Released back in 1994, the original Cannon Fodder remains one of our fondest memories of the popular UK developer of the ‘90s, Sensible Software. The success of the original spawned an equally good sequel and then… nothing. The franchise lay dormant for many years – until now.
Despite being handled by a new developer, this latest Cannon Fodder – the third in the series – remains steadfastly true to the basic design of the originals. This is an action title with some subtle strategy twists thrown in. As you move through the levels on a quest to defeat some vaguely defined terrorist organisation, you are put in command of a group of four soldiers. Control is very similar to ‘twin-stick’ shooters like Geometry Wars, except here you control just one of the four soldiers while the others fall in line, shooting when the lead does.
As the player progresses through each level, they will come across a variety of new weapons and power-ups. Much of your ability to succeed is tied to these pickups which drop from dead enemies or blown up structures. Power-ups cover expected inclusions, such as health top-ups and limited invulnerability, in addition to more esoteric upgrades like camouflage that protects you from being shot at from a distance.
Yet, as useful as these upgrades are, they are not the core tools with which you will fight your way through each level. Instead, that duty falls to the variety of munitions pickups such as grenades and RPGs. The importance of these tools is informed by the presence of powerful units such as trucks, sniper towers and rocket turrets – all of which are effectively invulnerable to anything that isn’t a grenade of similarly lethal explosive.
Buildings, too, can only be destroyed with explosives. Given so many missions are focused on destroying enemy installations, the necessity of these tools can prove frustrating. It is not uncommon to run out of the weapons needed for the job, forcing the player to engage in a tedious game of hide and seek as they scour the map in the hopes of finding another cache.
In fact, tedium is a frequent bedfellow in Cannon Fodder 3. The game may ape much of what made the previous games a fan favourite, but there is a certain something missing. The certain something in question is variety, and it is something that this game is in sore need of.
While maps change from mission to mission as your team travels the world, the actions you take within do not. Every mission is essentially a case of destroying marked targets or finding objectives hidden on the map. With each mission lasting some 30 minutes, the samey-ness of your activities quickly grates.
The game does attempt to mix things up with some other additions but they don’t quite come off as expected. Drivable vehicles mark one of these attempts but they add very little. Yes, you can jump into a buggy or a helicopter but they often feel less useful than simply duking it out on foot. To round things off, controls for these vehicles is very finnicky and getting stuck on pieces of environment is far too common. In short, thirty seconds behind the wheel is enough to make you an avowed pedestrian.
One of the franchise’s more interesting features, the ability to split your team of four into groups, makes a return here. Again, the impact is largely underwhelming. While certain defence-style missions necessitate this break up so you can appropriately man trenches and rocket turrets, the ability is largely useless throughout the rest of the game.
That this game is a low budget production is obvious from the get-go. The whimsical, quasi-satirical humour that defined the previous games is hidden behind a poorly translated script and horrendous voice acting. This we can deal with, but the impact of bargain basement production goes far beyond simple aesthetic.
Indeed, it is the bugs that truly bring about the game’s downfall. For starters, it simply took us a long time to even get the game running – a resort to ye olde ‘run as administrator’ being our only recourse. Even knowing the appropriate ‘fix’ can only take you so far. In our time with the game we experienced crashes to desktop for nothing more than clicking during the load screen, and in some levels our soldiers refused to spawn at the commencement of the mission, forcing a reload.
And what do you get for all this effort? Not a great deal. Uninspired mission design and tedious gameplay that ensures you won’t want to play for any longer than ten minutes at a time. The one area in which we are prepared to sling some praise is in the graphics arena. The visual design is wonderfully cartoony and filled with amusing touches such as windshield wipers popping up to scrape the blood off your monitor when things get messy. It’s all over-the-top explosive goodness and contributes a great deal to what little appeal is present.
Cannon Fodder 3 is the ultimate coat-tail rider. Some may argue we’re being too harsh given it does reflect much of the original hit. And yes, in a number of ways it does, but this is 2012 and this game does little to try and meet the expectations of a modern gamer. If you can handle the numerous bugs then perhaps there is some nostalgic pleasure to be taken in this but for the most part, we suggest leaving well enough alone.