Hands up, who’s old enough to play Cannon Fodder? Sensible Software’s isometric-like, colourful take on the horrors of conflict was great, wasn’t it? Oh and that theme song, come on now: “War! Has never been so much fun…”
Who fondly remembers what it was like to lead a squad of amusingly named soldiers to cursor points to infiltrate, destroy and not get shot across various locales and campaigns? Remember how great they were, way back in their nineties heyday?
I say that because Dog Duty reminds me so, so much of Cannon Fodder… except just not as good. Now, that’s not to say it’s a terrible game. It ticks all the right boxes to be a competent and challenging isometric troop-shooter. It’s just really hard to shake off the “Cannon Fodder did it better” notion every time I play it.
Of course, if you haven’t played Sensible’s series, then good news: Here’s Dog Duty to fill the void you didn’t know you needed filling. A squad-based, fast-paced, isometric-faced shooter from Soedesco that channels everything retro, right down to the annoying sound effects. Is a welcome nod to the past, or a dud grenade of a fun-splosion? Let’s get the gang together and find out, shall we?
Curse You, Colourful Band Of Mercenaries!
The plot driving Dog Duty is pure Saturday morning cartoon, which in a world of super-serious military shooters is a breath of fresh air. The evil Octopus Commander (who went a different route than his doctor brother) seeks world domination, as ya do, and it’s up to a ragtag bunch of stereotypes to stop him. Like GI Joe with less morales and more violence.
The big OC has a massive, nigh on impenetrable fortress in the middle of the map that you cannot just charge into. Instead, you have to split off to one of the three smaller maps branching off and take out the respective land, water and air bases first. You can tackle these in any order, but all three needed to be destroyed before you can take on the big house.
This is done by weakening supplies and satellites in each area, preventing waves of reinforcements coming at you as take on each base. Which is good, because enemies can and will overwhelm you if you’re not quick on your toes.
As far as story and core gameplay go, it’s simplistic fun. Charge a base, blow up all its assets, take out Octo Commander’s respective land/sea/air vehicle at each one and hightail it out of there.
But whilst gameplay is a simple concept, the actual execution is a bit of an endurance at times.
Point and Pray
I don’t like relying on shorthand, “It plays exactly like [insert similar game]” because that feels like a complete copout. A game should be reviewed on its own merits, not in a tone that suggests it’s imitating another.
Yet the Cannon Fodder nods are apt in this game. Movement is like for like: you have a cursor, you select where you want either one or all of your unit to go to, and they will. Shooting, though, is automatic. Your squad are a bit more than savvy than to stand there and take hits without retaliation. However, they won’t find cover, so they will have standoffs until either they or their opponents die. Which is fine in small skirmishes, but if you’re caught in a firefight and reinforcements arrive, death is inevitable.
But then, that shouldn’t be a surprise. You don’t leave Marcus Fenix stood there tanking hits, do you? It’s no different in this scenario, it’s just remembering to get your team out of the why what’s also taking it what’s coming at you from all angles. The other disadvantage is they can’t move and shoot, so you have to use some strategy in getting them in cover or enfilade before you start a firefight.
The main tenet to each area is overthrowing and liberating smaller enemy camps along the way, making the assault of the regional boss vehicle/base easier in the long run. Thankfully, you don’t have to run the whole way there.
Ride And Try Not To Die
Dog Duty’s other unique gimmick in the fight against the Commander is that of using vehicles. You can hop into a wide variety, from trucks like the one above or even ropey little cars. You can also add various weapons and improvements to most of them, too.
This allows you to get into high speed skirmishes, which is pretty cool. You can ignore these and hurry on to the next base or target, or you can engage in gunfights from atop your truck (or whatever applicable). These play just as any normal gunfight does, but c’mon, it’s atop moving cars, Mad Max-style. That’s pretty awesome.
It pays to add new weapons to trucks for this reason though, but it acts as a double-edged sword. The more you get into these battles, the more your reinforcement level (think Wanted level from Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs) rises. Which means when you do get to your target, you could be flooded with reinforcements that couldn’t catch you on the road.
It’s great, if you have the head to keep up with constant battles and high-octane spills. If you’re trying to isolate a base to tackle, it can get overwhelming when a Blues Brother level of cars come pouring in from off-screen and make life harder for you.
The Horrors Of This Particular Kind Of War
So on paper, Dog Duty sounds great, doesn’t it? A style of game reminiscent of one that I’ve already mentioned a couple of times, with some tasty retro visuals and vehicular combat. Surely the words “spiritual successor” are going to come in at some point?
Sadly, no. Whilst it is a fun game when you’re on a hot streak, Dog Duty is unflinchingly tough at times. Not that that equates to “hard game is bad”, but it doesn’t make for a fun experience to play when a squad of three mercs can be torn through quicker than budget toilet paper.
SOEDESCO promise “real time tactics” but I’m not seeing it. Commandos is a tactics game, Desperados is a tactics game. Dog Duty, by comparison, has you stand and deliver, or duck around a corner to try and heal with your one teammate’s healing ability and pray nothing follows you around it.
It’s also not the most intuitive of games. Whilst the first mission acts as a prison break/get to grips with movement and shooting tutorial, that’s it. Once you’re on the world map, you’re on your own. Granted, it’s nice to be given free rein in tackling the bases in any order, but that’s it. The game didn’t explain that I had reserves in my team until I’d collected a few.
The driving sessions aren’t forgiving, either. You need to either give me tank controls, or 360° stick movement, not a hodge-podge of both. It also didn’t help that the “enter vehicle combat” button was also mapped to the “get off vehicle” button, so it was only through trial and error that I found out how to start these battles. Dog Duty is not one for helping out.
It also suffers from the most grating sound effects too. Whilst the visuals are crisp and retro, the constant gunfire and the lack of types of it will wear you down over time. Speaking of wearing things down, why does any incremental adjustment to my steering always make a tyre screeching noise like I’m handbrake turning around a corner? I had to turn the sound effects right down in the menu for how grating it got.
Not Worth The Danger Money
Sadly, Dog Duty isn’t going to get a glowing recommendation from me. It’s going to get a tentative one, as there are some elements of fun in there once it gets rolling.
But its biggest failing is in assuming that because it’s retro-inspired, it’ll be attractive to those with that old school bent. You know, the old notion of “get in there and do it, stop asking questions”, which doesn’t really work nowadays. It worked then because choice was limited, but in a market saturated with retro-esque games, walling yours off with steep difficulty isn’t doing it any favours.
What I managed I did enjoy, but compared to the recent Police Stories, which was tough but fair, I’d rather stick with that. Dog Duty promises tactics, but it boils down to little more than toughing it out and trying to keep on your toes.
Whilst reminiscent of classic, isometric battlers, Dog Duty doesn’t make it easy to get into. There’s fun when it’s in full swing, but the wind up to it just won’t be worth it for casual players.
Dog Duty is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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