Graphics: Bucking the 3D trend that characterizes most of its competition, Armada has instead opted for a polished 2D look that should remind you of nothing so much as Activision’s recent Asteroids remake. Space, the environment in which the game is set, doesn’t normally offer much in the way of visual attractions, but the designers have done an admirable job of bringing the cosmos to life. Playing upon a starfield littered with glowing points of light, luminescent fog, lively planets, and futuristic space stations, you’ll encounter a variety of 3D enemies that are intent on destroying your humble looking ship.
Enemies take the form of mutated biomechanical sea dwellers, ranging from squid-like entities to giant jellyfish. Although they’ll launch themselves at you spitting out glowing, greenish shots, jagged bolts of lightning, and misty sprays of acid, when defeated they explode in sprays of colored light and turn into drifting debris or floating gore. Occasionally, you’ll encounter massive enemies that dwarf your ship, often surrounded by a legion of servitors, and it’s rather impressive to see just how much action the game handles with no visible slowdown.
Interface: Though Armada sports efficient menus through which you can check character stats, purchase items, and arrange your inventory, none are very graphical or interesting. Loading screens, on the other hand, boast some nice still pictures, but feature a simple bar slowly creeping its way across the screen. The actual control of your ship is quite good, but takes some getting used to, as you’ll be using the analog joystick to change the angle you’re pointed at combined with a button-based thruster system to move about. Trust me when I say you’re going to encounter a few false starts to begin with, especially when it comes to hitting the directional pad instead of the joystick.
Gameplay: First appearances can indeed be deceiving, as Armada offers a unique and refreshing take on both the role-playing and action-shooter genres. By combining traditional RPG character development, upgrade, and interaction schemes with the play model of an Asteroids clone, Metro 3D has truly created something special. Whether you discover this while furiously plugging away at the gigantic lobster creature who’s trying to eat your ship and slowly watching his hit point total dissolve, or during one of the times when you’re asked to help a starship captain arrive safely at a remote spaceport, is irrelevant. Forget any of the misconceptions you may have formed by looking at the title’s screenshots, Armada will keep RPG fans coming back for more long after the shoot ‘em up fans have lost interest.
Sound FX: It is rare that you find a title such as Armada, which not only boasts great gameplay but some excellent voice acting as well. From the distorted Australian voice that tells the background story during the opening cinematic to the chatter that comes through your speaker when talking to NPCs, you’ll get a real kick out this one. My only complaint about the title’s sound effects results from the continuous nature of the audio clips that accompany weapons firing, because all though it’s nice to hear the zips, zaps, and booms that occur during combat, after three or four hours of this, you’ll be scrambling for your earplugs.
Musical Score: In many ways, this title could be classified as a space opera; hence, we get an orchestral score of tunes that helps to further illustrate the world in which Armada is set. Whether listening to deep, rolling pieces as you explore the vastness of space or sharp, powerful tunes when the action gets going, the music is sure to set the mood. You know it’s a positive sign when even the introductory sequence features an appropriately somber dirge.
Intelligence & Difficulty: While I’m not sure one could describe the enemies as overly intelligent, they are relentless and difficult to defeat. Attacking in swarms, they’ll attempt to overwhelm you with numbers, relentlessly whizzing about making kamikaze and guerilla attacks in order to wear down your energy. Flight is often your best course of action in a given situation, unless of course you’re looking to build up your character’s strength or cash flow, which is a lengthy and daunting proposition. Amateurs need not apply.
Overall: Gamers who pick up Armada looking for quick thrills will be entertained for a time, but are sure to power down their Dreamcasts unsatisfied. Those who are more patient will find an entire galaxy awaiting their exploration and exploitation, filled with horrors beyond their imagination and heroes in the making. As a bona fide action-RPG, Armada offers both button-mashing fun and plot and character development in equal doses, which means that while the game is enjoyable, it’s not as deep as a traditional RPG. Then again, while it may only appeal to a niche audience, Armada is still an ideal game for the casual role-playing fan.