This genre hybrid under the Xbox Live Indie Games label was originally released in October of 2009 for 400 MS points. With a story campaign, quick battle features, and multiplayer local support, does this game remind fans of the best games in each genre?
The story in this game follows the time honored tradition of one group fighting another for a variety of purposes. You personally control a helicopter known as a �hovercopter� that possess several different weapons and leads troops on the battlefield. The player is apparently on the side of the Federation (Blue) and is fighting against a rival group (Red) with colorful commanders such as Colonel El Richo and others. The story is further developed by dialogue as missions begin, which proceeds to tell you of the objectives of the mission accompanied with some witty banter.
Armor Valley’s graphics are sharp and colorful. Your main aerial command unit, the Skyfire, is well detailed and futuristic looking, seemingly the most advanced unit in your army. I find that your allied vehicles can be difficult to tell apart, given your position high in the sky. Detail is fine when observed closely, but doing that can lead to accidental crashes...
The terrain all looks the same, with the requisite plains, mountains and rivers used for environs. Learning the terrain can be useful in strategy to avoid enemy projectiles and hid while you wait for reinforcements. Unfortunately, the enemy units are identical to your own, save for their red coloration.
Music is suitably epic for the war genre, calling to mind the works of Holst and Beethoven... ok, maybe just acclaimed film composer Hans Zimmer. Either way, the music is powerful and fits right into this world of conflict, with rousing melodies, powerful flourishes, and a general sense of force throughout the music. Me like.
Sound effects do their job as well, with the whooshing of targeted missiles, machine gun fire, and the aerial whizzing of gravity bombs. My favorite is the sadistic pleasure you hear when your paratroopers are easily gunned in route to a vain attempt to capture a building. Good stuff. Some of the crashing and destruction sound effects sound awfully familiar though, as if they were lifted from a sound effects board, much in the style of the Wilhelm scream.
In this game, you control the blue forces and use various ground forces to penetrate the enemy’s defenses, then using disruptors to overcome their shields, and then your troops move in for the kill. You steadily gain resources from somewhere (?) and use them to build more units of different types, with a maximum of 40 on screen at a time. Due to the enemies’ defense (mostly the rival hovercopter) you have to babysit them with your weapons or they will be quickly wiped out by enemy turrets or your rival’s bombing runs.
Although this brings to mind the classic genre innovators like Herzog Zwei or Dune in its combination of the shump and real time strategy genres, it does neither justice. This is so due to a fundamental flaw in the game: the player doesn’t have direct control over the ground forces, you only decide which units to build. Everything else, from movement to attack, is handled automatically. Tanks fire on ground units, anti aircraft guns do their thing, and troops get killed. This makes the game feel like more of an assembly line than one with even a semblance of strategy.
At least your control of the hovercopter allows you to somewhat compensate for the woefully inadequate gameplay. The aircraft is very fast, allowing you to come to the rescue often (and you will!) and rush back for resupply due to limited armaments. Maneuvering is easy and fluid; even the enemy’s anti-air weapons can be dodged relatively easily with your ability to rapidly change altitude. You have chain guns for basic attack, missiles for more power, and gravity bombs for rapid destruction. All of this helps to fend off the handicap of the guessing game that your ground troops foist upon you with their snail like pace and obstinate lack of control.
In the local multiplayer, you can choose to play any of the 10 stages (albeit with no story) and select two additional vehicles, the Stormbolt and Hellfire. These two hovercopters have greater ammo for chain guns and more ammo for different weapons. Unfortunately, they are much less agile due to their inability to change altitude when hovering in one place. This little change makes a world of difference when trying to dodge enemy turrets or when in a dogfight with the enemy hovercopter. A shame.
Challenge is this game is pretty advanced, especially as you unlock more of the game’s 10 stage story mode. It can be tough to power your way through the enemy defenses due to the inability to properly coordinate your attack, robbed by your lack of direct troop control. It isn’t uncommon that you have to wait for the right timing to attack the enemy and hope they don't have good defenses; if they do, you have to wait until more troops slowly make their way to the battle. The inability to coordinate attacks (general offensive tasks, backup anti-air support and so on) makes this game much more frustrating that it should be.
Add on the limited number of lives and given the slow mobility of your troops, you’ll quickly grow tired of the standoffish gameplay, especially when you consider that the enemy can resupply their defensive lines much quicker than you can yours. After all, you are almost also on the offensive far from your base. As tedium with the flawed gameplay sets in and mission grows ever longer, you’ll quickly want to quit. Add in the inability to save at any time (a hallmark of the genre and a key to many a strategy) and you have one poorly designed game.
Replay value is low with the aforementioned lack of control to blame. In many a game of this type, replay is all but guaranteed by the ability to use powerful forces for a quick victory or a more drawn plan of surgical strikes and attrition to weaken the enemy. You won’t find this in Armor Valley.
Armor Valley is a disappointment and not a very good game. Where there was a lot of promise, it mostly goes unfulfilled. Even in action games, you have more choice in strategy than you do in this one. Even when you consider the budget price, Armor Valley fails as a hybrid and is an unworthy successor to the genre classics of the past.