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Gigantic Army (PC) artwork

Gigantic Army (PC) review

"Gigantic Army is the poorly named game about one man and his mech, built like they used to make them twenty years ago. "

Gigantic Army is an unapologetic throwback to the 16-bit era taking inspiration from the likes of Metal Warriors and Cybernator. It's not updated the formula much; it's simply taken what worked back when and proved that it can work again now. And I, for one, could not be happier about it.

I applaud several of the developer's decisions that stubbornly border on retro-fitted obsolescent rather than shoehorn in the new and the shiny. Your besieged mech strikes enough of a balance between pondering plodding and fluidity to actually feel like a hulking suit a building-tall armour and that you have to re-learn how you used to play games back in the day manages to feel rewarding and appreciated. It would have been easier to employ the dual stick shooting system popularised by the likes of Geometry Wars, but instead, your gun has to be tilted with the up and down key, then locked into place by keeping the trigger pulled. It feels awkward and counter productive for a while -- then that magically moment where it all clicks takes place maybe half an hour into playing, and many explosions are wrought.

Your mech, the GMR-34 SALADIN, really is the star of the show. Gigantic Army gives you the options of arming it with one of three regular and special weapons, then nudges you gently out onto a battlefield and smugly waits for you to die. Your basic weapon choice regulates how many blasts of your special weapon you get, giving you more options with a straight-up machine gun and limiting them right down should you go for the car-sized grenade launcher. You will die, but the game gives you all the options you'll need to survive: you have a huge metallic riot shield with its own life bar to employ when dodging no longer becomes an option. You have limited jump jets grafted to your back and the ability to charge forward short distances. You have a huge hydraulic spike to melee smash anything that manages to get in close.

MISSION ONE (of SIX) drops you into a junkyard of scaffolding and rusting metal, where you stalk through the beginning stages of a game purposefully made to ease you in, but still able to effortlessly gut you. Gun emplacements sit up high, spitting projectiles while enemy mech charge at you from the sides of the screen with huge scissor-like claws. You're forced to learn how to adjust your shot angles and use short, concentrated bursts of your thrusters to reach higher ground, and you'll soon settle in to a sense of security. Shortly, huge tanks sneak in from the sides, soaking up enough of your offence to offer up returning streams of plasma you'll need to block or avoid. Then you jump off a cliff and meet the game's first mid-boss.

It's a huge battle-train that's too big to fit on the screen. It instead lurches from side to side, destroyable turrets dropping huge globs of lazy pink lazer you need to zip in between while innocent looking panels slide aside to release potent napalm missiles that set the ground alight. It's not that hard, but it leads to bigger, hardier robots that you need to battle through to reach the hulking arachnid weapon's platform with twin weak spots hidden on its belly that ends the stage. You need to time your runs under its mammoth legs as its sidles towards you.

It's easy to miss all the subtle touches even this basic level offers. The background is aflame with the scenes of war; tracer bullets fly while massive bursts of laser sizzle and die. A huge, ragged enemy stronghold is besieged by ally ships, their bullets lighting up their target's defensive shields before its returning barrage wipes them all out.

MISSION THREE has you sneaking through a serious of underground caves, trying to hover over stretches of land mines while sneaky cannons pop out of rock formations. MISSION FIVE takes place on a series of airborne platforms that take notable damage when your enemy misses you and hits it instead. Airborne mechs with battle rifles and glowing energy swords drizzle in from the tops of the screen while mammoth jets blanket bomb you. You can hide behind your shield and slowly snipe away at their health, but it's not particularly advised. You're also racing against a strict time limit.

The ever-present countdown lends a constant sense of urgency. Should the timer reach zero, then your health bar starts to plummet, forcing you to balance out the risks in rushing forward to the danger of taking your time. You may not have time to wait for enemy targets to stroll into your cross-hairs; you might have to actively chase them down. You may not have enough seconds in the bank to chip away at the huge bosses and you might be forced to wade in guns blazing. Power-up icons strewn about the levels help add on a bit of time (as well as doling out power and heath upgrades), but it's no substitute for getting a move on.

It will take you a few attempts to beat all six stages of Gigantic Army. It offers no life count, no checkpoints and only three continues to see the game off in; a very achievable goal. Not everything it does works; the soundtrack remains mostly forgettable, and what pretense of a story it does almost reluctantly offer is told between missions on a touch-pad diary. But in-game cut scenes and overly complex BGM are things that belong in the now; Gigantic Army is a champion of yesteryear. An apt reminder that we didn't have it so bad back then when cartridges were the norm and games on a CD were still scoffed at and directional pads were king. And that it doesn't hurt to look back over our shoulders now and then.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 18, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted March 31, 2014:

The Brett Favre of game reviewing soldiers on! Very nice review for a game that looks and seems, by your description, shockingly retro. I especially like the passages about the 'ever-present countdown,' and the conclusion.
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EmP posted April 03, 2014:

I have exactly no idea who Brett Favre is. I hope this does not lead to being shunned.

Thanks, Marc.

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