8-Bit Armies (PC) Review

People often say the most beautiful things in life are the simple things. From minimalistic graphics to simple, straightforward gameplay, people find simplistic games artful and refreshing. If 8-Bit Armies’ beauty lies in its simplicity, this game is a supermodel.

I think 8-Bit Armies is best described as a gateway drug. It is wonderfully minimalistic, and offers the most stripped down, barebones Real Time Strategy (RTS) experience to date. The game takes a complicated, often intimidating genre and presents it in an accessible manner for RTS veterans and newcomers alike. With that said, this game is a gateway RTS. While it may hook newcomers, it doesn’t have anything new to offer to RTS pioneers. Like a gateway drug, once this game hooks newbies, they may yearn for something with a deeper, more complicated experience—and that’s a good thing.

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The thing is, 8-Bit Armies isn’t trying to be the frontrunner of the RTS genre. It isn’t bursting at the seams with content, and it lacks the depth the genre is known for. Personally, I’ve merely dabbled with RTS games. I played Star Wars: Empire At War as a kid, and even tried my hand at Age of Empires a few times. These games, like the majority of the RTS genre, earned their following by offering a massive amount of content, and a vast collection of units at the players’ disposal. However, with loads of content comes a learning curve best described as a jagged cliff side.

8-Bit Armies aims to bulldoze the cliff-like learning curve of the RTS genre and flatten it out to a nice, manageable learning stroll. It does so by presenting a small number of units, each of which have a clear advantage over another. Being assaulted by tanks? Throw some rocket infantry at them. Got a ton of rocket infantry at your doorstep? Wipe them out with some minigun-wielding standard infantry. Each unit is worth having in your army for its class-specific traits and abilities, but in the end, most are inferior to tanks, which outclass other units in almost every way. Amassing an army solely of tanks is a nearly unbeatable “strategy”, and doing so will almost always guarantee a win… if the way you manage your overpowered army is tactically sound.

Overpowered tanks and unit balancing issues aside, 8-Bit Armies still manages to maintain a fairly tactical experience. While an army consisting of tanks and helicopters is your best bet, if you don’t know which of the enemy’s buildings to destroy first, you’ll have a hard time seizing the headquarters. It’s essential to gauge which enemy building is most important in any given situation, although it’s almost always the power supply, which will cause other buildings’ performances to drop when destroyed. In doing so, you restrict the enemy from defending themselves by cutting off their unit supply. From there, the order in which you annihilate the rest of your enemy’s base is up to you, because if you’ve got enough tanks, it barely matters anyway.

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Speaking of bases, you’re free to create and organize the buildings within your base however you wish. For an OCD neat freak like me, it’s extremely satisfying to line up rows upon rows of unit-producing buildings and organize my base to both look and function gorgeously. That said, there’s not a whole lot you can do to make your base dysfunctional. Worst case scenario, if you place buildings near the back of your base, it’ll take units a few extra seconds to travel outside your borders. No biggie.

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The simple yet beautifully vibrant voxel art style allows for a retro-esque experience. While the boxy, minimalistic graphics and arcade-style music makes for an aesthetically pleasing retro-RTS, it also lets 8-Bit Armies perform with uncompromised stability. I never experienced a hiccup or any technical issues while playing, which made for an overall enjoyable experience, even on an older PC. Although each player uses the same units, the vibrant, distinct colour schemes for each faction makes it easy to tell armies apart during all-out warfare.

The control scheme matches the game’s overall theme of beauty in simplicity. You can quickly zoom around the map with the arrow keys, or by dragging your cursor to any side of the screen. The in-game manual presents a handful of hotkeys, which are used to quickly build or create units. Units can be individually selected, or mass-selected by highlighting a group of soldiers.

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Content-wise, the game features a 25-mission story mode, with each level offering three objectives to add replay value. Aside from the campaign, the game has a 12-mission co-operative mode and a multiplayer versus mode. Each mode functions similarly: Wipe out the enemy’s army, destroy their headquarters, repeat. Although the general objective may stay solid through most games, the gameplay leading up to victory varies mission to mission.

It’s exciting to watch your little pixelated army grow from a few bumbling soldiers to a massive attack force, and even more so when that force clashes with those of your enemies. Its biggest offering to the RTS genre is its brilliant retro design and vivid, colourful graphics coupled with easy-to-learn gameplay. For those intimidated by the complexity of RTS games, 8-Bit Armies is a great place to start.