Cannon Fodder 3: Review

Cannon Fodder 3: War Used To Be Way More Fun

Newsflash: An obscure Russian studio has made a sequel to an 18 year old niche semi-real time strategy game, which is exclusively available through one online retailer, all while receiving no advertising, fanfare, or seeming acknowledgement of its existence by its own publisher. As you might expect, the game ain’t great. Read on to find out just how not great it actually is.

A Sensible Beginning

The original Cannon Fodder is a classic, albeit an obscure one. Cannon Fodder and its sequel, appropriately named Cannon Fodder 2, were released in 1993 and 1994 by Sensible Software, a European company that was also very well known for making soccer games. If you have ever head of Sensible Soccer, well… same folks.

This shit was AMAZING back in the early 1990's.

The Cannon Fodder games were PC/Commodore Amiga titles that combined action, real time strategy and humor. The conceit was simple: you controlled a squad of one to eight soldiers with the mouse, one button doing the moving and the other doing the shooting. You then take this squad through various battlefields (including jungles, the arctic, etc) and accomplish various objectives such as destroying enemy bases, rescuing hostages, or just surviving.

For being so seemingly simple, the game was actually tough as nails: your soldiers died quick and often. The game is called Cannon Fodder and that’s exactly what your soldiers were. Even as they would rank up with experience, you would lose them in the blink of an eye to enemies, explosive barrels, or your own stupidly misthrown grenade, and ultimately, its fine. As the game implies, single soldiers are never that important. Further, as the game progressed, the missions became steadily more complex, requiring the player to manage multiple squads, or split up their squads to accomplish multiple objectives.

I am not ashamed to say I never finished either Cannon Fodder or Cannon Fodder 2. I played the hell out of both of them however.

This is not to say that Cannon Fodder set the world on fire, or became a best-selling phenomenon. Even so, for those of us who are old enough to remember the game (and its sequel), Cannon Fodder holds some considerable nostalgic juice. Cannon Fodder, while itself kind of a hybrid of shoot-em-up and RTS, actually came out before the RTS harbingers of C&C and Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The game required both strategic thought and quick reflexes, but perhaps most importantly it had a wicked sense of humor tinged with a bit of Vietnam-era social commentary. For instance, every time one of your soldiers bit it, you would see a new grave added to “Boot Hill,” while new recruits lined up at the recruitment office directly underneath.

The infamous Boot Hill. Little white crosses represent every soldier you lost in the game.

Apart from a few ports, the last time were heard from the series was in 1994, when Cannon Fodder 2 was released. In 1999, Sensible Software sold itself to Codemasters, who more recently has been known for games like the Colin McRae Rally series, the Overlord series, and Lord of the Rings Online.

The Red Menace

Presenting Cannon Fodder 3!

Skip ahead nearly two decades to February 2012, when Russian developer Burut CT unceremoniously released Cannon Fodder 3 to a single English-language outlet: GamersGate. As the IP is now owned by Codemasters, they are technically publishing it, if pushing out a digital-only version of the game to a single online outlet can be called publishing, but it may help the game’s sales if Codemasters, you know, actually TOLD anyone about the game.

As of this writing, Cannon Fodder 3 doesn’t even appear on Codemasters own website. Clive Barker’s Jericho does.

More important than Cannon Fodder 3.

So, why would Codemasters drop the ball like this? Why would they silently “release” this game to a second-tier digital distribution platform without even a bare attempt at publicity? Probably because the game just isn’t very good.

What’s wrong with Cannon Fodder 3? So many god damned things. The game is buggy, full of graphical glitches, it’s awkward to control, it’s not player-friendly, and it does a terrible job of explaining its mechanics. The game suffers from poorly paced missions, a barebones narrative structure, and generally poor presentation. It is also a tremendously ugly game with absurdly bad voice acting and somehow even worse sound effects.

It's not very good!

In fact, looking back at my four hours of experience with Cannon Fodder 3, the most positive thing I can say about the game is that Burut CT clearly played the original at least once. At the very least, the game does play like Cannon Fodder.

Military Maneuvering

No matter how much I wish otherwise, a properly written game review needs to be more than a brief history lesson and a quick list of bitches and gripes, so here are a few details.

