by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Looking back isn't always a good thing
Aiming for that nostalgia itch is a tricky business. We all have games from our childhood and teens that we remember fondly, and often bring up in conversation: “Hey, I wish they remade that game, or at least made something like it”. The problem is, games are just… better now. So to make a throwback game, you need to make a concerted effort to bring it into the 21st century. For the most part, games that were made decades ago should probably remain there, unless something drastic is done to update them. Gigantic Army attempts to scratch the side scrolling arcade shooter itch, and it does that, just not in a way that seems modern.
I often play games in fullscreen windowed mode, it lets me do other stuff while the game is running. So when asked if I wanted to enter full screen mode by the launcher, I clicked no. I wasn’t expecting the tiny resolution (what looked like 640x480) that it offered up. I decided to look around the options menu to see if there was anything bigger for me. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to navigate the menus. No mouse support, so I tried out the arrow keys. Okay that’s working, now Enter to select an option? Nope. Space? Nah. Turned out Z and X were the keys I needed. This is a PC game, right?
Off to a rocky start
Time to check out the graphics options. Oh, there aren’t any. The music was deafening, so I turned that down, at least I could do that. I decided to restart the game to see what it looked like in full screen mode (about the same, but bigger, as you might expect). The music was deafening again. Using a gamepad this time, with slightly more intuitive controls, I went back through the menus. It hadn’t saved my sound options. I was already frustrated and I hadn’t even begun playing. I hoped for my sake, and the review’s, that the gameplay would be top notch.
Weapons and ammo
Your first playthrough has you choose between Easy and Normal difficulty settings. I tried both and there didn’t seem to be much difference between the two. From there, you choose one of three main weapons, and one of three secondary weapons. As for the primary weapons, the Riot Gun seemed the easiest to use, as it had a high rate of fire and sprayed around, making it nearly impossible to miss enemies as long as you kept firing. The Assault Rifle also has a high rate of fire, but is not as powerful. The lower weight means you can carry more secondary weapon ammo however. The Grenade Gun is what you would imagine, high firepower, but heavy, limiting your ammo for your other weapon.
The secondary weapon is largely used for taking out bosses, or dealing with large groups of enemies. The Missile Pod scatters rockets around, which home in on enemies. The Cluster Bomb fires in an arc and then drops bombs on an area, but with no aiming reticule it is often impossible to get it exactly where you want it to go. The Beam Cannon is the most impressive, dealing a huge amount of damage, but you won’t be able to fire it too often. You can mix and match the primary and secondary weapons as you please, but I would’ve liked to be able to change my loadout between levels. As it is, the choice you make at the start will remain with you for your entire playthrough. For as long as that might be.
Blast from the past
Gigantic Army leans heavily on its arcade influences. So much so that it almost has a Roguelike-like quality, in that once you run out of lives, you’ll have to start the whole game over. It felt a little unnecessary here. Perhaps in a separate “Arcade Mode” this would’ve been welcome, with a separate Single Player campaign which allowed you to save between levels. As it is, I’ve played the first few levels countless times, and don’t have much desire to again. I refer to my previous point about updating games for current times. We are now used to being able to see a game through to the end. Here, you’ll have to set aside enough time to actually finish the game, or at least leave the game running if you have to step away for some reason.
The gameplay itself is fine and stays true to its side scrolling roots. The majority of weapons are quite satisfying and I appreciated some of the enemy design, especially of the bosses, which often filled the screen in all their metallic glory. The graphics too, have a retro style, which I don’t mind as much as having archaic gameplay systems. The sound design fell flat for me, especially considering the long narrative text scrawl which precedes the first level is deathly silent.
I understand the desire to create games which hark back to the days of arcades. However there are games out there that just do it better than Gigantic Army. There are ways of creating nostalgia that don’t leave the player wishing they were playing an original side scroller, rather than a 21st century remake. The game isn’t terrible, but I don’t have much desire to go back and play it now. Thankfully, it is saved in part by its budget price.
Certainly remains true to its influences
Many systems are in dire need of a modernisation