Massive Assault Review (PC)

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Ahhh, combat..wondrous is it to behold in all its frighteningly majestic glory, as long as it stays contained in my monitor or TV and doesn't break out into my neighborhood streets or, you know, involve any real people getting exploded. Welcome, everyone, to the first installment of what I like to call Reviews by Me. As for an introduction, I'll let my review do most of the talking, but let me just share these two bits of info about me: Number 1: The most important quality a game can have is engrossing game play. Which means the sound can suck and the graphics can blow, but if a game can pull together enough intangibles to keep me happy and involved I'll take it to bed with me and cuddle it, and love it, and cherish it like a nice, fluffy puppy or maybe a biscuit. Number 2: I am, and always shall remain, an idiot. So buckle up and crack a beer or two because I plan on being drunk by the end of this. Onward to the review! I hope you find it informative and entertaining. And if not, well I hope it makes you throw up in your mouth and you curse my name.

So what we've got here is a little game called Massive Assault from Matrix Games and as I half-mentioned in the first line up there this game is about one thing and one thing only; face to face, cannon to cannon combat. Massive Assault manages to artfully create an environment almost entirely devoid of micromanagement and crammed full of strategy and conflict. Fairly high praise right? This game must be pretty much perfect then. Review over, let's all go post in the forum. Sorry. No. It's actually a bit off from perfect due to a few uninspired technical aspects and several odd and frustrating game play decisions made by the development team. What it is, however, is a solidly executed and welcome departure from the overly economic genre of what claim to be "war" games.

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So, exactly how is this achieved, you ask? Well, it all starts with the introductory movie/animation/textual bombardment/voice over. "Skip that crap", you say? I don't care what you say. What are you doing in my review anyway? It's pretty important that you don't miss the intro. That is unless you're actively trying to miss the entire story and plot to the game, because you won't find that info anywhere else. The intro movie provides a nice geo-political world set up and establishes the 2 sides of our battles; the Free Nations Union and the Phantom League. Granted, you don't need it to play the game because once you start fighting there's no real plot so you're not like skipping the first chapter of a story or anything, but it's nice to know where the game comes from. This is supposed to be grand scale, epic combat across deep space worlds between 2 long standing political enemies but without any in game plot advancement we're left feeling empty dogg, empty. An inspiring tale of galactic war, while a trite subject, would have definitely infused a welcome helping of atmosphere to the battles unfolding. Although I think anytime someone does a story like that they owe George Lucas royalties. And Uncle George will collect, even if he has to break your mom's kneecaps. As it stands, I just wasn't in to the combat as much as I could have been if I were provided a story to be a part of.

Once our intro movie fades into nothingness we are treated to a lovely game menu showing us our 5 game modes: Training (self explanatory and fairly useful), Scenarios (24 total battles highlighting all the different battlefields, scenarios and units you might face), World War (6 climatically different worlds where you can choose between either faction and battle it out for control of the worlds countries), Campaigns (4 separate battlefields, based on the same worlds in the World War option, with VERY weakly established plots) and finally, multiplayer (which I can't mention in detail because it was asking for some activation code which I don't believe I had. Oh Well.). I'm sure that's something I screwed up, so everyone feel free to yell incredible loud at you monitor riiiiiight NOW! Either way, every mode plays just about the same and leaves the game feeling not so fresh after a little while.

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Now that we've gotten those little non-game aspects out of the way, let's tackle the in game mechanics. First of all, let me talk about the graphics. Everything is thankfully rendered in 3d and each faction has different models for their corresponding units. You might think that the units are therefore unique and each faction has different strengths and weakness, but that would make you incredibly wrong and the game kinda shallow. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but they're still guiltier than sin. Also, the units do tend to look a bit cartoonish but, considering each war machine isn't based on anything real, for all intents and purposes, everything looks exactly as it should. I should mention, though, that I'm giving out total respect for all the units being animated. That's especially cool for mortars and missile launchers, which swivel and unload their deadly payloads to smite thy insipid foe and smash his vehicles into sub atomic fairy dust. And on a total nonsequiter I'll just mention a few other graphical nit picks I have about the game look because I am god here and I'll do whatever I want. Some units are HUGE relative size to the surrounding land whereas ships seem to be a bit undersized. Also, the camera tends to center on units away from weapon impact leaving the action just off screen. Neither of which is critical, by any means, but, hey, I noticed them and it's my job as an honorable reviewer to report them to you, the almost as equally honorable reader. Speaking of land, in general, the 3d terrain is good enough, but there is some difficulty viewing units through trees. If only I could blow them all into toothpicks.

One place Massive Assault won't be winning any industry awards is sound. In game music is adequate but hardly inspirational. The attempt is there for thematic opera music, but the try is definitely a bit wide right. One piece of sound I did enjoy for some unknown reason was the Voice Over Lady. She handles the pre-game cinematic voice as well as the help/hints/taunts in game. She sounds a lot like the chick who played the Russian Earth President during the fourth season of Babylon 5 and that I found sexy, foreign, and exotic. Pardon me while I day dream for a moment. Oh yes my little Babushka*perfect*pour the vodka right there*yeah*What? Huh? Oh yeah the review. Balancing out the subpar music are the adequate battle sounds. We get impact blasts, weapons fire and traveling music unique to each unit. None of those are special enough to induce any Vietnam flashbacks, but hey, they're there, they work, and they're distinctive. It's like owning a white car. The color's not flashy, but it's better than that ugly primer gray undercoat and not as obtrusive as that puke green color that some people think is cool, but in reality it's just overbearing and trashy. Did that even make sense? I bet not. I'm pretty drunk.

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Like I mentioned before, Massive Assault is not just the name of the game, it's also the purpose of the game. The units are so tightly balanced, and the AI plays so "match perfect," that every World War or campaign is guaranteed to turn into a bloody slugfest. On the other hand this also means that one tiny mistake is compounded each turn until it overwhelms you and prevents you from winning. But at least the single player game does offer up some kind of a challenge. In each of your slugfests you can be sure to expect a fair variety of units. You'll get Battleships, Carriers, Bombers, Mechanized Assault Robots, Tanks, and several other light vehicles to choose from BUT here's where we hit a game play brick wall harder than a Mercedes in a French tunnel. You see, to keep things interesting and moving Massive Assault is built around the simple Micromanagement technique whereby each "country" owned has a certain value, and as long as that country remains untainted by enemy scum you get a per turn dollar amount that lets you buy units (you also get a 1 time Guerilla bonus when your province gets invaded). Each "country" also has a limited number of payoff turns. "YEE HAW!" you say (Again interrupting my review). That's simple and easy*until you realize that to effectively combat the AI you rarely get enough money to wield the mighty units in impressive numbers. You're much too busy countering the precise and perfect plan the AI has thrown at you to buy the big expensive stuff. That's not to say that you can't afford a battleship or Mech here and there if you save money for a turn or two, it's just that if you do buy them, you'll may be soundly defeated by all the cheaper units the AI is pumping out, and to the madman in me, that just ain't cool. It does make for great strategy though, and strategy is something that you will most definitely have to deftly employ to win.

In the end, I think Massive Assault has a lot of value as a combat game and is a good buy thanks to its sharp AI and tight strategy. Is it the best game I've played this year? Not really. The combat is surely good to go, but it did miss a few opportunities to achieve more and break some ground. For the most part it's a nice, solid game. Give it a try if you like to ram explosive projectiles into things, just don't go expecting the gaming equivalent of an Oscar winner.

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