Most times when a developer pushes a so-called "lite" version of a game, it feels a little too cut and dry, losing some of the charms that made the original or base game what it is remembered for. However, 8-Bit Armies, developed by Petroglyph Studios, does not suffer from this problem and is, in fact, a great title for those looking to get into the RTS genre or return to the classic RTS formula.
First, I need to provide a little backstory to help understand the upcoming comparison. Petroglyph is comprised of a number of former Westwood Studios employees, creators of the fantastic and well known classic series Command & Conquer. That series set the original bar for much of the 90's when it came to the strategy genre. 8-Bit Armies feels like a Command & Conquer Lite, complete with many of the same gameplay mechanics, and more. Hell, even the characters feel like faint memories of old Soviets past in their little, blocky design. The game's unique and vibrant visual style causes tanks and soldiers to pop, even if everything is comprised of blocks.
That being said, 8-Bit Armies is a smaller, indie title and very easy to quickly jump in and start playing without much effort on the player's part. The initial tutorial levels are quick and easy to understand, establishing the how-to's of base building and commanding your army. Build your power stations, build your refinery, build your units and then go smash some enemies. The game itself feels very straightforward and easy for anyone to jump in and play because of this. It's the structure of the missions, though, where the game really starts to shine.
Rather than spending massive amounts of time building and crafting your base, 8-Bit's mission structure are quick, short missions (though you can draw them out) with rankings in the form of stars at the end. Completing the Bronze ranking is akin to finishing the mission, while Silver or Gold usually require extra effort on your part. Completing these requirements end up unlocking new perks, like additional starting units, which can then be used to go back and finish previous missions again for better rankings. Many times, these rankings require missions be completed on a strict time limit, sometimes in 10 minutes or less. It may seem daunting, but the ability to go back and replay with new units and abilities gives a massive replayability factor to the game, especially if you want that extra few tanks to start every level with.
Aside from the single-player offerings, the game also boasts a separate cooperative campaign and online multiplayer as well. So far, the cooperative campaign has proven an excellent challenge as both Kevin and myself have been unable to finish a mission. Perhaps it is rust on my partner's side, but the AI had no problems rushing into his base and wiping him out within minutes. The competitive online multiplayer is quite standard, with your option for free-for-all or team-based matches. If you are feeling nostalgic, you can always setup classic "comp stomp" games as well. Just watch out if you're up against the harder AI difficulties...they're brutal.
Honestly, I'm thoroughly surprised at this little gem of a game. While the difficulty can ramp up quickly and without warning, it's a great challenge that goes with the game's excellent replay value. For fans of old Command & Conquer, this should be high on your list, especially with the added co-op missions. With future updates coming as well, expect the game to have a long shelf life, even for being a smaller indie title.Note: 8-Bit Armies was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.