As I said, Cannon Fodder 3 does play like the classic Cannon Fodder games, insofar that you control one or more soldiers in a squad via the mouse. Left click tells them where to go (holding it down directs them in a constant motion), while right click directly controls shooting. The result of which kind of feels like an RTS mixed with Robotron. Everything I said about the original Cannon Fodder games applies here as well: the game gets more difficult and complex, you control more soldiers and squads, and there is an attempt at humor, though perhaps not as dark nor as intelligent as Sensible Software’s original effort.

This is the game's attempt at a tutorial.

The problem with all of this is that the game feels exactly like you would expect an Eastern European knockoff to feel: shoddy and tone-deaf. While the control scheme is technically the same, it’s mechanically all wrong. Moving your soldiers feels imprecise and haphazard, whether its due to their slow running speed or poor pathing, it is never predictable where they are actually going to go. In fact, I found them passing my curser over and over again, often walking straight into bullets or explosions.

Moreover, the camera is strangely tied to the mouse in a delayed centering mechanic. Wherever you move the mouse, the camera will attempt to center on it a second later, leading to a nauseating, almost sea-sick feeling. This scheme fails at simplifying camera control; it just makes the game worse.

Be prepared for a lot of this.

The shooting is slow and plodding, with both enemies and your own soldiers having far too much life. Cannon Fodder 1 and 2 were fast, almost visceral games, and the inclusion of substantial life bars slows the game down to a crawl.

The game also does a horrific job at explaining its own mechanics and objectives. The control scheme is actually unexpectedly complex, with more than half a dozen additional buttons than just the mouse and spacebar in use. The only way you would know this, of course, is if you looked in the settings menu yourself. The game makes no effort to instruct players on how to actually play it. This sort of philosophy was par for the course in 1993. This is no longer the case in 2012.

One of the very few good ideas in the game is this very light achievement/progression system.

Finally, the missions are just bland. Part of the problem here is the lack of a minimap and clear objectives. Levels get large and mazelike, and it’s difficult sometimes to know where you should be going and what you should be doing. Not that the objectives are ever that interesting: you mostly just shoot “terrorist” enemy soldiers and blow up buildings. Even so, the lack of objective markers and a map utterly cripples the game. I can’t express adequately how annoying it is to think you finished a half-hour mission, only to see you still need to kill one more enemy soldier, but you have NO idea where he is.

War Ain’t Pretty

If "Stripes" was actually a Soviet cartoon.

Unfortunately, the game looks just as bad as it feels. At a basic aesthetic level the designers settled on a nightmarish super-deformed look that I can only describe as ill-advised. It’s easy to see what they tried to do: the first Cannon Fodder games were kind of cartoony in a pixelated way, and Burut CT tried to emulate this. They failed. At its very best the game is awkward and offputting.

KILL IT WITH FIRE

More than that, the game does not put its best foot forward all the time, or even often. Nearly every aspect of the game, aside from the menus, has presentation issues. These range from the washed out, overly compressed intro movies to the glitchy and framey in-game graphics. In still pictures, the game looks almost interesting: bright colors, big explosions, etc. Once you have it playing in front of you, this just doesn’t translate. Those trees don’t look quite so good when their textures flicker in and out of existence, and the explosions are surprisingly puny and unsatisfying.

More bum than boom.

All of this is as nothing though, compared to my absolute hatred for Cannon Fodder 3’s sound design. Everything is exactly wrong. This includes the (thankfully sparse) voice acting, which sounds like a Russian being recorded with a headset mic in a garage, attempting to speak with a British accent, in order to voice a seemingly American general.

The rest of the sound design is equally bad. After having JUST played the game, I honestly can’t tell you if there was music at all. It left that little of an impression on me. I can tell you the game had walking sound-effects. The sounds of feet hitting the ground. I know this because the sound is horrific and constant. Assuming you play the game with the sound on (you have already made two mistakes there), you will be hearing this sound pretty much the entire time. It’s almost like gravel in a blender: abrasive and annoying.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Some things are better left in the past.

