8-Bit Armies (PS4) Review

If I was to ask you to name one genre which hasn’t really had much exposure on current consoles, I imagine a lot of people would say the RTS genre. Sure, we’ve had Halo Wars and Sudden Strike 4, but we’ve not had a lot – why? I imagine it’s because a lot of people cling to the notion that an RTS with a controller in sacrilege and goes against all things holy in this world (or at least that’s how some people react when you bring it up). However, RTS games can be played just fine with a controller, it’s all down to the developer optimising the UI and controls for a more casual approach.

In comes Petroglyph, an indie developer which is made up of a number of people who worked on the original Command & Conquer games. They’ve taken their knowledge of the genre, combined it with a casual control scheme which works well on consoles, and developed 8-Bit Armies for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

8-Bit Armies 1

Taking the enemy out, one block at a time!

Construct your base. Train your army, Attack! Destroy the enemy base and win the battle.

The above is basically the whole point/story of 8-Bit Armies. Whereas your regular RTS will expand on a campaign of revenge, malice or invasion as you progress throughout the various levels and become close to the main antagonists, here we have a much more fast-paced game with an emphasis on speed and efficiency. Sure, you can slow down, take your time, build all the various structures as you would in C&C and then strategically creep up on your opponents and take them out with a pincer or sneak attack. However, that’s not really what the game is pushing for with its timed tasks.

Each mission is ultimately very similar, build essential facilities in order to refine your resources and then use those resources to invest in other factories to produce units and power. Once you’re running efficiently, with a nice supply of income being generated, it’s time to go wild and queue up many units so that you can being to plan your attack. Although, some missions will be slightly different as you may be tasked with being on the defensive rather than the offensive. Those will require you to be more reserved and kit out your base with turrets and heavy defences instead of sending your troops out into the unknown to cause havoc.

What I found strange was how 8-Bit Armies has you controlling your units. Usually, you would hold a button and the game has an expanding circle which highlights those you want to command. In this game, when making units, you press either Square, Triangle or Circle to queue up the production. Depending on what button you pressed, that’s the button you use to select all units in that ‘group’ when on the battlefield. Technically it works, but it’s rather fidgety – especially when you open a crate and find some vehicles but they are assigned to another ‘team’ so you have to keep pressing a different face button to choose which one to command. I’ve not found a way to ‘re-assign’ them either.

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The animals (tanks) went in 20 by 20 hurrah, hurrah

Who will you be?
In total, you have 25 missions to play through in the ‘Renegades’ campaign, each with three tasks to complete. The tasks aren’t just there to test your skill level either as each one you complete unlocks a reward for you, such as unlocking new structures and units and increasing your starting loadout within all levels on subsequent playthroughs. I know what you’re thinking though, those rewards don’t sound special – why would you need them? Well…

• You can only earn up to the first star if you play a mission on Easy mode. This means the most you’ll unlock is new facilities or units and maybe the occasional small increase to a few units in your loadout.
• The Normal or Hard modes allow you to unlock up to all three stars at the same time, this will give you a chance to unlock a bigger advantage to your initial loadout in subsequent missions.
• If you replay ANY mission after you’ve got a star (can be an earlier, later or the same one) then you’ll be given the extra benefits you just achieved such as more units or the ability to build new types of units.

 I thought this was a great idea as the more missions and tasks you complete, the more powerful your starting army is – so if you can’t do some tasks, leave them and come back later as they’ll be much easier.

If you manage to complete all 25 missions as the Renegades, or if you fancy trying out something a little different, you can swap sides and play for the Guardians instead. The gameplay is pretty much identical to the Renegades style above, only you’ll have access to different units and new maps to play on. The only other difference I can see is that the Guardian campaign only has 15 missions instead of 25, each still has three stars though. I personally like the Guardians campaign more as the maps seem a little more interesting and the units seem to pack more of a punch, especially the flame-thrower tanks!

8-Bit Armies 3

I think I won that one…

Mission debriefing:
The question is, what are the tasks you have to perform in order to unlock these handy benefits then? Well…
• The first star, the essential one, is basically your overall mission. I’ve seen this range from ‘Stay alive for X amount of minutes’ to ‘Destroy all enemy structures’ and even ‘Bank X amount of money within Y amount of time’.
• The second star is your secondary objective I guess. Things like ‘Complete the mission without building a turret’, ‘Destroy X amount of enemy structures’ on a staying alive mission, and ‘Don’t lose or sell any buildings’.
• The third star is your ‘platinum trophy’ in most cases – you obtain it by completing both the previous stars within a certain time. However, on the staying alive missions, the third star is to achieve the second star within a set amount of time as you’re already targeted with staying alive for a certain time as the main mission. 

This is where the game loses a bit of its excitement and hook with your attention though. You’ll see a lot of the same mission types and tasks repeat as you work your way through the main campaign. This isn’t always a bad thing though as the game is solid in terms of its mechanics – who wouldn’t like to command an army of Minecraft soldiers as they head off to war and explode into pixel explosions? However, you do start playing every level the same way as most of them are so similar, you can do an identical layout of your base and structures and win by copying what you did last time click for click. 

One thing to mention though, even though I said there isn’t much of a story, each mission in the campaign listing has its own short set-up dialogue. So technically I guess there is a story, but it’s a story held together by the same gameplay and no actual cutscenes or spoken dialogue.

