Developer CarloC is starting to get quite a reputation as a top indie developer for innovative wargames. Their first title, Until The Last Plane was a unique squadron management simulation set in World War II where players also fought many aerial battles in a series of mini-games. Planes in that title moved in specific patterns, almost like chess pieces, which made the combat challenging to learn, with the best players eventually figuring out how to become masters of the skies. But the heart of the game really was the airport management aspect, making sure that planes had enough fuel, ammunition and repair parts, and that pilots were healthy and well-rested.
Their new title, Full Metal Sergeant, which is available on Steam, also has a combat component, but leans much more heavily into the management side of things. Specifically, players are tasked with training raw army recruits and turning them into real soldiers. You have just twelve weeks to make that happen, and also need to manage your camp, earn prestige points, expand to new training facilities and invest in a complex tech tree at the same time. So, you are kind of acting as both a drill sergeant and camp commandant. Thankfully, it is fully played in turn-based mode, so you should never feel rushed, and can take as much time as you need to make critical decisions.
You start off with a pretty small camp, with just three new recruits and a single training area. Each recruit has a variety of stats like strength, agility, intelligence, shooting ability, melee prowess and discipline. Those core abilities improve through training. Recruits also have two other floating stats, stamina and stress, which can increase or drop depending on how hard you train them or how you react to various little RPG-like events that happen randomly as you play. You can also assign troops to light duty to help lower both of those floating stats, although that means they won’t gain points (or not many) in other areas during that week.
Each week of training in Full Metal Sergeant is one turn, and you have 12 turns to level up your recruits as much as possible. You also have a limited number of action points to spend each turn, generally two per recruit. So at first, you will have six action points per turn. Sending a recruit off to the mud pit costs you one action point, but improves their agility and strength, while sending them to the swimming pool (once you unlock it) can improve their agility or strength. Each training area generally beefs up a specific stat, so for example, making a recruit spend time cleaning their rifle improves their intelligence, while spending time on the range with their gun will make them a better shot. You can spend your action points however you want each turn, so you can train one solder six times if you want and give the other two the week off, although that will likely fatigue the guy doing all the training work to the point where he will be worthless the following week.
It’s up to you as their sergeant to decide how to best direct your recruit’s training. Maybe you want to beef up a low stat on a certain recruit so he is not so weak in a critical area, or really try and buff someone’s already inherent strengths – possibility making them into, say, a sniper or a close combat specialist. Many recruits also arrive at camp with a negative trait, like being lazy, traitorous or cowardly, or maybe being afraid of something like water. There is always a way to eliminate that negative trait through specific and intense training, but you often need to really concentrate your efforts to make that happen. And it matters too, because after the training is finished, your newly-minted soldiers will need to go on an actual combat mission.
The combat mission in Full Metal Sergeant has multiple stages of increasing difficulty. The mission involves walking across a map in turn-based style and encountering various situations and enemies along the way to an objective on the far side. And unlike Until The Last Plane, you don’t have any direct control over the combat once the shooting starts. If your soldiers are trained well, they have a better chance of survival, but the random number gods are unfortunately really strong here, so even a super-soldier will sometimes take a headshot and die right away, which is highly frustrating after you invested so much into their training. If you are able to fully complete a stage of the combat mission, you have the option to retreat, which I would highly recommend at first until you train a tougher squad. It will be a very long time before your recruits will be able to master multiple stages of the combat mission, much less get anywhere near completing it.
Prestige points earned on the combat mission can be used to purchase new training facilities at your camp or to upgrade existing ones. You will want to build up and upgrade as much as possible too, because that is the only way you are going to get tougher soldiers. Upgraded facilities allow you to earn multiple points in each discipline for your soldiers who go through them each time, whereas the baseline facilities mostly only grant a single point.
With only 12 weeks of training for each class, you are going to need advanced training if you want any hope of pushing deeper into that combat mission at the end. There are also some general training buffs that you can unlock on the tech tree with prestige points, like the ability to intimidate troops to earn more training points at the cost of a bit more stress, or being able to add more recruits to each new class.
Overall, the title is pretty charming to play. The recruits and the drill sergeant say some funny things during the training, and there are several military cadence drill songs they will say at different times, like when you take the entire squad on a run. It’s really funny to hear the sergeant say something funny about their rifle and then hear the recruits repeat it back, just like you would hear on a real army base. That really helps to add flavor to the game.
Full Metal Seargeant is a lot of fun to play, especially for those who enjoy management type simulations or titles with military themes. It can be extremely challenging at times, especially when you are just starting out and don’t have enough resources to do everything that you want or need. But over time, you can take your backwoods training camp and turn it into a proving ground for your country’s most elite warriors. And that feels pretty good. Hooah!