Have you ever wondered where the fun went in strategy gaming? Are you sick and tired of the never-ending flow of strategy titles and RTSs that follow the same old resource management format? Are you completely disgusted with unskilled gamers winning rounds online through rush techniques, or worse, lamers who build walls in the middle of nowhere just to freeze your troops in place? Apparently, the team at Wargaming.net must have felt the same way, because their outstanding strategy title Massive Assault harkens back to the good old days of tabletop strategy gaming a lá Steve Jackson’s Ogre and GEV, with fixed resources and perfectly balanced combat. There are no cheap moves in this game, and only master strategists need apply.
The back-story for Massive Assault is one of world wars and secret alliances. It’s the 22nd century, and two major governments are going head-to-head for control of the New Worlds. Negotiations aren’t even considered in this future war; it’s kill or be conquered. And so you step into the role of general for either the sneaky Phantom League, or the wise and just Free Nations Union. There’s just one little problem for both sides…everyone seems to have a secret ally. And those secret allies can shift the flow of battle, taking a perfectly executed battle plan from you and handing you an ignominious defeat in return.
Massive Assault’s gameplay comes straight out of the pen-and-paper tabletop rulebooks. This is a game where luck plays no role; it’s all about the proper marshalling of troops, cooperation with allies and understanding the best roles for each and every unit. Each unit does a set amount of damage, no matter what condition it may be in, and each unit has some specific utility that forces you to choose exactly what mix of units your army will consist of. For example, mortar units pack a punch, but they’re slower than molasses in January and can’t take a lot of damage, whereas ‘Mechs can dish out pain and suffering with ease, are super fast, yet cost a small fortune to build. To have any hope of playing this game even respectably, you’ll have to quickly get up to speed on the balancing of troops with respect to their strengths, weaknesses and cost. Fortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of unit types (13 in all) to deal with, so it doesn’t take long to realize that you can use cannon fodder units like Light Assault Vehicles (LAV) to block the roads and prevent invasions by heavier tanks. That is, until the tanks turn those LAVs to scrap after one or two turns. Units are rated by cost, movement, attack value and hit points. In an interesting gameplay twist, no matter what condition a unit is in, it always hits for its max attack value. So you really have to decide on how to focus your offensive power on the opposition so as to take out their real punishing units quickly, because even a ‘Mech with one hit point strikes with full impact, and you really don’t want to feel that impact.
In Massive Assault, resource management is about as simple as it can get. Each country is worth a set amount of money per turn, and after a set number of turns, that cash flow stops. Once you completely capture a country, you get to start spending money from its treasury, which you’ll need to do pretty quickly if you hope to hold on to that country.
Massive Assault introduces a new bit of gameplay to the strategy genre, the Secret Ally system. Secret Allies are just that, countries that appear neutral at first, but you can suddenly call them out as your ally and reap the benefits of having them on your side. Those benefits are cash and troops. It’s that simple. And trust me, you’re going to need plenty of allies if you hope to beat the AI at any time.
Did I mention the AI? Let me warn you, the AI in Massive Assault is truly the toughest bunch of mechanized hombres you’ll ever see in a strategy title. As a matter of fact, the AI was so tough, the developers later decided to issue a gameplay patch to let you choose between three AI levels (originally, there was only one, which might as well have been labeled “brutal”). These selectable AI levels, well, I can only liken them to choosing between being stabbed, shot or kicked by your opponent. Even the easiest level plays like some of the best human strategists you’ll ever come up against. Watch in terror as the “easy” AI spots an exposed flank and floods you with an assault of epic proportions. Maybe you think you’re real smart by trying to keep your distance? Watch as the “medium” AI starts purchasing long-range rocket platforms that will chew through your wonderfully planned defense in just a few seconds. The AI isn’t unbeatable, far from it actually, but you will have to play smart if you hope to beat it at any time. Just rushing in with heavy units will not win you a single fight in this game. And if you like to spend tons of cash on throwaway units until you can finally save up enough for big units…don’t forget that treasuries run dry after a short time.
So the gameplay’s great, you now know that, but how’s the presentation? Spectacular! Visually, Massive Assault is loaded with deliciously sweet eye-candy that’ll keep you zoomed in on the action to watch your ‘Mechs crawl across the battlefield as your rocket launchers send smoking volleys of death streaking through the skies. If “God is in the details,” Massive Assault is a pantheon of deities all its own. I really couldn’t get enough of watching units move, fire and explode. Sure there’s a limited number of animations available in the game, but that little arsenal is so much fun to look at, you won’t realize how small it is.
Just like the visuals, the audio presentation is solid. The voice acting, performed by someone I can only guess is a Russian friend of the developers, is fun to listen to. There’s something funny about phrases such as “We can bring them war” being spoken when you forget to use a unit to fire upon the enemy. The amount of total dialog is pretty limited, but it’s never overused, so it’ll take quite some time before you grow tired of it. The rest of the audio presentation is also enjoyable, from the firing of lasers to the clank of a ‘Mech stomping across the landscape, it’s fun stuff that’s tough to beat.
If you grow weary of having devastation heaped upon you by the AI, there are two multiplayer modes, online and hot seat. Hot seat is the standard “my turn, your turn” fare with you and another player sharing the controls throughout the game. Online is where the game really shines, as you can fight world wars against not only other players, but also the developers themselves. I have to admit; a certain someone on the game’s team has challenged me, but I’m too afraid to accept the challenge just yet. There’s a thriving online community for Massive Assault, so you’re sure to find someone to play against who shares your same skill set. Recently the development team released a scenario editor and a pack of a dozen new (and free) scenarios, so it’s obvious that once you pick up this game, you’ll have fresh content for a long time to come.
With all the love I’m showering on this game, you might think I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Well, there actually are a few little annoying details that don’t spoil the game, but do keep it from being perfect in my mind. The first of which is the complete lack of infantry. Infantry, no matter how futuristic your timeline is, is a necessity. After all, you can capture plenty of territory with mechanized vehicles, but you need ground pounders to hold onto the bricks. Infantry adds an interesting dimension to gameplay, as they can dig in, hide out and fight fantastic guerilla campaigns that no mechanized militia can defend against. Unfortunately, they’re not to be found in Massive Assault, and saying the little mechanized scooters stand in as them just doesn’t cut it for me.
Another problem I had was with cover, or more specifically, the lack of cover effect. A tank, for example, can hide in a capital city, yet it’ll take full damage from attacks even when covered this way. I understand Wargaming.net is going for simplicity with Massive Assault’s combat rules, but at times the lack of cover effect was annoying.
The last nit I have to pick with Massive Assault is the lack of unit variety. Here I have to admit that Total Annihilation, a game I believe is the best strategy title ever made, spoiled me. TA had hundreds of units, whereas MA has 13. I’m not looking for the hundreds of units that were available in TA, but it would be nice to see another half dozen added to the lineup in Massive Assault. Of course with a wider range of units comes the possibility of the accidental inclusion of gameplay imbalances, so if Wargaming.net is looking to add new units in further expansions, I hope they take it slow and steady before adding units.
Massive Assault proves that simplicity of gameplay doesn’t mean boring gameplay. In the case of Massive Assault, the simplicity is its strength. MA is like playing some of the best strategy titles around without having to spend all your time foraging for food, digging new mines or watching out for cheap gameplay exploiters. Massive Assault is the PC title I’ll be playing for the next several months, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to see a great strategy title with excellent online support and some of the most punishing AI around.
- Gameplay: 9.5
- Graphics: 9
- Sound: 8.5
- Replay: 9
- Overall: 9.5
- Strategy gaming at its finest.
— Craig Falstaff