8-Bit Armies is a cheap, lazy and shallow Command and Conquer clone that looks rushed out to make a quick buck. The art style will appeal to some, but it seems the retro style is merely an excuse to justify the lack of depth, content, and polish. It plays out exactly like an oldschool C&C game; economy, production and combat are as basic as RTS will get. Units and structures are built via the side bar, Refineries spawn harvesters for automated collection and units lack any abilities, upgrades or meaningful interaction. 8-Bit Armies isn’t just inspired by C&C, it’s a blatant rip-off, reskinned as a blocky voxel art style. I don’t inherently have a problem with that, especially since C&C is totally my jam, but 8-Bit Armies makes no attempt to innovate upon the C&C formula whilst lacking any personality of its own. Relying on an art style to make a game fun is like trying to make friends with a stylish haircut, you’ll get people’s attention but it’s not enough to make someone like you.
Instead of building upon the foundation of C&C, 8-Bit Armies even neglects what made them fun to play all those years ago. Whilst the original C&C predated the concept of micro, unit control was still fun because of the charm and wackiness. Command and Conquer is so iconic and memorable to this day because all the quirks such as the terrifying buzz of an Obelisk of Light about to fire, trees turning into tanks and vaporising infantry, or listening to the goofy “Engineering, Affirmative.” Controlling units in 8-Bit armies is boring since there’s no voice acting, nuanced unit design or unique sound effects. Everything is remarkably generic; infantry are just infantry, a tank is just a tank, and a machine gun turret is just a machine gun turret. The gameplay gets stale fast with only one faction, no unit variety and a broken counter system since infantry are too easily crushed by tanks. I only spent an hour playing 8-Bit Armies, but I already felt bored and had no desire to keep playing.
8-Bit Armies relies entirely upon its retro art style to validate its existence, which is ridiculous because C&C already is Retro! If you wanted to play a Retro C&C game, then go play an actual C&C game, there’s already quite a few of those. On Origin, you can purchase the “Command and Conquer Ultimate Edition” Which is every single C&C game ever, for a mere $20AUD, which is almost as much as I paid for 8-Bit Armies. There’s even modders such as the OpenRA.net team that have modernised the gameplay of the original C&C, Red Alert 1 and Dune 2000, whilst providing a platform for online play with an active multiplayer community. The efforts of OpenRA completely overshadow 8 Bit Armies, despite the former being free. If you want to relive some C&C nostalgia, go to OpenRA.net or cncnet.org
Petroglyph are marketing 8-Bit Armies as their “most fast-paced, friendly and accessible RTS game to date.” This really irked me because it’s not at all fast-faced. You spend the first 5 minutes mainly just watching Refineries build. If you want to play an RTS game whilst eating a Kebab, 8-Bit Armies is probably the best choice. There is the option to build a barracks and be aggressive with infantry but it’s pointless because there’s nothing to fight over, and infantry just get crushed by harvesters even if you were to try and harass your opponent, let alone getting crushed by tanks as soon as they show up. The economy is pay-as-you-go system, so it’s effortless and requires minimal management; you just queue up 50 Tanks and some 50 Rocket Infantry and wait for them to build. The only real management is building additional production structures to increase the rate of building units, and creeping up building to get Refineries close to the next oil node.
The game is easy and simple, but that’s not something to celebrate for being accessible, that just means the game is shallow and dull. It’s possible for an RTS game to be immensely challenging and complex, yet remain accessible and welcoming to new players. StarCraft 1 and 2 are the shining examples here because they nail it with their excellent single player Campaigns. 8-Bit Armies doesn’t even have a proper campaign; from what little I played before I got bored and went to multiplayer, the campaign is just a bunch of skirmishes slapped together with no context or objectives other than destroying your opponents HQ on a different map. With how rushed and lacking the game feels, you’d think it was published by Ubisoft.
Couldn’t be bothered filling all that ugly, empty space?
Aside from the lousy gameplay, 8-Bit Armies is sorely lacking in essential features; it’s not unheard of for a game to launch without features such as replay support, but what 8-Bit Armies lacks is embarrassing. Multiplayer lobbies don’t have the option for passwords or the ability to kick players. When setting up a lobby for my friend to join, random players would join my match and fill up the slot. All I could do was either ask them nicely to leave or re-host and hope they don’t re-join. The lobby gives you the options to choose victory conditions or disable random crate spawns, but not something as vital as setting a lobby password. It’s obvious just how shoddy the game is, the online menus are laggy and unresponsive, taking 5 seconds for chat to appear or to ready up. Whenever I’d minimise the game, I would be unable to load back into it and would have to end the process via task manager. Quite frustrating when that happens half way during a multiplayer match.
The only positive quality about 8-Bit Armies is the fantastic soundtrack, it’s fun and fits the tone of the game quite well. Unsurprisingly, Frank Klepacki absolutely delivered once again, and I’d recommend picking up the soundtrack if you enjoyed the old Command and Conquer music. Well done Petroglyph, you threw your money at the right composer. As much as I dislike Petroglyph’s games, I look forward to the next one entirely for Klepacki’s music.
Petroglyph has a long history of releasing mediocre RTS games, but 8-Bit Armies is a whole new level of disappointment. It almost feels predatory, using its art style as a gimmick to excuse its lazy design and relying on the nostalgia of C&C fans to justify its bland gameplay. It’s a sad move for Petroglyph that is reaching the limits of how far their ex-Westwood Studios roots can take them. Some will enjoy the C&C reminiscence, but there’s much better outlets for it.