Full Metal Sergeant Review

Get on your feet, private!

I used to work at an IT company where one of my co-workers was absolutely obsessed with graphics. He would rate a game based on how good it looked, as opposed to the actual game itself. I see his point to an extent – in his youth, he grew up during Pong days, while I was raised on an NES onwards. For years, we yearned for a more realistic experience. On that basis, we’ve never lived in a better time. As computer processing power increases, no doubt our virtual experiences will improve further.

For this reason, I get nervous when I see an 8-bit game. See, 8-bit and retro games have seen somewhat of a return in recent years. It’s a bit like vinyl records in the music industry – society is wanting to de-digitalize for a while and relive those media experiences that our parents and grandparents enjoyed. In the gaming world, It’s a little different– there are many game building apps that allow you to create your own retro games without having an in-depth knowledge of code. This means that there are a lot of retro-style games out there that although may have style, they don’t have substance. Sometimes, they have neither.

Listen up!

Full Metal Sergeant is different. A drill sergeant simulator, boot camp manager, and strategy all in one, Full Metal Sergeant sees you training up recruits and sending them on a mission. You have twelve weeks at boot camp to improve their stats, and then fly them out to see if you can complete a 5-stage mission. If they all die or you pull them out, you go back to boot camp and do it all over.

Boot camp has four training areas. You can choose what equipment you want to put in each. You will start the game with only a Personal Training area, but as the game progresses, you will be able to unlock new equipment, such as a Shooting Range to better your soldiers shooting and intelligence stats, or a swimming pool to improve their agility and discipline. You have a limited number of training points in each week, so you will need to be choosey on who to train up and in what field.

Let me see your war face!

During training, you will have to manage your soldier’s stamina and stress. If stamina gets too low, or they are too stressed, they may fail their training and will not be rewarded with higher stats. They can be sent to the guardhouse for a week to increase stamina and lower stress, but that’s a week they are not training. When you get to six soldiers being trained at any one time, this becomes a challenge.

Soldiers may also start with a negative trait that you will want to remove before they head out to the mission. If not, they may end up fleeing or, worse still, joining the enemy. If you are really unfortunate, they may all start with the same negative trait. I had that once – out of the six soldiers that I had, four of them had the “angry” trait. For most of the weeks, I had the soldiers taking turns holding a sandbag up in the air to increase their discipline and reduce their angry trait. Not only did they become incredibly stressed, but by the end of the first stage of the mission, half of my team switched sides. Not ideal.

An enjoyable feature of boot camp are the competitions. If you have one or two soldiers that are excelling in a particular stat, you may want to join a competition and compete against other boot camps. If you do well, you get rewarded prestige points that you use to unlock new training areas, types of training on those training areas, or upgrade the training for better stats.

Ain’t war hell?

At the end of the twelve-week training, you send your soldiers on a mission. There are five stages to the mission, and each one has you navigating across a map toward your goal. Along the way, you will come across random events or enter combat with the enemy. The random events may provide you with extra supplies or additional training. Supplies are incredibly helpful – each time you move on the map, you consume a supply. Top tip from me – don’t run out of supplies.

Combat is very straightforward – place your soldiers on a tile, preferably behind some sandbags or a wall for extra protection, click start, and hope for the best.

The stats of your soldiers will very much determine your success on a mission. As you progress through the game, you will be able to unlock certain roles, such as a sniper for those who excel on the shooting range, or a combat diver if they end up in the swimming pool a lot. You will learn in time that these roles will help tip the balance of success in your favor.

If you feel that the mission isn’t going your way, you can pull out your remaining soldiers. When they return home, you can recruit up to three to become assistants, helping you train your new recruits and granting them bonus stats.

What’s your name, scumbag?

And so you are back to boot camp. Train your soldiers, send them on the mission, come back, and try again. With each iteration, your soldiers have access to better training and special roles that you unlock with prestige points.

While that doesn’t sound exciting, it doesn’t have to be if it works. I hadn’t realized how much I was engrossed in this until I looked at the time on a Saturday evening and then felt that I had to progress the following night, and then the following night after that. It’s a simple game to learn, and you always strive to do better the next time you join the mission.

Full Metal Sergeant lacks in some areas. There is no music – you’ll mostly hear the drill sergeant barking out orders in between the passable sound effects. Sometimes I would forget that the assistant soldiers are there because they blend in a little too much to the path that they are standing on due to the size of the sprites. There’s also only one mission, and after the fourth or fifth attempt, you’ll be wanting to do something different.

The effort however is there and so is the gameplay, proving once again that retro-style games aren’t all bad. In fact, if this was released in 1987, it could easily pass as the game of the movie that it so obviously borrows its theme from. If of course, you are too young to know what film I’m talking about, here is your action plan – buy this game, and then watch Full Metal Jacket and the rest of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces. You can thank me later.

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