I make a special effort to find the good in obscure, budget, or unappreciated titles. While I am, by no means, any sort of masochist or gaming saint, I generally think I have an ability to appreciate games that others would not. I found absolutely nothing to appreciate about Cannon Fodder 3. Even assuming they fixed the graphics, re-recorded the audio, and overhauled the camera and controls, the game still would be just mediocre. At about $26, the game is not even worth it for fans of the original. Do yourself a favor and just track down the first two games and play them on DosBox.

While Eastern European developers have made great strides in recent years, putting out AAA titles like The Witcher and S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Cannon Fodder 3 is a regrettable example of something that could have been great, if handled by careful, competent and well-funded developers, but that just ended up as shovelware. It’s not surprising that Codemasters is hiding this clunker, I am sure they wish it never existed in the first place.

About Mike Cantor

Unplayaballa.
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11 Responses to Cannon Fodder 3: Review

  1. AtlasRedux says:

    There’s so much wrong here I can’t even begin.
    I’ll be lazy and correct you on the 2 most horrible mistakes in the article :
    Bugs. What bugs? I’ve played through twice, and no glitches or bugs whatsoever discovered, I have no idea what you are talking about ( and I think no one else does ).
    Actually, the game is pretty damn well coded, much better than I expected!
    The controls are just like the original og feels perfect, except for the weird instant-stopping of vehicles.
    The game is great fun, though, it does indeed fail at the humour.
    I can agree on the camera though, it gets annoying.
    But of course, this is your personal opinion, most other reviewers are very impressed with the game.
    The “glitchy graphics” you were talking about, I have no idea what is about. It’s looks really good here.

    • Mike Cantor says:

      As with all graphical bugs, your mileage may vary. I tried the game on a variety of settings and in every situation I had textures flickering in and out of existence on a near-constant basic.

      That, combined with odd drops in framerate, counts as glitchy graphics to me.

      But, of course, you are correct: this review is my personal opinion. Being able to publish my opinions is one of the many benefits of running my own game review website.

      • AtlasRedux says:

        Indeed, and I do respect your opinion.
        But the graphics-issues you are talking about I have not been able to replicate.
        I guess you’re on an ATi-card with their horribly coded drivers?

        • Mike Cantor says:

          Nope, I use a GTX 580. Could be an issue with 64 bit operating systems? Maybe with high resolution displays? Who knows.

          Maybe it will be patched in the future, but considering the kind of marketing and support Codemasters has put behind the game, I somewhat doubt it. It’s a shame really, Cannon Fodder 1 and 2 were great games.

          • AtlasRedux says:

            Absolutely, of course it’s nowhere close to 1 and 2, but I think they did actually do a great job on keeping the gameplay.
            Again, it’s a subjective opinion 😉
            Hm, that’s weird, I play on a GTX295 myself and have no issues.
            I’m used to weird glitches with ATi on almost anything, hence the former comment.
            I am also on Windows 7 x64 ( Ultimate ) and have no problems, so it’s not due to the architecture either.
            Strange indeed, I guess you’ve just been unlucky or there is some weird coding failure with newer cards.

          • AtlasRedux says:

            Do you think perhaps it is an issue with the translation of DX11? GTX295 doesn’t have DX11 and hence doesn’t have the shaders and enhancements DX11 profits from, but I am no expert on these issues. It just seems logical that perhaps you have a TOO good card, and if that is the issue I can agree that the issues you mentioned in the articles are indeed a problem and not acceptable.

  2. Mike Cantor says:

    I think you may be 100% correct. I have seen this happen with other budget titles before as well. Games that run well on a lower end system may run into issues (especially on higher resolutions) on higher end ones.

    I may try installing the game on one of my older computer and see if that makes a difference. In the mean time, thanks much for reading and commenting.

  3. Gamer_2k4 says:

    I think you may have a bit of a nostalgia filter in place here. That is, you remember Cannon Fodder as being better than it was because you played it long ago and enjoyed it long ago. Honestly, CF3 feels nearly the same (if not better) than the originals.

