Auto Assault Review

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Publisher: NCsoft
Developer: NetDevil

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: 1.6 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c, GeForce 4 Ti 4200 or ATI Radeon 8500 video card (or comparable), 10 GB HD space, internet connection

The apocalypse is no longer nigh. It happened nearly one hundred years ago when humanity unleashed its entire arsenal of weapons – nuclear, chemical and biological – in an effort to stop alien invaders. It was an invasion of the most horrifying sort. Extraterrestrial creatures never threatened us or even attempted peaceful contact. Instead, seemingly uncommunicative drones arrived on Earth and began terraforming our planet to suit the needs and environment of an alien species.

The atmosphere soon filled with greenish xenobiological goo and our planet's inhabitants quickly succumbed to alien contaminants and radiation. Plants, animals and insects mutated into new beasts. So did some humans. Human Mutants were feared and shunned – ultimately they were deemed a threat by the "normal" populace. To cope with both the alien invaders and the frightening changes, humanity engineered a vast cybernetic army slaved to an AI (known as Tempernet) and created an army of soldiers augmented with mechanical implants (now known as the Biomeks).

The situation quickly escalated out of control on every front, so humanity's elite moved underground and brought about doomsday. By setting off every weapon available, the human elite (unified by the Hestia corporation) hoped to return to the surface after it was cleared of horrors – both alien and human. A century has passed since Hestia invoked the "Genesis Solution" and pureblood humans have once again ventured from their shelters onto the surface of the planet. But the surface is hardly barren. Powerful enclaves of Mutants remain and armies of Biomeks are busy converting the remnants of humanity that survived, supplanting their failing organic parts with machinery and enlisting them into the Biomek order. Mutants hate their Human oppressors and Humanity's former Biomek servants. Biomeks hate the Humans for abandoning them to Armageddon. Humans fear both debased segments of humanity, as well as the alien agents of change. Somewhere amidst all this, smaller groups have united to survive and carve out their own niche in this fallen world while staying out of the way of the big three warring factions.

Life is rarely safe outside of heavily armed settlements and enclaves, and venturing outside is only advisible in a vehicle. A heavily armed vehicle. Preferably, a convoy of heavily armed vehicles.

Kyle Ackerman

Auto Assault calls itself "The fastest, most destructive MMORPG ever!" It's true. Outside of towns and on the highway, scavangers and worse – organized and armed bands – are prepared to do whatever it takes to scrounge your vehicle and probably your fleshy bits, as well. Even so, the world is recovering from humanity's brush with extinction. Bit by bit, the three major factions are retaking the planet, and you'll have to help out. That might involve harvesting meat from the less toxic wildlife, or taking out entire well-armed factions that currently cruise the highways.

To that end, you'll arm your vehicle as best you can and venture into the broken roads and shattered cities, exploring a world lit by flamethrowers, and accompanied by the sounds of mortar rounds and machine guns. The early countryside that you encounter evokes dustbowl America, but with towering wreckage – skyscrapers and homes shucked to the bare girders by nuclear fire.

The settlements of the major factions stand out as the sole bastions of order in a wrecked world. Human settlements tower over the landscape, glowing ominously blue thanks to advanced energy shielding technology. Biomek settlements boast the latest in "Road Warrior" architecture while Mutant settlements have that "at one with nature" vibe, given that nature is now overflowing with glowing, green mutagenic slime that the Mutants call the "Blood." As you venture further from home, the environments get more exotic, filled with alien vehicles, gigantic crystalline craters and wrecked malls.

More Than a Quiet Sunday Drive

Unlike most MMOGs, Auto Assault requires a modicum of reflexes. Fundamentally, Auto Assault is not a twitch game, but the game has twitch elements. Behind-the-scenes die rolls determine if you hit or miss, but to have a shot you need to keep the enemy within your arc of fire. Turrets can automatically track, but if you've got a cannon strapped to your hood you have to be facing the enemy or you just won't score a hit. Besides, a moving target is harder to hit – so you'll want to keep driving in the heat of battle.

