Army Corps of Hell review: Shallows of the Damned

Army Corps of Hell makes a hell of a first impression (sorry). The action-oriented crowd-control gameplay is easy to grasp, and is bolstered by incredible Frazetta-esque artwork and the most ridiculous Japanese metal soundtrack, ranging from squealy-guitar style to grumbly-voice style.

Over time, the hellish nature of the PlayStation Vita launch game reveals itself. You do the same tasks over and over again, fighting the same enemies with the same strategies. You see the same artwork after every stage. You're forced to listen to the same metal songs over and over again, sometimes for 20 minutes at a time. What was originally enjoyable becomes a grueling trial in its repetition, much like in that classic work of literature, Treehouse of Horror IV.%Gallery-141984% Though widely understood as a "heavy metal Pikmin," Army Corps of Hell is much smaller in scope than Nintendo's xenohorticultural expedition. As a skeletal demonlord (in a totally imposing cape), you lead an army of goblins against groups of monsters in a series of featureless, rectangular arenas. Each level comprises several of these encounters, with a(n admittedly awesome) bone bridge allowing progress after the completion of each room. There's no exploration, and the gathering of materials is limited to taking materials off of your enemies' corpses. This is Pikmin as a pure action game.

You have a customizable complement of goblins at your disposal, who can be assigned as spearmen, soldiers, or magi. Soldiers can glom onto an enemy en masse and then launch a devastating "salvo attack," spearmen can be sent out in a straight line in phalanx form, and magi shoot projectiles at enemies your other goblins wouldn't want to touch (say, because they're shrouded in flame). You'll very quickly learn what group works best for which enemies. Giant worms have a weak spot on the backs of their heads that your spearmen can handle easily; flying enemies can easily be overwhelmed by soldiers.


And then after that knowledge is acquired, you're pretty much set for the rest of the game. There are basically about five different enemy types, repeated ad nauseam. Sometimes they'll be a different color. Sometimes they'll be on fire or shoot lightning at you, but mostly the same deal.

It's not enough for the game to be repetitive, but you have to literally repeat levels. You'll need materials from certain enemies to craft items, and the enemies won't always drop those materials, or in the quantities you need. This leads to the most irritating aspect of the game -- you get the items you need to deal with certain kinds of enemies by killing many of those same enemies. For example, the "scorched fur" you need to withstand fire attacks is found on the corpse of ... a fire-breathing boss. Ugh.

Ugggghhhhhhhh.

I was beset by plenty of other little annoyances. How about little fire pits that would be easy to avoid unless you were, say, a crowd of goblins loosely trailing the actual character you control? That sounds super fun, right? Your cadre of goblins will also be decimated by tiny enemies you can't see because they're tiny and lost in the crowd. And they'll all be knocked over at once by pretty much every boss attack, preventing you from doing much of anything except hurriedly walking around gathering them back up. If you don't gather them all up, you can usually replenish the supply by paying to free more goblins from convenient prison cells. Oh, except some bosses shoot auto-targeting lightning that kills your charges instantly.

I actually wish I had stopped playing after about, oh, five hours. Up to that point, Army Corps of Hell is a novel experience. After that, it burns out all that novelty. And not in awesome heavy metal hellfire, either.

This review is based on a retail copy of Army Corps of Hell, provided by Square Enix.

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