The United States Army had the right idea the first time around. It's not easy to get noticed in the gaming world, especially if your property is new and lacks the benefit of a big-time publisher backing the effort. How best to penetrate this intimidating market? Build a game that's fun, compelling, and best of all, free. The result was one of the biggest out-of-nowhere successes seen in years, the original America's Army on the PC. As a recruiting tool, I have no idea if it accomplished its goal. As a game though, it was on point as a more-than-decent shooter with a realistic twist and a thriving community.
Along comes America's Army: True Soldiers for the Xbox 360. Instead of continuing in the vein of budget pricing in the name of exposure, however, the Army decided to go the route of a full-priced game. By costing as much as Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3, the development team subjects itself to a higher level of critical comparison. Unfortunately for us, True Soldiers falls far short of those titles in every way. While it's by no means an embarrassment – and it sports a few solid features – America's Army: True Soldiers is no COD4. The visuals are average at best, movement is clunky, and the overall experience of working with your commanding officer and fellow soldiers is far from immersive. It barely registers as a next-generation effort, looking and feeling much like an original Xbox game.
Even with a solid multiplayer though, there's no reason for America's Army: True Soldiers to be priced and marketed in the same class as other AAA FPS games available on the Xbox 360.
You'd think that a game called America's Army: True Soldiers would at least place you in the middle of a realistic, modern-day military conflict. Perhaps you'll be battling terrorists in Afghanistan or Iraq, taking down enemies in North Korea, or even mounting stealth campaigns across the Middle East. Sadly, you'd be very mistaken. Instead of dropping you into a simmering hot zone, the campaign of True Soldiers has you shooting paintballs at fellow Americans across a series of different war games.
No, that is not a typo.
America's Army: True Soldiers puts some of the latest, real-life weaponry the modern military offers in your hands, fills these guns with rubber paint pellets, and sends you into a bunch of different training levels to get yelled at by a sergeant when you don't stick very close to him. When you happen to hit your enemies with your paintballs, they simply sit down and cross their arms across their laps as if they were playing a loud game of duck-duck-goose, waiting for the inevitable tap on the head. It just doesn't make any sense, especially considering the landscape of military-flavored games in the marketplace. Worst of all, it isn't much fun.
The one redeeming factor is the character-building mechanic that allows you to pick and choose from unlockable skills and additional weapons, which can make your life easier later on. However, you'll likely tire very quickly of the tedium associated with plodding through the single-player mode, whose rewards are not worthy of the time associated with acquiring them.
Luckily, the online multiplayer is significantly different, in spirit and execution. Between a significant amount of game modes, a surprisingly populated and dedicated community, and relatively realistic tone, it's the only reason to play True Soldiers. The game doesn't suddenly lose most of its warts though, as the core gameplay issues remain. Movement is choppy, aiming is haphazard, and overall controls remain vexing. On the other hand, the maps are more wide open, the weapons deal real damage, and strategic tactics are the rule of the day. Assuming you're lucky enough to get hooked up with a decent crew of teammates (which was shockingly easy considering all of the other shooter options on the 360), then a decent time can be had.
Even with a solid multiplayer though, there's no reason for America's Army: True Soldiers to be priced and marketed in the same class as other AAA FPS games available on the Xbox 360. It's not fair to anyone associated with the game, and was simply the wrong decision. Had another path been chosen – say, being released as a budget title – then perhaps things could have been different. As it is, True Soldiers gets lost in the shuffle of console shooters, and mostly deserves that fate.