This twitch aspect may scare off some traditional MMOGers, but it keeps combat interesting. No longer is battle the same pattern of hotkeys over and over again. You have to drive. It's simplistic, arcade-style driving, but you need to keep moving and aiming. This is one MMOG that keeps me engaged during battle – I don't feel the need to read or do something else while my hot-key fingers obey muscle memory. There are also "melee" weapons – things such as blades or spikes attached to the fender. This means that high-speed collisions are your friend in combat, allowing cars to deal massive damage to their victims.

The simple driving dynamics also change the nature of exploration. It's not enough to just wander around in a new zone – exploration takes on elements of Grand Theft Auto-style games. It's as exciting to find new jumps and to perform vehicular acrobatics as it is to wander through new terrain. The only way to damage a car is in combat, so there's no reason not to try out the massive jumps that scatter the landscape. And with the help of accelerating ramps, vehicles can achieve hang times of greater than five seconds, seeming to peacefully fly through the air.

Face Hordes in the Wastelands

Another vast difference between Auto Assault and other MMOGs is that most MMOGs pit single characters against single enemies. As groups develop, it's common for players to gang up on foes. In Auto Assault there are occasional high-powered foes that require a convoy, but combat is typically balanced so that a single player faces a horde of vehicles or even less powerful infantry. A player will often be faced with a truck, a few motorcycles and a small army of infantry, all out for that player's blood. So put blades on your bumpers and turn pedestrians to meal while you fire on the other vehicles. It's frenzied action, but it's spectacular to be in the midst of a combat, with sirens and flamethrowers firing on all sides and the sound of a wall collapsing behind you.

Grouping and guild mechanics are similar to other games, although you don't form a group – you form a "convoy." A convoy is truly something to be experienced. Given the armaments on even a small number of vehicles, a convoy of four or so players can produce the fireworks you'd expect from a guild raid or massive battle in a real-time strategy game.

Tomorrow's Tinkerers, Today

Crafting in Auto Assault is fascinating. Flawed, but fascinating and fun. The best part of crafting is collecting raw materials. Making something involves assembling the scrap of the old world, so you'll find yourself getting excited when you salvage old duct tape, rebar or spent ammunition. Hundreds of different components can be combined in different ways to create new weapons, tires, a new chassis and even power plants. But collecting those parts involves destruction on a massive scale. Some are dropped by enemies, but much comes from wrecking what remains of the old world.

Need metals? Knock over some highway signs or guard rails. Need plastics? Blow up old propane tanks. Demolition and carnage get you crafting components, complete with the fire and subsonic booms that accompany that destruction. It's satisfying to gather stuff. There is a huge incentive to drive down the middle of the highway and wreck the divider instead of staying in your lane. Instead of just marking time as you travel between missions, it makes sense to level towns and raze the landscape hoping to find critical components. One can even get distracted in the heat of combat when stray fire reveals critical components unearthed through collateral damage. A difficulty with the crafting system is that, at this time, there is no auction system. Everyone will collect nearly all types of salvage, but will only use the types of salvage related to their crafting talents. Unless you enjoy standing in town and shouting about what goods you have for sale, prepare to be annoyed by the inconveniences of inter-player commerce.

Great Excitement, But Who Can Share the Fun?

Auto Assault offers plenty of excitement and is exactly the MMOG fix that any post-apocalyptic fan has been waiting for. It's a great balance of action and traditional MMOG timing, finding a great balance between the twitchiness of a PlanetSide and the typical steady pace of an MMOG.

If there's a problem with Auto Assault, its that as of the time of this writing, the server populations are low. Auto Assault is designed to be more solo-able than most MMOGs, so there are few things that can't be completed by a determined player. At the same time, many players are clamoring for server consolidation at this time, hoping that it will bring enough players together to make it simpler to put together a convoy.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 27, 2006 12:29 PM.

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