oppies huh? They've got no friends at AMIGA POWER, I can tell you. It's hard to believe, but it's been a whole year since Cannon Fodder came out. Yup, twelve issues since our 'poppy cover that never was' and our legal scrapes with the British Legion over whether a poppy is just a flower or a recognisable symbol of a registered charity. A whole year since our appearance in The Star under the headline "Poppy Game Insult to War Dead", and practically the anniversary of the same tabloid rag's follow-up piece libelling Stuart Campbell as "Spotty". And, of course, of Virgin sitting back and drooling at all the free publicity for what must surely have been one of their biggest games of the year.
Learning from their mistakes, the icon of Cannon Fodder 2: Once More Unto The Breach is a hand grenade, because the great thing about an explosive charge wrapped in hundreds of metres of wound-inflicting wire is that it doesn't have the same child-frightening, 'responsible adult'-freaking, society-disruptive effect as an iddy-biddy flower. Thank God.
But to the game itself. Co-designed by Stuart and the other Sensible multi-millionares (with a special guest designing appearance by a couple of AP readers), what does it offer that the original game didn't? What will you be getting that's fresh and exciting, innovative and crafty enough to warrant parting with 30 quid? Weeellllll...
Not that much really, to be honest. If you're feeling chirpy and content with life, this is obviously a Good Thing: Cannon Fodder was excellent, and to muck about with a winning formula would be the height of folly. So to release a thematically identical sequel with the same number of missions (24) and levels (72) as the original guarantees at least the same degree of entertainment. If, however, your outlook of the world corresponds more with the pre-death one of Bill Hicks, you'll be looking at CF2 as no more than a full-price data disk; a corporate cash-in and a traitorous exploitation of the zoo-going children of the world. To which view do I subscribe? Read on, dear punter.
I'm assuming that everyone knows everything about the mouse control system, the rockets and grenades and the forced-perspective viewpoint of the original, so I'm basing this review around the changes between that game and the sequel. CF2 features the same kind of foot soldiers (with guns and rockets), the same kind of turrets and the same kinds of vehicles (tanks, helicopters, jeeps, etc) as the first game, only they all look different.
But no amount of new graphics can disguise their true nature. The 'rocket launchers' may be blobby aliens or powerful wizards for example, the 'foot soldiers' gangsters or mediaeval knights knights, the 'jeeps' ancient battering rams or sleek gangster limos; and the 'helicopters' witches or, er, helicopters; their true nature is unmistakable.
There's a new song at the beginning too. It's a funky dance tune complete with neato horn section stabs, but somehow not quite listenable-to as the CF tune. (Jon hare? I only liked him in his early years. - Steve). And although much of the in-game music's been remixed and jazzed up, I found myself turning down the volume between levels to avoid most of it. Maybe it's because I've played CF to death and therefore heard all the chirrupingly jingoistic WW1 tunes hundreds of gillions of times before, but I really wish they'd included a Music Off option this time around.
Poppy game insult to war dead
HUP HOOP HREEP HORP
My initial feelings about the game were of disappointment. It's quite clear that only the graphics and maps have been changed (no air-to-air combat, for example, which is something that was missing from the original).
This is Cannon Fodder Again rather than CF2, with new wacky pictures of the Sensible boys at the beginning, a new new-look alien cemetery in which to bury your lads and the like. Knowing months before you see the finished game that there aren't going to be any new weapons and vehicles still hadn't prepared me for playing it and getting the feeling that I'd done it all before.
Scepticism turned to brief horror when I started playing from the beginning only to discover that the missions are graded in exactly the same way as before. The first mission gets you used to the mouse, the next one introduces grenades, then you get mines, rockets, vehicles and so on introduced discretely to build you up to the carnage of the later levels.
I thought this was kind of odd as most people who are going to buy CF2 have already played the original, and there fore have no need for trainer missions. Why not have included them as a separate training mode? Forcing the player to trudge through them is like Psygnosis putting all those easy warm-up levels in the Lemmings follow ups.
Well, that the low point of the review over with. Okay, so the starter levels look simple, but they're much harder than the originals and that sort of makes up for it. After about seven missions or so you start to see two fine and dandy themes appearing in the game.
The first is that most (if not all) phases are named after song lyrics or titles, which has to be the Stuart Campbell influence. I spotted some of the more obvious ones such as idiot Country and Stuck In The Middle With You, but it will take a really top-class anal NME devotee to make sense of the likes of Terminal beach (A Jesus and Mary Chain limited edition B-side. Apparently. -Ed) and Waltusi Rodeo (A song by Guadalcanal Diary. It says here. - Ed).
The second and dandy theme is that there is a lot more tricky tricksterness in CF2. The levels penalise you for taking the obvious route and reward you for trying an obscure approach (except when trying an obscure approach becomes too obvious, natch). Roads are mined and vehicles temptingly placed within your grasp to lure your squad to a messy death. Sneaking behind huts might not be glamorous, but it is often a better tactic than charging straight down the middle and loads of levels make you think before you move, injecting puzzle elements to counterpoint all the killing.
The original game went in pulses of fiendishly hard and stupidly simple levels, but in CF2 the difficulty curve's, well, more of a curve. There are even varying levels of difficulty built into each mission, with the enemy getting more aggressive and accurate the longer you take to kill them. This feature, combined with fewer sprawling and empty levels, and a good mix of tricky and brutally harsh gung-ho phases creates a much smoother, altogether more entertaining set of challenges for you.
LASER FODDER, MORE LIKE
So, why's the final score less than the original's 94%, then? The reasons are twofold. You start off in Beirut, head off to battle mediaeval knights, then take on gangsters in Chicago and finally board an alien spaceship and trash their home world. There's little explanation in the manual as to why you're doing this and absolutely none in the game. As a result, the game doesn't hang together. Sensible are being clever at the expense of being atmospheric. Flying from a jungle to the arctic is one thing, but from the Dark Ages to an alien spaceship is something else entirely. Yeah, right, you may be thinking, but it's true.
For me, Cannon Fodder means offing hordes of blokes in sordid warzones. It's kind of the computer equivalent of a John woo movie, or of 'be'-ing big Arnie in Commando. Placing the guys in Chicago seems odd, but having them on an alien planet's just downright wrong. (At least the earth-based levels have both feet on the ground, if you see what I mean. I hate the entire look of the alien planet, despite some of the levels being very well-designed. From the disgusting purple pools to the silly flowers, it goes against the entire Cannon Fodder concept of being an arcade game).
More universally, there's the value rating of the game. I harped on about this at the beginning, but the fact is that if you bought Cannon Fodder then you've already paid once for all the time and effort that went into designing and now perfecting the game engine. Now you're expected to do the same again. CF2 is not a new game. It's a collection of levels. And in video games, if you're standing still then you're moving backwards.
So there we have it. CF2 has lost the coherent feel of the original (a minus) but it is harder and has more challenging levels (a plus). It's got some garish alien worlds (a big minus) but at the same time has all the amazing control and playability of the second-best Amiga game in the world (a big plus).
Add all of those together and you end up with something that's not quite as worthwhile as the original. But something still brilliant.