    That said, let’s address your points one by one.
    1) Controls. First of all, I know you’ve messed around with the control scheme, because the game does not default to left mouse moving and right mouse shooting. It’s opposite. I know, because I changed it back to the way I remember from the original games. Secondly, try using WASD to control your troops. You’ll find that this is actually much better than in CF1 because you’re not frantically moving your mouse back and forth, alternating between shooting and avoiding fire. You simply move with one hand and target with the other. It’s very basic, and quite an improvement from how it was. Concerning the weird camera shifts, the original games did the exact same thing. I remember thinking, “this is kind of weird” but getting used to it quickly because I had just played the originals a year or two ago.
    2) Shooting. You have a squad of four guys. Each has a gun. If you click on an enemy, it doesn’t matter if he has one hit point or four; he DIES because four bullets hit him. Add to this the fact that firing is automatic (and not a shot every second or something), and enemies fall nearly as quickly as they did in the old games. I never noticed any pacing problems with it, and, if anything, I enjoyed the fact that the game was a little more forgiving when it comes to your guys getting shot. I’m through seven missions now, and I still have my original four soldiers. Good luck doing that in the first two games.
    3) Bland Missions. How in the world can you say this? The original game was the one with bland missions. “Kill all enemies. Destroy all buildings. Protect all civilians.” That was as complex as it got. In CF3, there are hostage rescuing missions, investigation missions, stealth missions, boss fights, and just good old shoot-em-up. And what do you mean, there is no map or objectives? Type ‘m’ (I remapped it to shift for easier access) and you get a full-screen map with all of the objectives highlighted.
    4) Sound and Graphics. All I can say here is that I had no graphical issues, and the sound was tolerable. I turned down the background music because it was just some generic metal riff, but the voice acting isn’t as atrocious as everyone seems to think. It gets the job done, and that’s all I need of it.

    Overall, this game is an improvement in nearly every respect. Yes, they’ve completely lost the satire aspect of it, and I wasn’t sure how to handle the fact that Jools, Jops, Stoo, and RJ were gone. But beyond that, this is a game with updated graphics, an arsenal of guns and grenades, and more varied gameplay. I played it for hours as soon as I got it because it was everything I remembered and more. I admit I was leery because of reviews like this, but having actually played the game, I’m very satisfied with it.

    • Michael Cantor says:

      Well I gotta say, good on you for enjoying the game. I certainly didn’t.

      I am not dedicated to trashing the game, but I will stand behind what I wrote.

      To address a few of your points:

      1. The original games were made in the early 1990’s. This game was released in 2012. Things that were acceptable nearly 20 years ago are no longer considered good game design (i.e. the camera movement, the imprecise controls, etc). If they were going to update the game, they should have improved these things.

      2. I did not know about the map. Then again, its not like the game ever told me there was a map function. In the hours I played the game, I had no clue. Maybe it popped up when I wasn’t looking, but I somewhat doubt it. I suspect this functionality is hidden in the settings menu under “controls” where I would have had to know to look for it. This kind of lack of user-friendlyness is also a relic of ancient game design. For gods sake, the game actually bothers to have a full tutorial mission up front where nothing besides moving, shooting and throwing grenades is explained. Its a wasted opportunity.

      3. The missions are bland. For that matter the original game’s missions were bland too, but again it was great for the era, and they went by fairly quickly. CF3’s missions far overstay their welcome and generally there ain’t much to do. Maybe some story integration would have been nice, but considering the writing and voice acting, less may be more.

      4. You and I may just have a basic disagreement about the sound and voice over quality. I found them intolerable. The voices were muffled and low quality, and the acting itself was just bad. The sound effects, somehow, were even worse than the acting though.

      Listen, if you liked the game, great. Support these guys. Maybe if enough people buy it we will get a good Cannon Fodder sequel. Considering the way the game has been released though, and the general reception (I am by no means the only negative reaction here), I think this is the end of the line for the series.

  4. Miky says:

    Hmm well i have used nvidia in the past and for the last 5 years used Amd/Ati cards and never had any graphic glitches or crash ect, personally it most likely to be the game just does not like your driver version or another bit of software on your pc. there are lots of things that can cause glitches and crashs in games, other software, drivers conflicting, hardware, ect and no to “if that was the case it would happen in every game” its just sad that people blame the graphics card first lol.

  5. Derek says:

    AtlasRedux : i am playing the game on ati radion hd5770.
    i have used a couple of ati cards and i have never had any problems.
    with glichy graphic i get annoyed when people blame these cards . it could just be there system setup.
    just an incompatability prob with there setup.

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