Urban Assault

a game by Microsoft
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 3 reviews
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What happens when the hot trend in PC gaming starts to go cold? You combine the trend with new elements to heat it back up. Case in point: Microsoft's Urban Assault, which deftly blends real-time strategy elements with pulse-pounding action warfare. A transparent map gives commanders traditional power over their post-apocalyptic forces, but the leader can become a soldier with a single click, jumping into any of the tanks, choppers, bombers, jeeps, satellites, or jets on the playfield at any time. From there, it's all explosive Direct3D and force-feedback enhanced action, complete with a soundtrack by Mark Snow of The X-Files.

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Game Reviews

In Microsoft's new real-time strategy game, Urban Assault, Earth is in post-nuclear war ruins, survivors are pissed, and aliens want Earth for themselves. What can you do? Save the world, of course.

Saving the Planet, Carefully

In Urban Assault, you defend what's left of the planet--one map sector at a time. You must manage your base and resources, but, as in Battlezone, you can also jump into first-person action and fight in 15 vehicles. Unlike Battlezone, however, you're linked to all the vehicles in your army and can jump to any vehicle at any time (which can get confusing).

Everything is controlled either via a translucent map or by clicking on the 3D units themselves. Because things can quickly become hectic, you must juggle all your duties correctly--managing energy, defending the base, sending backup--or you'll find yourself losing in a jiffy. A keyboard-and-mouse combo works well for the control; sim fanatics can hook up a joystick, but the simple vehicle controls don't demand it. The 3Dfx graphics of the bleak landscapes could be smoother, but the post-apocalyptic soundtrack (by X-Files composer Mark Snow) feels very appropriate.

Mars of Tomorrow

Urban Assault presents an interesting combination of strategy, action, and sim, and although it's less intriguing than its spiritual partner Bat-tlezone, fans of futuristic warfare may still want to enlist.

ProTips:

  • Jump into your army's vehicles whenever you can; the human facterai most always proves to be the key to winning battles.
  • Don't underestimate turrets. Their defensive protes factor between winning anii losing your Host Base.

Overview

War and pestilence have brought the Earth to the brink of destruction. Since "The Big Mistake," Earth's surface is up for grabs. Aliens and mutated humans fight bloody battles over each sector of land. Human beings cannot compete against such mighty foes; at least they couldn't until recently. Machines will be man's savior. Using advanced technology, humans are able to create new buildings and equipment at the snap of a finger and send them into battle, saving precious human lives and wielding massive power.

There is only one catch. In order for the savior machines to do their work, they must be networked to a human being who is grafted into a machine himself. This allows for human cunning to guide the strategy and insight and bravery to guide the front line battles. Seven have tried and failed before; now it's your turn. Can you reclaim the planet for humankind?

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

First off, I must say that this is one of the most ingenious game ideas I’ve ever come across. You guide a battle with omniscience like a classic real-time strategy game. You can create new units and send them into battle, taking over land and occupying and defending key sectors as needed. So it plays like a real-time strategy game, except that at any time you can jump into any one of the vehicles you have created and fight first-person in the battles. When you fight in the vehicles, it increases your group's fighting ability, so it's not just fun, it's helpful.

Inevitably, this type of game will be compared to Battlezone because of its mix of first-person shooting and real-time strategy. However, this game is different enough from Battlezone that it ought to be judged on its own merits and shortcomings. For example, Battlezone places more emphasis on first-person combat than strategy, while Urban Assault really is a strategy game with the ability to fight first-person. Also, Battlezone’s battles were relatively small in scale compared to Urban Assault. In UA there is often so much going on in both first and third-person that you can’t keep track of it all. The speed and number of units in the fray can be quite dizzying.

While all this sounds really good, there are two glaring elements of this game that keeps it from being really enjoyable for me. First, the controls are terrible. I cannot begin to explain how frustrating it is to play this game first-person. The problem is that the controls are sluggish; nay, downright delayed and slow. I tell my tank to go forward and it starts up after several seconds. I see myself heading for a wall and I apply the brakes -- do I stop? No. I see an enemy base floating in the air in the distance. I raise my turret and try to slow down to keep my distance. Instead I end up parking directly under the structure and getting my butt shot full of holes.

Now some people may argue that this adds a sense of realism to the game. I am, after all, controlling them remotely through my mind. But if I can create an entire tank or jet with a single click of a mouse button, anywhere I want, why can’t I turn my helicopter when I want to? To me it seems more like a way to make the game more difficult. Instead of giving the enemy better AI, or more weapons, or removing some firepower from the player, they just made the controls over-difficult to use. Some may disagree with me, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The missions are branching and semi-non-linear. You pretty much choose where you are going to attack next. If you can’t seem to beat a particular level, no problem; just try one of the many other areas to fight in and build up your skills.

Graphics

The second negative issue I have is about the graphics. They’re really not that great. I can understand the low polygon counts because of the scale and speed of the battles going on. That’s no problem. It's just that everything is ugly and grainy; it's almost like everything was created in 16 color mode. It's really hard to distinguish one unit from another and, in general, tell what is going on. The large explosions can be nice, but the small ones (say, the ones produced by your missiles) look terrible.

The game seems to place more emphasis on strategy than first-person shooting, so I found it disappointing to have an overhead map that gives so few details. It's pretty much just dots on a grid.

I’m a firm believer that good graphics do not equal good games, but bad graphics can detract from a good game and I found the latter to be the case with Urban Assault.

Audio

The sound is good. I especially liked the music. I found it to be adequate, leaning toward good.

System Requirements

Minimum: Pentium 133 MHz or equivalent processor, Windows 95, 16 MB RAM, 100 MB minimum of free uncompressed hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, local bus SVGA video card with a minimum of 1 MB VRAM, sound card, Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device

Optional: 3D graphics accelerator card compatible with the Direct3D API for best graphic quality (Note: some 3D accelerator cards may not be fully compatible with the 3D acceleration features of Urban Assault), 28.8 or higher baud modem for head-to-head play, Internet access required for play on the Internet Gaming Zone (connect time charges may apply), joystick controller (Urban Assault supports force feedback input devices compatible with the DirectInput API)

Documentation

Documentation is a little skimpy, but it gives you what you need to know -- including what they call the "rock-paper-scissors" effect. It shows which units are effective against which other units and which units are effective against them. It's kind of cool.

Bottom Line

This is a really great game idea that seems to fall short on implementation. It's difficult to say what market would enjoy this game, but I know there are many out there who would. I can, however, say I would not recommend this game to a casual gamer because of its difficulty. I would not recommend it to a Quake junkie because the action, while fast and furious, is not clear and you have so little control. I would not recommend it to an avid real-time strategist because it is so difficult to tell your units apart and you really don’t do too well unless you can jump into tanks and helicopters constantly.

Most people, I believe, do not fall entirely into any single category, so this game may be worth trying. I will say that this game is definitely worth a look. Try the demo; it's only a 13 MB download, much better than some of the 40 and 50 and 100 MB monsters that have been coming out lately. Try it, you may like it and you may just bring humanity back from the brink of destruction.

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