Sometimes, if people are being overdramatic, they say that no words can describe how much they dislike something rather than actually explaining themselves. Luckily, I can think of plenty of words to describe my distaste for T.A.C. Heroes: Big Red One, a new World War II themed turn based strategy game for the Nintendo DS. It is one of the worst games I have ever played, even taking into account that I spent a good deal of my kindergarten gaming time playing E.T. on the Atari 2600. On the days when I played this game, I actually felt demoralized enough by its poor quality that I lacked motivation to play games that I actually enjoy for hours upon hours afterwards. I have nothing against games that are unpolished, so long as they have some solid gameplay or interesting new ideas, but T.A.C. Heroes would need to be run through a rock tumbler before it came even close to being fun to play.
Many of the major problems with T.A.C. Heroes: Big Red One are within its gameplay. Despite the fact that several places on the Internet have the game listed as an RTS, probably because it certainly looks like one, it is a turn based strategy game, which is the first of many things about it that are more than slightly off. It does seem to have a basic knowledge of how the genre works, as it allows you to pick a set of soldiers with unique statistics and varying skill levels to take into battle, at which point you move them around a grid so that they can get into position to attack their enemy. After you’ve done that for every soldier on the field, your turn ends and the enemy gets to do the same. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the genre, and I do very much enjoy certain games within it. The problem, however, is that what I described above are the only aspects of turn based strategy that the game seems to grasp.
My biggest complaint with the gameplay itself in T.A.C. Heroes is that the game automatically places your soldiers around the field for you, rather than letting you look at your soldiers’ stats and pick for yourself what spot each soldier is best suited for. Part of the fun of a strategy game is figuring out ways to give yourself an advantage at the start of each level, and by automatically placing your soldiers, the game strips away that part of the fun. Your ability to win or lose likely won’t be hurt by this, though, as the one thing that T.A.C. Heroes taught me is that, if you’re standing on a roof, no amount of enemy fire, even from tanks, can defeat you, meaning that putting soldiers on roofs can instantly win you any level where you have to survive for a set number of turns. Then again, you might have trouble moving your soldier up onto the roofs that often surround you, since the iffy touch screen controls make it difficult to bring up menus and specify the spots where you want to move to or attack, leading to countless wasted moves. Even this doesn’t matter in scenario mode, though, where you’re given access to so many high level characters for each mission that even the fights that were an irritating struggle to get through casualty-free in campaign mode become a boring breeze. As long as you’re the first player in the pass-the-DS multiplayer mode, you probably won’t be complaining, either, as the two player missions are ripped from the easy to memorize single player mode, complete with those pesky automatically placed soldiers, which in many cases allows the first player to clear the field of their opponent before their turn arrives. When all of these things, and several other smaller complaints that I don’t have the space to make, are combined, it’s difficult to describe the gameplay in T.A.C. Heroes as anything other than a mess.
When it comes to the graphics and sound in T.A.C. Heroes, I also don’t have many nice things to say. Though it’s easy to tell your soldiers apart from enemy forces, due to the magic of color coding, the sprites in this game are blurry and devoid of personality, making your units look like silly putty statues in bright blue Speedos. The environments in which you battle are also very similar to one another. Some are white, some are beige, and some have spots of blue and green, but the flat plains with cardboard box shaped buildings become incredibly monotonous in just a short amount of time. The sound, which features music that sounds like it’s playing through a Game Boy Color and features long pauses between its endless loops, augmented by muffled and poorly acted voice clips, doesn’t fare any better. I do, however, appreciate the fact that all of the images given of your soldiers seem to be digital photos of the game’s staff in helmets. It looks like the people involved enjoyed putting that part of the game together, and though it makes me wonder if Fredrickson is a photo-shopped image of character actor J.K. Simmons or just some guy that looks remarkably like him, it is sort of amusing to browse their mug shots.
If you read all of this and still think that T.A.C. Heroes: Big Red One sounds like a decent buy, I would like to say that you need help with your reading comprehension, but if you can stand the game, I do have to admit that you’ll get your money’s worth from it. It is, as you may have guessed, a lower priced title, and with 2 full campaigns, 2 difficulty levels, and several individual missions that you can play from either side of the war, it certainly has enough content to last for a while, repetitive as it is. The problem is that the quality of this content is so far into question that I can’t even recommend it on that front. T.A.C. Heroes: Big Red One is a game that I got so little enjoyment from that it doesn’t even make me smile anymore to see that the instruction book refers to players as “butterbars.” With such a vast library of interesting and fun to play DS games available, this game is doomed to sit in cardboard displays of bargain games across the country, and for good reason.
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