There's something wonderfully serene about a familiar game, even if it's one whose core premise revolves around war. Booting it back up, the player hears a soundtrack that takes them back to a time when they were younger and things were simpler. The graphics remind them of a summer evening at the arcade. This idea is what shapes 8-Bit Armies; players need a nostalgic shot to the veins every once in a while.
From Petroglyph Games, 8-Bit Armies is an real time strategy war game in the spirit of Command & Conquer. The latter is an old-school RTS known for it full-motion video cutscenes and tongue-and-cheek humor. Often considered one of the most influential games in the genre, C&C just saw the latest addition to its 20+ year series in Command & Conquer Rivals. The reasoning for the comparisons between 8-Bit Armies and C&C is obvious: many of the developers and executives who worked on the original game at Westwood Studios (then EA) are founding members of Petroglyph. It wouldn't be a stretch to call the game a "spiritual successor."
But 8-Bit Armies does little to separate itself from the games of yore. While there's a general performance overhaul, cutting down on lag and loading times, the content is like looking through a mirror to the past. The campaign is limited. There are 25 single-player missions that can be played on three levels of difficulty. Both of the factions, the Guardians and the Renegades, have their own campaign, but they hardly feel separate due to a lack of any overarching narrative. The missions are simply selected from a menu, beaten (with the option to pursue additional objectives for bonus points), and then return the player to the main menu. This could be seen as a plus for more traditional gamers, but in a modern gaming space, it seems like an oversight and is frankly disappointing.
Additionally, there's a co-op campaign, but it offers more or less the same experience as the main story. Load into a map, complete an objective, rinse and repeat. The same could be said for the game as a whole. It's refreshing at first to play sometime so simple and streamlined, but it quickly becomes obvious that there's practically only one way to play. Games like StarCraft have lasted as long as they have because of the competitive nature of the game, it's varied factions, and the many ways it can be played. It is hard to see 8-Bit Armies maintaining the same longevity.
A game in 8-Bit Armies is short, which works to its favor. The combat and flow follow your basic RTS. Create and build an army base from barracks to power plants. Stock up on materials to craft soldiers and other army units, then scout of the enemy base and attack. The game is very generous with its resource count, so it never takes too long to amass a huge amount of forces. Once a player sends them off to the battlefield, the real fun begins. The fully destructible city environments are a blast to blow up with infantry and tanks alike. Watching a small war take place in the countryside or over the desert plains in a goofy 8-bit fashion is highly enjoyable. Frank Klepacki's score is reminiscent of his work on C&C with a bit of dubstep thrown in for good measure. It punctuates the battles perfectly, adding just the right amount of chip-tune flair. It works in smaller, quieter moments as well, like when a base is being built, or the battalion is on the march.
This game has notably been out on PC (Steam) for two years. The console version was recently ported and works without a hitch. The controls (party because they are so simple) translate well and it's easy to maintain control over the army at a player's disposal. The player can quickly get a hang of switching between the three potential groups of soldiers, building bases versus soldiers, and general navigation. However, it's the same streamlined approach that leaves the game feeling incomplete.
8-Bit Armies embraces the beliefs of its predecessors in the genre, that you don't need to be a complicated RTS to be a fun RTS. And in that, the game succeeds. But whether or not its nostalgic approach will net enough console players to be considered a success is yet to be seen.
8-Bit Armies is out now on PS4 and XBox for $14.99 and is also available on Steam. A digital PS4 copy was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.