Before Titanfall and Shogo: Mobile Armor Division allowed players to pilot mechs from the cockpit and before MechAssault and Slave Zero brought third-person cameras to the fray, players piloted humanoid machines from a 2-D, side-scrolling perspective. Ranger X, Cybernator, and Metal Warriors are just a few of the titles that were dominant in the 8- and 16-bit eras. Thanks to Astro Port, an indie development house in Japan, 2-D platforming and shooting returns in Gigantic Army, which feels like it pays homage to those earlier titles.
The story, while simple, makes the game feel like it's a lost relic from the SNES/Genesis days. At the beginning of the 21st century, humans have perfected the warp drive and have made the jump to space travel and colonization. By 2009, they're at war with an alien race known as the Ramulons. As a pilot of the ground troop machine known as the GMR-34 Saladin, your job is to help ensure the war ends with a human victory.
In games like this, the story isn't that important. It helps drive the title forward but isn't meant to be memorable in any significant way. It is surprising, then, that the game tries to frame the story around the diaries of a ground troop mechanic rather than the pilot of the mech. The trouble is that you'll never meet any of these characters, and while the twist is novel, you ultimately won't care about it. It also doesn't help that the text contains several grammatical and spelling errors.
If you have played the games that inspired Gigantic Army, you'll have an immediate idea of how the game works. Throughout six levels, you take your mech in each of the cardinal directions while firing in a 360-degree field as you eliminate as many enemies along the way as you can, including several mid- and end-level bosses. Your machine moves along at a decent clip, but there's also a dash option to perform some short sprints on the battlefield. You also have the ability to jump and get a little more height on your leaps. Your rocket pack burns through fuel quickly but has a regenerative supply. Along with your unlimited primary weapon and limited secondary weapon, you have a manual shield to fend off enemy artillery, though it has its own energy meter and can be destroyed once that energy supply is depleted.
Both your primary and secondary weapons are standard fare for shooters. The standard assault rifle emits rapid pulse blasts, the spread gun has a wider range but slower rate of fire, and the grenade launcher fires one shot at a time but has powerful hits. Your secondary weapons include a cluster bomb for multitudes of ground-based enemies, a rocket launcher that fires a volley of rockets that home in on nearby targets, and a cannon that's slow to fire but creates almost one-hit kills for enemies. Your primary weapon affects the ammo count of the secondary weapon. For example, picking the basic assault rifle means you can pack nine homing missiles, but using the grenade launcher gives you three of the same homing missiles. It ensures you can't breeze through the game with infinite rounds of the most powerful weaponry.
The gameplay on the field mimics older games well enough, so the majority of the enemies on the field are simply cannon fodder. They try to overwhelm the player in sheer quantity, but their tendency to rarely attack means they'll only be a challenge if you're hit with an errant shot. As expected, the boss fights are much more exciting and challenging due to their distinct patterns and more powerful ammo. Some of the fights repeat in terms of bosses involved, but there are a number of minibosses and regular bosses in each level. If there is one area that should have been changed, it's the inability to change your weapon loadout between stages. Should you dislike your weapon combo, you have to stick with it, and with the game lacking a quick option to exit to the main menu, a bad combo can be frustrating.
Gigantic Army also employs some old-school mechanics that make the title feel like it was ripped from an earlier time. For starters, there's a time limit for each level. You can pick up items that extend the timer by 15- to 30-second increments but, for the most part, you're fighting the clock and enemies to prevent the "game over" screen from appearing. There's also no save feature, so you have to try and beat the game in one go. You have three continues before you need to start over, and while you also have an energy meter to prevent one-hit kills, you only have one life. Unlike the other meters in the game, your energy is never filled to the brim at the start of each stage. These are some valiant efforts to add some extra challenge, but it won't be long before you conquer the title's six stages. With no leaderboards, your only impetus to replay the game is the higher difficulty levels.
The issue of game length can be chalked up to personal preference, but there are other peculiarities. The controls are customizable, and the game works especially well with an Xbox 360 controller, but the defaults are odd. For the controller, going into the options means seeing button numbers instead of the familiar symbols of the A and X buttons, for example. You can still press the appropriate button for instant customization, but it's odd to see this designation if you haven't been PC gaming with a gamepad. As for the keyboard, the only complaint is default menu selection, as hitting Enter doesn't select the highlighted option. Instead, you have to hit the default fire key, which is Z. Without that prior knowledge, keyboard-only players may spend an inordinate amount of time finding the right key.
Graphics are another area where it feels like the developers didn't keep up with modern PC standards. The graphics look great, with some sprite art and animation that are throwbacks to older games, only with much smoother animations. The frame rate is rock solid, and though the early stages are filled with browns and grays, the latter half replaces it with a more varied color scheme. However, the game does all of this at 640x480, with no option to scale to a higher resolution. Considering the use of sprites, the default resolution isn't that bad until you get achievements or other Steam notifications in-game. While these notifications appear small in other titles, they are huge here, and getting a stack of them interferes with gameplay since they cover enough real estate to hide enemies. For that alone, an option for higher resolutions would have been ideal.
From a technical standpoint, the weakest part of Gigantic Army is the sound. The effects lack the expected punch, especially when compared to other games it tries to emulate. Gunfire and explosions sound muted, and the other effects don't sound meaningful. The music is generic enough, and it doesn't overwhelm the scene. From the opening text crawl to the various journal entries you see between levels, all of the cut scenes are silent. It feels lazy, and even if they simply used the audio tracks from the battle sequences, it would've been better received than silence.
While Gigantic Army feels like it's intended for those who crave nostalgia, it comes with just enough material to make it stand out. The fights are exciting, and the inclusion of older mechanics strikes the right amount of balance. The technical aspects could've used some work, as the omission of a few things feels lazy when compared to a majority of indie games. However, for the low price tag, this is a fun jaunt that can be played between more substantial games.
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