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Portal Runner
Preview By: Christopher Coey
Developer:  3DO
Publisher:  3DO
Genre:  Action/Adventure
# of Players:  1-2
Est. Release:  9-11-01
Posted:  9-04-01

Let's face it, most of the "Army Men" titles recently have been, well, let's just say 'less than praised' by critics and gamers. The franchise is viewed as one that was once very strong, and innovative. But now the term 'milking' is heard a lot in the reviews. 3DO is certainly looking to turn that view around for it's most fruitful line of titles. Portal Runner should go a long way to strengthen the Army Men image when is released in mid-September, sort of. I say sort of because although this IS an Army Men title technically (I've heard it referred to as 'Army Woman'), the game is very much a departure from the standard Army Men faire.

The Hero (Heroine) in Portal Runner is in fact Vikki Grimm, the babelicious girlfriend of the famous Sarge (whom players of the franchise will no doubt be familiar with.)

It seems that Sarge is a hot commodity, and there's another woman in the picture. Vikki's arch nemesis, Brigitte Blue, also has her eye's set on the toy war-hero. Nothing like a good old fashion catfight over the love of a man. Brigitte's diabolical plan is to trap the luscious Vikki in a maze of dangerous worlds. Vikki's only hope is to find the portals that take her out of the strange worlds, in an attempt to save her boyfriend Sarge from Brigitte evil main-warping scheme (think of the TV show Sliders, but in a toy universe.)

Along the way Vikki meets a companion: Leo, the lion. Leo's powerful, close-combat fighting skills are the perfect compliment to Vikki's bow and arrow style skills. Throughout the game, the player witnesses, and takes part, in the growing companionship between Leo and Vikki until eventually the pair become inseparable. The bond between two friend and partners is an integral part of the gameplay in Portal Runner. Depending on the level being played, or puzzle being solved, the player controls either Vikki alone, Leo alone, Vikki with Leo, or Vikki riding Leo. This certainly adds a lot of new possibilities to the game.

3DO is hoping for an 'Everyone' ESRB rating when the game hits the shelves; Trying to capture a mass-market audience with a game that can appeal to 'everyone'. Again, this is a departure from the usual 'Teen' rating found in other Army Men titles. The slightly de-emphasized focus on violence may prove disheartening to fans of the other 3DO games. But they've anticipated the potential that this move may steer away some of their more 'mature' audience by making Vikki a total hottie! Forget Lara what's-her-name, I'll take Ms. Grimm in that cute wrap-around number she wears in the dinosaur levels any day. Not to mention some of the other costumes. Vikki changes cloths so often you'll think you're playing VH1 Fashion Awards - The Video Game. But that's a GOOD thing. Seriously though, it's a nice touch to see the Heroine in a game actually adapting to their surrounding. I'm sick of seeing the main characters in games going from 'snow level' to 'lava level' to 'water level' while wearing the same damn beige hat and green tunic, you know what I mean?

Unlike most action/adventure titles, there isn't a wide variety of weapons to fool around with. It's mostly just Vikki's bow and arrow. This is not to say that there is no variety however. Vikki has a huge arsenal of arrows in her quiver (actually, there's no quiver, but that's okay; the less Vikki is wearing the better.) And some of the arrow effects are pretty spectacular: fire trails, magic waves, etc. Combined with 'trick' shots, there's no shortage of new things to explore and try.

3DO is marketing Portal Runner as an "an action game with adventure gameplay elements." As first glance, the game is reminiscent of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, but one where you only play the Archer. In reality, however, it is so much more. The fast shooting action may be similar, but what Gauntlet was very lacking in a lot of areas, (a compelling storyline, weapon choices, varied gameplay and pacing) Portal Runner has all of that and more.

One very interesting concept is the "Fury Meter." Which I personally think is brilliant. It comes down to realism, which granted isn't always a necessity in console games. But it's still nice to see. Like: "why isn't that hungry 500lbs lion eating that pretty young girl beside him?" The answer is: the Fury Meter. This is Vikki's way of keeping the powerful animal's instincts in check. If Leo starts to get out of control, it's up to Vikki to calm him down, and sooth the savage beast.

Apart from that bit of realism, don't expect to see familiar environments. To say that some of them are surreal would be an understatement. Fantastic, beautiful, richly detailed landscapes are what really separate this game from most of the other adventure titles we've seen on the PS2 so far. There are 25 levels to explore, sprawling over 5 unique worlds. But the levels are not just there to look pretty, they are deeply interactive.

Also, just as many developers are doing these days, the seemingly single-player Portal Runner has a two-player element as well. Split screen one-on-on battles, as well as two-player target shooting. Each of the two-player modes have various game parameters that can be adjusted to create more challenges, or to add to the competition.

Overall, Portal Runner might not be what the thousands of Army Men fans are used to, but don't let that discourage you from giving it a chance. This game has a nice looking new game engine developed specifically to harness the power under the roof of Playstation 2. The environments are rich and beautiful, and the characters are very well done (and beautiful too.) This could be the beginning of a whole new branch of Army Men games.

Additional Media:

Portal Runner is a trademark of The 3DO Company. All images used with permission and 2001 The 3DO Company.
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