The common way most have described MilitAnt is that it’s a grown-up version of A Bug’s Life. It’s an unoriginal comparison (just read some YouTube comments to see), but one that isn’t entirely wrong. Like Pixar’s animated feature, Xibalba Studios’ shooter focuses on a conflict between various insect families. Instead of the family friendly antics of that film, though, this is a much more violent approach to the idea. Think of it as if Flik decided to follow in the run and gun footsteps of Bill Rizer.
As mentioned, MiliAnt places you at the center of a conflict between ants and termites. For years, the ants have been the guardians of Crystalite, a rare and precious resource. It powers most of the insect territories, and is a critical material. Peace had been maintained for years, but following a termite attack on the ant colony, war has finally arrived. In the wake of the invasion, only one ant has stepped up to the plate. The quest for revenge won’t be easy, though, as our hero must traverse through many different colonies, and most of them aren’t friendly.
I like that Xibalba Studios took the time to really build the world around the game. Each of the insect colonies you approach have their own reasons for being in the war, as well as their own unique personalities. Which is why it’s annoying that the actual in-game action does little to advance the plot. You get little outside of a brief piece of text prior to each mission. Not to mention that our hero isn’t developed at all. He doesn’t even have a name! It’s a complete nothing of a character. It’s hard to really care about the plot when it’s more or less ignored after the opening cutscene.
If the Contra comparison didn’t tip you off, MilitAnt is a 2.5D shooter/platformer. Over 8 distinct locations, you’ll blast and slash your way through hundreds of insect enemies. This is all fairly standard, but one of the interesting things Xibalba Studios did was factor in the extra appendages ant’s have. So, instead of being able to wield only two weapons at a time, you’ll actually be able to carry four. Using the Crystalite you acquire in each stage, or through accomplishing goals (not dying, killing every enemy), you can purchase additional weapons.
The weapons available in the armory are consistent with what you’ll see in modern shooters. Shotgun, Minigun, Rocket Launcher and Flamethrower are just a few of the items in the shop. Each weapon has a cool-down timer, though, so you’ll need to think smart when it comes to shooting. Besides the firearms, you also have two knives equipped at all times that can be used for close-up combat, and to deflect bullets. The one thing that bugged (HAH) me about the weapon selection, is that you can’t carry two of the same type of weapon at once. Don’t say I can duel-wield and then not actually let me do it.
Of course, even as interesting as the weapon load-out system is, it doesn’t change the fact that MilitAnt features one abysmal aiming system. It sounds so easy when it’s described. All you have to do is flick the right analog stick in the direction of the enemy, and you’ll lock on to him. And sometimes, it works as advertised. Most of the time, though, I found that my ant would stop aiming at the enemy I was trying to kill. Maybe it was because I was constantly jumping and running around the screen, but it was extremely frustrating that I kept losing track of who I was targeting mid-battle.
The boss battles, which require precise aiming and timing, are especially affected by the less than stellar aiming. Outside of one or two bosses, you need to be able to lock onto an enemy that is either in the background or above you. As you would expect, if the aiming is unreliable, trying to attack something out of range soon becomes a lesson in frustration. This frustration is compounded by one of my least favorite boss battle tropes: the endless spawning of minions. Those two annoyances are why I would describe one of the boss battles, the Shogun Wall in level 5, as one of my least favorite sections in recent memory. It’s just awful.
Even outside of the unreliable targeting, though, there are just a lot of questionable design decisions in MilitAnt. For example, I hate the fact that enemies spawn wherever, including right where you are standing. This shouldn’t be an issue in 2016. Or that certain enemies can shoot through objects, but you can’t. Or how wall-jumping seemingly only works 1/3 of the time. Instead of feeling like a true challenge, these issues make the game just feel unfair.
Considering MilitAnt has been in development since 2013, and was scheduled to release on the PS3 at one point, the title doesn’t really look that bad. No one’s going to be blown away by the graphics, but there are some interesting designs here. I think the character designs are all well done, and do a solid job of incorporating the attributes of each insect. And Xibalba Studios did a solid job of designing levels that take advantage of the unique setting provided by the premise.
I really like the premise behind MilitAnt, which is why I’m saddened that the experience didn’t turn out as well as it could have. The frustrating gameplay that pulls from the worst tropes of the genre ruined the adventure for me. Xibalba Studios is a young developer, though, and I hope they can take what they learned from this endeavor and apply it to their next project. Heck, I’d be interested in a sequel, as long as it irons out the (numerous) flaws here. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact this project isn’t on the level of similar platformers.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.
The Bug's Life meets Contra premise of MilitAnt is promising, but unfortunately the experience is marred by questionable design decisions and an unreliable targeting system.