MMOS Are Popping up like randy midgets at the moment, and 97% of the world's population are playing between five and 30 games at the same time in monitor-filled Polyplay booths. So when another epic clock-scoffer bursts out, it really needs a convincing hook.
Auto Assault, NetDevil's Mad Max take on the genre, has something unique: speed. The car battles have you skidding around, blowing up buildings, fatally running people over and using up to four weapons and numerous skills at once. It's no Lazy Susan in character growth, either; initial levelling is good and fast. Combat is definitely where it's at though. Between your turret weapon, fixed front gun, rear and melee weapons, there's plenty of upgrading going on. And death brings no penalty, so you can have a frisky pop at anything. The arcade style of fighting works surprisingly well with the more traditional RPG diceplay. The world is huge, but it's uniformly bleak and unthrilling. The fetch-kill-thanks' approach to missions does get repetitive, but there's good PvP combat, which should take off as the servers slowly fill up.
A small niggle - Auto Assault seems to finish every mission with: "Jeff Patella looks at you with a new sense of respect. He says that perhaps you are the one." Yeah, Jeff. You say that to everyone. Just give me the turret cannon and go back to your wife. Tch.
As well as arcade-style combat. Auto Assault has some of the austere faff of old-school RPGs. Making quality components by combining damaged ones harks back to Diablo II. and the crafting of items from others is intriguingly complicated far beyond Oblivion's Alchemy. If you're like me, you'll get a nice sensation when you realise you're one component short of a new mudflap.
The fundamental problem is that it all feels a little detached - for an MMO, solo play feels far more natural, as the speed turns most of the battles into one-on-ones dotted around the map. It's a great, unbeautiful game you can dip into or play.
Download Auto Assault
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Oh, Very brown. That was our initial verdict on life in Auto Assault following our recent invitation to the closed beta test. Brown, followed by blood red, followed by the bright, yellow glare of multiple explosions. Yup, Auto Assault is a riot of cars, carnage and colour, and we've been strapped into the driving seat for the past few weeks.
Third-Party Fire And Theft
Of course, it's the cars that are the stars of the show and they don't disappoint. Whichever starter model you choose (and you'll want to part-exchange it for a newer model as soon as you can), it'll come with a few basic optional extras installed. You know the kind of thing - front-mounted machine guns, 360-degree attack turrets, biometric shielding, furry dice. No, really! You don't actually start with them, but there is a slot on the vehicle equipment screen for decorative extras.
Upgrading is as simple as buying spare parts from mechanics, or looting them from fallen foes, finding a relatively quiet spot to carry out repairs, and attaching said component to the appropriate slot. The scope for customisation is pretty staggering at first, with useful weapons and armour being readily available from the packs of cannon fodder outside the starting city s gates or as rewards for completing missions.
Crafters are catered for too, with plenty of raw materials to collect, or with the option to reverse engineer pre-built items into component parts. You can dismantle them and tinker with their make-up to build yet stronger goods.
In practice it's the work of moments to swap your top-mounted auto-cannon for a devastating flamethrower, combine it with a high-velocity machine gun on the front and set yourself up as a lethal killing with a deft sideline in holding impromptu The flamethrower is a weapon to wield too, and watching helpless foes run away screaming as they burn, before putting them out of their misery under your front bumpers is perversely satisfying.
Indeed, when you first take to the road, the initial impression is the old vehicular carnage classic, Carmageddon, with death and destruction on an absolutely grand scale. Just about everything explodes, crumbles and disintegrates when enough ammo is pumped into it, and bodily mutilation happens with alarming regularity. There are rats' to kill early on, although they mostly take the form of under-amied foot soldiers allied to gang factions or, in a brutal twist for Biomek characters, hapless prisoners fleeing fopheir lives before being mown down in a combination of bullets, flame and tyres.
Once you've seen everything there is to see jumped every ramp, sploded every building and run every mission, it's on to the first main settlement for your faction. From there you move on to the game world proper, with plenty of backwater zones to explore, speedy multi-lane highways filled with outlaw gangs and fellow players and instanced areas for you and your convoy buddies to clear out.
No Claims Bonus
On top of your personal skills, abilities and customised fanny magnets, each race has access to individual hazard kits, a limited-use extra power mode that can provide either powerful protection or intense firepower. Humans get to play with inversion effect shielding and orbital strikes, mutants expel contamination fields burning everything in their path, while Biomeks, best of all most feel, get to play Transformers, morphing their vehicles into robots with varying abilities depending on the kit used.
Obviously this last mode is extremely tqppting to the casual gamer, so NetDevil is at pains to make sure it doesn't cause a population imbalance a la World of Warcraft's good vs evil ratio. To that end, while the Biomek transformation is a sexy novelty, it isn't inherently any more or less powerful than the other races' hazard modes, and it may well be that the humans' orbital strikes prove the most decisive weapon on the PvP battlefield.
18 Wheels A-Rolling
Speaking of which, you'll be very pleased to hear that all your Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome fantasies can finally be played out (even the elaborate ones about Tina Turner's massive hair) in the Auto Assault arenas. Aside from faction combat taking place in specific PvP zones of the world, the arenas provide structured competitive action, from destruction derby deathmatches to online race events (probably still with plenty of explosions and killing, mind you).
Teams and guilds naturally play a part in Auto Assault, with multiplayer convoys being the theme of the day. Intriguingly. owners of microphone headsets get to enjoy in-game voice comms when in a convoy - something that the manic nature of the game, in which it's all too easy to get lost or sidetracked should you take a wrong turning, requires in order to maintain some semblance of group order.
At this stage however, the beta players are still waiting for the feature to be implemented into the build, so we've yet to determine how clear the sound quality is and whether or not you're better off sticking with a third-party system like TeamSpeak.
Auto Assault was always going to be a strange one. Would the mix of fast-paced road combat and MMO mechanics really work? Would there be enough depth there to keep players coming back, month in, month out? Would the subject matter be appealing enough to lure people away from the more traditional fantasy fare?
That last question remains to be seen of course, but for the first two it seems as though NetDevil has a clear enough gameplan and is pulling off its ambitious project with a certain aplomb. From a personal perspective we'd like to see more in the way of open expanses to explore, and more emphasis on the driving side of things rather than the combat - which already feels satisfying, if overpowering, at times.
But that's what the beta test is for - to work on balancing as well as bug testing, and we have every confidence that Auto Assault could be a well-oiled motor once it hits its winter release date.
At E3 2004, NetDevil's car combat booth was a wake-up call for those who view the MMO as a stodgy, swords-only affair. With an additional six months of development under its belt, project lead Scott Brown emphasises that a few changes have made Auto Assault faster and better.
"E3's demonstration was a limited example of core combat gameplay. Since then, we've been working on adding major graphic upgrades to the characters, cars, towns and environments, as well as polishing our hundreds of missions, arenas and crafting systems. We've also torqued up the driving and smashing factor. On top of this we've added a completely new, dynamic loot generation system, which allows for countless variations of all types of loot. At this point, we're also enhancing all systems and adding as much content as possible."
Changes aside, Brown says Auto Assault is still the visceral experience that hooked demo participants. ' The pacing of the game is truly unlike any MMO experience. Critical features that have been improved since May include arena player-versus-player action, completely unprecedented environmental destruction, and integrated voice chat."
Despite the prevalent action, 'character' is still valued in the new game. As Scott reinforces: "Because we have the two types of systems -real-time combat and hidden dice roll -layered on one another, it provides us with the advantages of action-based combat, while giving a real value to character growth. The system has shaped up to pretty much play the way we want it to; the only changes we'll see moving forward from now on will be tweaks based on any beta testing feedback we get."