by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
The pace of war
Command & Conquer Generals was a love-it-or-hate-it kind of game. I fell into the love-it camp, some close friends of mine fell into the hate-it. Regardless of which camp you belong to, there's no denying that they simply don't make Real-Time Strategy like they used to. Today, it's either too fast paced, leading to a “fastest clicker wins” type game, or too grand, leading to a slow all-encompassing game that's simply too complicated for most gamers to enjoy. Eugen Systems aims to bring back the “Golden Age of Real-Time Strategy” as they call it, with a spiritual successor to their début title, Act of War. We had a chance to see the game in action at Gamescom earlier this month.
Back to base-ic
There's no denying that Eugen make really good looking games. Act of Aggression will bring back base building, a vital aspect of old-school RTS gameplay. There's something about crushing a particularly beautifully arranged base that is immensely satisfying. Just being able to appreciate the effort your enemy put into aligning the buildings in the seconds before they go 'boom' makes victory that much sweeter. With the exception of refineries, Act of War requires your buildings to be constructed close to your HQ. The distance is very limited, so you'll always end up with a pretty tightly constructed base. Expanding your reach through multiple bases is a vital part of the gameplay design, so you won't have to worry about being annihilated by a single nuke if you play the game right.
Each base you build will have its own resources, so vanquishing your enemies will be just as much about cutting his supply lines as it will be about building a bigger and better army. The three forms of resources the game will feature are Aluminium, Gas, and Earth (used for constructing buildings), and they will only appear to you once they've been spotted by one of your units. This makes exploration a very important aspect of the game in its early moments.
Although base building and resource gathering will be a vital aspect of the game, the primary focus will not be on those features. Unit production and research will also be present, but the types of units you create and how you combine and utilize their strengths will ultimately determine your success. There are over 70 types of units with more than 100 upgrades and you'll need to learn to combine them to maximise the effectiveness of your force.
During the demonstration, the developers produced four different types of humvees. One had a machine gun, another a mortar, the third a missile launcher, and the forth a Gatling gun. The Gatling gun was able to destroy incoming projectiles, which made it perfect for defending tanks from incoming missiles. The speed at which you click won't matter if your keep pumping out useless units. To allow you to handle all these options, the learning curve will not be quite as steep as with some of Eugen Systems' previous games.
Heavier units units need to be resupplied. This applies specifically to artillery and heavy tanks, so you'll have to make sure to keep enough supplies at hand for an extended battle before setting out on the hunt.
Roads will be faster to travel on than sand or grass, making them a strategic asset, but one which cannot be built by the player. Players need to carefully consideration where to place buildings as you want resources to get hauled between your refinery and HQ quickly. Yet you also don't want the enemy to be able to simply roll in.
Set in 2030, the game will feature three factions. The Cartel is an organisation that seeks control of the world and deploys a range of high technology, which are usually stolen prototypes. They use infiltration forces to advance. The US Army, as you might expect, is fighting this threat with its formidable force and it has been upgraded quite a bit in the past 15 years. The last addition are the Chimere, a paramilitary peacekeeping force that aims to stabilise and bring balance to the world again. Two of the factions will have playable story campaigns and - as this is a game with a techno thriller plot - maps featuring locations all over the world are a given. The game promises to be absolutely massive in terms of content, featuring a lot of enormous multiplayer maps filled with destroyable buildings and up to 20 vs. 20 multiplayer.
With Eugen's experience in creating quality strategy games with beautiful visuals, I have no doubt that Act of Aggression will prove to be a formidable player on the RTS board. Their games have traditionally been a bit more on the complex side, however, so whether they manage to bring back the golden age is something that remains to be seen.