attributes will allow you to steady your gun better as you shoot, sprint for longer periods of time, take more damage, and so forth. It's a well-implemented system, and as you progress, you can really see the difference in your abilities and skills.
The other thing the game gets right is multiplayer. There are a ton of modes, each with a healthy number of options to help you set up the exact game you want. From deathmatch to co-op, you can jump online with up to 16 players and just go to town. Of course, good luck finding 15 other people who own this game because they're likely playing Call of Duty 4 or GRAW 2. However, if you do have a group of friends that all own this game, you can set up a unit together complete with its own motto, saying, and patch. It's very obvious that multiplayer is the mode the developers spent the most time on, and if they had devoted the same effort to single player as they did here, then what you may have ended up with is a must-buy rather than a searing disappointment.
Assuming you either already have another shooter you play online or don't have an Xbox Live account, you'll probably want to try out the game's single-player options. That would be a bad idea. The only solo game types are basic training and war games, and both of them are a colossal waste of time while still managing to be exceptionally tedious and frustrating.
Basic training is, as the name implies, your fundamental experience learning the game's controls and how to handle the weapons. Every time you hop into the mode, you'll be briefed by an overly loud, overly stereotyped drill sergeant who will talk your ear off for a couple minutes and then tell you to go pick up the gun and do some target shooting. This wouldn't be a bad mode if you progressed straight through from one weapon to the next, or if you could continue your training while the sarge was busy flapping his gums, but that's not how it works. Every time you want to try a new gun, you have to go back to the mission select screen, wait for it to load, and then stand in place and wait for more briefing before you can pick up the gun and squeeze off a few rounds. I understand that the Army wants to convey a sense of realism, but if this is what basic training is really like, then I'm surprised everyone in the service hasn't died of boredom.
One would assume that once basic training is over, you'd ship out and take the fight to America's enemies; well, you'd be wrong, as you'll never see any actual combat in this title. After you finish basic, the only other single-player option is war games, which is essentially the Army's version of paintball. You and two other new recruits head out into the field with yet another annoying, overly caffeinated drill sergeant who will lead you around the map and into skirmishes with OPFOR, the military's training personnel. Instead of live ammo, you're given paint shells that explode a pretty blue when they hit. Once you shoot an opponent, he simply sits down cross-legged on the ground, apparently getting ready to play a game of cards or sing a campfire song. If it sounds boring and unsatisfying, that's because it is.
On top of the droll gameplay, True Soldiers boasts some of the most insipid AI I've ever seen. Friends and foes alike are perfectly happy to run out into the open and shoot at each other, and your teammates really can't be counted on for anything other than being worthless distractions. The worst is if you should go down in battle and need a partner to deliver medical attention to get you back on your feet. Rather than rushing to your aid, as you would see in a real war, your teammates happily go on shooting at the hill the enemy is hiding behind (because they're too stupid to try and go over or around it) and simply leave you there until they've managed to annoy the enemy enough that he just shoots himself in the foot so he can escape this awful game. Only then will they slowly and tediously make their way over to you, patch you up, and bring you back into the fray. If this is how real troops are taught to behave on the battlefield, then it's a wonder anyone survives Army service at all.
If the game hasn't somehow driven you to return it to the store by this point, then the menu system will be the final straw. Everything is handled via radial menu, and every action takes a certain amount of time to complete. Now, a pause is to be expected when reloading or changing weapons, and gamers are fine with that, but most of these delays are so long and laborious that you'll likely be dead before you achieve what you need. My personal favorite is throwing a grenade. First, you have to pull up the menu and select it. Be careful not to get the weapon next to it, because then you'll have to wait for the game to load that weapon before you even think about pulling out an explosive. Once you manage to get your selection, you have to aim, wait for the throw, wait for the explosion, wait for the "reload" (since you can only have one "armed" at a time), and then go back into the menu and play the waiting game once again as you pull out a new gun. The whole process can take upwards of 20 seconds, and in the meantime, you can rest assured that your target has already moved, and there's no way you'll hit him. Now, extrapolate this problem to every single action in the game other than running and shooting, and you'll see why trying to accomplish anything is a hair-pulling experience.
There's really nothing else in True Soldiers that can save it from its fate as a bargain bin title that no one should touch. The graphics are little more than functional, and you won't remember any of these generic faces after you power down the console. The voice acting is laughable, with a terrible script being delivered by incompetent voice actors, and the controls are stiff and awkward, with your players controlling more like the army out a cartoon than America's finest. Oh, and to really burn you up, just in case for some reason you're still thinking about buying this game, there are no checkpoints. None. If you die, you start all the way over from the beginning, listening to the same bad dialogue, facing the exact same enemies in the exact same locations, and likely dying due to the exact same worthless teammate AI and borderline broken gameplay elements.
In short, there is absolutely no reason to buy, rent, or even look at America's Army: True Soldiers. The only thing that's even remotely fun about the title is the multiplayer, and that can be had on nearly any other 360 shooter worth its weight. Off the top of my head, I can already think of at least a half-dozen other games that do it better. Everything else about the title just screams "stay away," and picking this one up is only an exercise in frustration. If you really support our troops, then stay far, far away from True Soldiers. They'll thank you for it.
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