Tiny Squads & Tactics — Warpack: Grunts
When you get right down to it, Warpack: Grunts is an action game. It’s an odd action game that uses a lot of elements not commonly associated with the genre, however. Following in the rather large bootprints of Sensible Software’s 1993 Commodore Amiga hit Cannon Fodder, this is an action game where your ability to plan ahead is almost as important as your reflexes.
You’re tasked with completing 40 missions in order to take down the rather absurd dictator Evil Dude and his equally-silly forces of UBTEC, which stands for Ubiquitous Badly-Trained Evil Chaps. You probably understand how serious this all is already. You take your little squad of four soldiers out onto maps where you navigate from an overhead perspective around trees, buildings, and other obstacles. Enemies of various types are placed around the map, and most of your missions will involve defeating some or all of them.
You have a variety of means at your disposal to do that, luckily. All of your characters are equipped with rapid-fire assault rifles, and using those is as easy as tapping on what you want them to aim at. You’ll also have a selection of secondary items you can make use of, most of which are weapons. Your default secondary item is the handy grenade, which can be thrown over obstacles to deliver a nice, explosive how-do-you-do to the enemies. You can also find a rocket launcher which sends a similar message more directly, a sniper rifle to take out enemies at a distance, and a set of binoculars that you can use to check around the map.
These are powerful items, but the catch is that you can only have one of them at a time. Anything you genuinely need for a mission will be located somewhere on the map, but you’ll want to consider the order in which you grab things. Other pick-ups include health packs, which restore the health of all of your units, and reinforcements, which replaces any of your fallen soldiers with fresh ones. While your units are generally less fragile than the ones seen in Cannon Fodder, they’ll go down quickly under heavy fire. Keeping up their health is vital if you want them to stay alive.
And you really do want them to stay alive, because Warpack: Grunts does not offer you an unlimited supply of soldiers. There are enough to allow for a few total team wipes, but not that many overall. If you lose all of your extra grunts, you’ll be greeted with a Game Over message and given your final score. You can start back from the beginning of the last mission you completed, but you will lose some progress. The later you are in the game, the more that hurts.
None of the levels are terribly long, only running a couple of minutes at their most complicated, but they can be very hard. Clearing a level by the skin of your teeth is a great relief, but having to do it again because you messed up the next map is rough. Still, this is better than the launch version of the game. Before it was updated, a Game Over in Warpack: Grunts meant starting the entire game from the beginning. The new system adds a good bit of tension to the maps without making you replay a rather long game for making too many mistakes, so it’s a good compromise.
You will want to keep playing, too. The missions get harder as you go, but it’s the good kind of difficulty where you gain a better understanding of what you need to do with your next try. The designs are quite clever, and the game knows when it’s time to give the player some pay-off for their hard work. As silly as the story is, the final run of the game’s stages sure do feel good. There are a couple of fun rewards in there for those who persevere.
Ultimately, one of the things that made Cannon Fodder so great is also found in Warpack: Grunts. The action is hot, with bullets spraying everywhere and lots of targets to shoot at. With how outnumbered you are and how vital a resource each individual grunt is, however, you can’t simply shoot from the hip when it comes to your approach to combat. You have to examine the map, look for the best approach, and reduce your risks with cautious action. Then, when it’s time to start firing, you need to attack skillfully. This push and pull between hardcore action and light strategy makes for a very satisfying experience indeed.