Ok, ok. By now you have heard me mutter the words Cannon Fodder clone more than a few times during coverage of this game. But you see that game is one of my all time favourite games, and so it is difficult not to compare it, so you’ll just have to get used to hear that game’s name. I was even thinking of developing a clone of it myself, but Freeverse beat me to it. So, the question is, is it as good as Cannon Fodder? Well, no! But it’s a pretty good attempt.
The game sees you controlling a squad of little men, through various environments, all the while hunting down enemy troops. Its presented in a 2D cartoon-ish style with a top down view of the battlefield. Each level begins with your squad parachuting down to the centre of the screen, awaiting your orders.
Control is all touch based. Either touch on the screen where you want the little blighters to go, or touch and drag you finger and they’ll follow it. To shoot, you double tap on the target or direction the target is in, and they’ll open fire. As well as machine guns, alternative weapons are available, such as grenades, bazooka and sniper rifle. Grenades and the Bazooka work in the same way, once you have picked up the weapon, you tap the the icon on the bottom left o the screen to switch to it. Then double tap where you want to shoot as you would with the machine gun. For the sniper rifle, you tap the screen to activate a scope view. With the game being top down, the scope view simply allows you to scroll through the battlefield by dragging with your finger, once you have located the target it’s a case of lifting your finger off the screen to shoot. As long as you are aiming in the general direction you will be successful. Binoculars are also available which work in the same way but without the resulting violence! These come in handy to get a lay of the land and plan your attack.
Later levels see the introduction of vehicles such as the helicopter and tank, these both control in a similar fashion to the squad, but allow you to cover more ground quickly and with more firepower.
I love the art-style for this game, on the face of it it’s simple 2D sprite work, but look closer and there’s some great level of detail, especially in the swamp levels where the marsh meats the swamp, with ripples appearing as the squad pass through it. Mist drifts across the screen, and the trees gently shake… it looks great and coupled with the sound of birds and rain-forest wildlife, it’s pretty atmospheric. Later levels of war-torn towns look good too. However, visually the best thing about Grunts are the explosions, the first time this happened it came as a bit of a shock… I was expecting a generic sprite animated explosion, but what I got was a display similar to that of a firework. Takeout an enemy turret or munitions dump and Kabooom! It’s a great effect.
Controls are a mixed bag. They are not terrible, but they seem a little rushed. As you drag around the screen, it’s often times tricky to see what’s just beyond the screen. There is an option to play in both landscape and portrait mode at the flip of the iPhone, allowing an increased view vertically in portrait mode and horizontally in landscape mode, so at times you can do this to solve the problem, but mostly you feel you are flying blind. I’d often enter an area only to find a large group of enemy troops firing at me, and due to the controls not letting me move and fire at the same time, it comes down to a shoot-off to see who can unload the most lead first. This isn’t so much a problem with the current controls and instead not adding more. An option to pinch to zoom out would fix this and with a multi touch device it seems a little strange to leave that out.
A bigger problem is weapon selection. Should you accidentally pick up a pair of binoculars, the grenades you had are now gone, which can make or break a mission. A simple weapons selection wheel would be a welcome addition, as well as an easier way to fire your secondary weapon, instead of reaching into the corner each time… Maybe a two finger double tap.
Finally, one of the great things about Cannon Fodder was the ability to split your squad up, a bit like an RTS-lite. This allows you to send off a squad mate or two as scouts, and take out snipers and smaller units of enemies, before bringing in the rest of your team. That is one of the key elements of CF and a big disappointment that that ability isn’t available in Grunts.
Finally the big killer, is that once you lose all your lives, you can no longer continue where you left off and must start again. This wouldn’t be a huge problem, especially for a game with just 40 levels, but the problem is that you are made to sit through the training levels again… which should be skippable once played through once.
The bottom line
Warpack Grunts delivers a good performance, but it feels a little rushed and needs some tweaking. It’s got the right look, but it’s no Cannon Fodder… not yet! At just $0.99 though, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours.
Presentation and graphics
I love the art-style, and if there is one area where it trumps Cannon Fodder it’s this. Explosion effects are particularly cool.
Good all-round war sounds, and cute chatter from the Grunts. Music is a little corny and unoriginal.
Controls handle well for the most part, but it’s not really comfortable to play. The field of view is not large enough, meaning that many fire-fights happen off screen, and the stop to shoot mechanic means you’ll enter the fray only to be out gunned with little time to escape.
40 levels, and three difficulties will last you sometime, some levels being pretty hard early on. However, loose all you lives and it’s back to the un-skippable training levels which is rather irritating, and may put you off finishing the game altogether