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Skirmish and online is fun

What next?
If you’re tired of playing 8-Bit Armies on your own, there are a few online options as well.
• You can play one of twelve missions in online co-op with another person (friend or stranger) where it’s both of you commanding units on the same team as you aim to complete the mission and take down the enemy together. These all also come with three objective stars for you to work towards.
• There is also a standard Multiplayer mode. In here you can pick from one of the twelve maps which are based around how many players they support (2-6). You can set whether you wish the game’s objective to be: destroy all the opponent’s structures, destroy all units and structures, destroy your opponent’s HQ, or assassinate your opponent’s ‘super unit’. You can also adjust how many resources are present in each deposit and if there will be random crate drops which store additional units. 

The online multiplayer aspect is cool and I did play a few rounds with one of my mates when the game initially came out. The issue is, unless you have a friend who you want to play the game with, the online aspect isn’t active at all on the PS4. This is a shame as it really is a lot of fun to play, especially as you can play in co-op rather than just against the other online players. 

If you still want to play these Multiplayer levels but you can’t find anyone online, jump over to Skirmish mode and you can do exactly the same options as you can in the MP mode above only this time it will be you vs 1-5 CPU opponents instead. The good thing about the skirmish is you can even jump into a 3-6 player map and have multiple ‘people’ grouped together. For example, if you want to take on a ‘hard’ CPU but you don’t think you can do it alone, stick a few Easy or Normal CPU AI teams in the game and set them to be your ally. Now it’ll be you three against the one enemy. Obviously, you can flip it and have more against you or a simple free-for-all if you choose as well. 

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Each faction has their own build trees.

Hordes of Aliens…
When you’re in the online mode or the skirmish menu, you’re given the choice of what race/faction you wish to be. You can only pick the Renegades or Guardians but there are a few others which are greyed out. The developers have a few expansions out on PC already, 8-Bit Hordes and 8-Bit Invaders. These are planned to come to consoles sometime next year as stand-alone releases as they have their own campaigns and missions. However, should you own 8-Bit Armies and your friend has 8-Bit Invaders, you can play as the Renegades or Guardians but your friend can play as either the Cranioids or the Marines. 

It’s basically going to work on a cross-play feature but not cross-platform but cross-game. I don’t think I’ve seen any other game perform this previously, so it’ll be fun to see how that works. I know the games are coming out physically from Soedesco but I couldn’t say if existing owners of 8-Bit Armies could just get a DLC update to add the additional campaigns or if you have to buy the other product to have access to those units. It would be nice if you were given the choice of a DLC update OR physical/digital new stand-alone product.

That would be like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag where we had the ‘Freedom Cry’ DLC as both a standalone and a normal DLC to the game. 

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The UI is very user-friendly for a controller.

Technical:
8-Bit Armies looks pretty cool. I know I joked earlier on and said it looked like Minecraft but if I was to compare it to any game visually, I would say I Hate Running Backwards. The character models look just like the ones within that game, or Out of Ammo on the PSVR as that also has similar looking characters. The colours are all very bright and the various units are easy to make out – it looks really good on a big TV. The only issue is the camera, you can’t seem to zoom in and out or rotate the camera – it’s in a locked position and height, which is a bit annoying. Soundwise it’s nothing special. The audio sounds fine, the music is catchy and has a ‘war’ feeling to it in its electro-anthem style.

Personal Opinion:
Not to sound offensive but 8-Bit Armies feels like a mobile phone version of Command & Conquer if that makes sense? Not the new mobile game EA showed off at E3, but if someone decided to take Command & Conquer and water it down into a fast-paced version which was created to give you short bursts of enjoyment whilst not having to really concentrate on things as you slaughtered anything that gets in your way. Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed playing through it and unlocking new units to give myself an advantage on previously attempted missions so I could try and get a better result. I love games that have a sense of progression and 8-Bit Armies does it perfectly by allowing you to move on and then come back later. It’s kind of like a rogue-lite in that aspect I guess.

Hands up though, I’ve not finished the main campaign yet, or the Guardians one. The levels get pretty tricky and I’ve been playing it in short bursts (one or two missions at a time). The trophy list is also a pain to make a dent into as most of the trophies are around completing multiplayer games or skirmishes against ‘insane’ CPU characters. There are a few for completing the single-player campaigns with 1, 2 and 3 stars as well. Literally, nobody has the platinum yet – that’s how difficulty some of them are.

One point though – where’s the Nintendo Switch version? This gameplay style is perfect for a handheld device.

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
8-Bit Armies is a fast-paced and simple looking version of more advanced and realistic RTS games. Despite it looking rather cute and innocent, there’s a lot of pixel mayhem to be had in this rather mechanically deep strategy game. Sure, you’ll be whizzing through the missions quite fast at around 10-15 minutes each, but you’ll be returning to them once you’ve unlocked more units so you can unlock more of the elusive stars. The ability to perform Cross-Play with the other two games in the franchise (when they come out) is a great concept, I just wish more people were playing it online. However, if you and a friend like playing RTS games but don’t want to spend hours on just one mission each night, you should both grab a copy of 8-Bit Armies (or the others next year) and enjoy the quick-fire rounds. 

Die-hard RTS fans may find 8-Bit Armies a little too simple in terms of its overall feeling, but those who casually like to play games in this genre, or those who are looking for a game to play in short bursts – you’ll like this one. 

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

8-Bit Armies

£24.99
7.3

Final Score

7.3/10

The Good:

  • Fun and very fast-paced RTS game
  • Decent amount of different units to unlock and build
  • Two campaigns with a total of 40 missions and three tasks in each to complete
  • Cross-Play with the other two games (when released)
  • Catchy music

The Bad:

  • The online side is empty at the moment (yet it's lots of fun playing with a friend)
  • Trophies are quite hard to unlock
  • Not much variety in terms of the mission and task requirements
  • You can't move or zoom the camera
  • The unit assignments is a bit strange

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