Auto Assault Reader Review
Auto Assault: A Weekend in the Wastelands
Cars and Carnage
Foolishly I didn't start downloading the client for Auto Assault until late on the Saturday of the "Weekend in the Wastelands" preview event. The 60Mb stub, then patches itself, and lo and behold has to download a further 2.7Gb of game data. I wasn't going to be trying the new car game till tomorrow morning...
I attached the beta key to my main PlayNC Master Account, and in a few minutes I was able to log on to their server. I rolled up a human commando. There were three races, and about 4 or 5 professions, although I'm not sure if the two are tied together or not. I chose a human because I liked their tron-like armour, and I chose commando because I liked the sound of heavy guns attached to my vehicle. There wasn't much in the way of customisation options available, with about 5 hairstyles, some skintones and armour colour, some facial hair, some accessories and what not. It looked like the options where there to select, but they'd limited the amount of variety available - but perhaps I'm wrong. You also get to name your vehicle and choose its primary and secondary colours for its spray job (plus one of three patterns, hot rod style flames and lightning bolts basically).
The first thing that struck me was the fact that the whole interface was very reminiscent of City of Heroes (for obvious reasons). In fact as I took my first rumble into the outside world, it is obvious that this is using a modified CoH/CoV engine, its got PlayNC "Masters of creation of crumbling worlds" written all over it. You are led outside via a couple of NPC chin wags and some interacting with the environment (using and shooting something). The quests lead you from NPC to NPC for quite a while and hand hold your first skid around the newbie area.
Control the Car Carnage
The control of your vehicle is WASD and feels fairly natural, there are parts to your vehicle that can be tweaked to make control tighter and better on different terrains. I fit some wheels that allowed me to make quite sharp turning circles on tarmac for example. You bounce about a bit on the rugged terrain, and can be knocked off course by collision with debris, although collision with another player is negated, you simply slip through them. No matter how high you fall, your car isn't damaged, you don't lose any health. So jumps and ramps and epic falls can be done with relative safety. In fact part of the joy is using an accelerator ramp and being propelled across massive chasms and hoping you had enough speed to make it. You'll bound around like a discarded Tonka toy when you try and land from those, but it doesn't matter, no damage done.
There are pools of poison/radiation and freak lightning bolts that can do you some environmental damage, the poisons eating away at you over a period of time, the lightning striking sharp chunks off your health. There are repairing stations at most outposts, so you drive over one and let the repair bursts take you back up. These outposts are scattered around and are key to finding places to rest up, repair and gain new quests from the NPC's stationed there. Sort of pit stops in between the main cities.
In the cities you get out of your car. You wander about, can sell stuff, buy stuff, craft stuff, even join arena battles if there are any on the go. The characters move slightly awkward, not sure their appearance will ever change since the game is based around souping up the car rather than the driver. The cities tended to be small in size, and a bit convoluted with their pathing. I've only seen one or two of the human cities though, so can't compare against the other races.
Initially your a bit crap. Your main weapon is poor and you can't take much punishment, however after a few quests and a little drive by or two, you'll soon be picking up scraps of your roadkill that can be bolted onto your car. Once you have a gun with some decent damage and a good rate of fire the game picked up very quickly. I was sent to a 'run' and had to kill a few raiders there, the 'run' was like a race track and these baddies were constantly zooming around it, presumably racing each other for money and prostitutes. The track was also inundated with ground crew and general lackies, so you get to crash the party, race alongside these badboys and rip them a new one with your mounted minigun! Nailing them as you fly through the air off a particularly well placed ramp. Landing only to handbrake turn and start to plough through their pedestrian buddies. These runners will try all sorts to get near you and shoot through the car window, or slash at your tyres with knives etc, luckily you do collision damage with these fellas. Splat city. Although it has to be said their evasion AI is pretty good and it takes a bit of keen driving skills to nail a specific one.
As you level, you not only gain the ability to use higher level car equipment (guns, wheels, engines etc), but you also gain a few points to enhance your drivers stats, making you a better driver, better with guns, better able to make critical damage, better at knowing the enemies weaknesses etc. The character stats look quite simplified compared to the messing and tweaking you can do on your car.
You pick up endless amounts of different resources, from burgers and drinks that can temporarily boost your stats, to paint cans and carbon debris to take to a Trims and Tricks vendor and have hit bolt them onto your car (fenders, spoilers, spikes and such like) or do a new paint job on it. You also pick up a lot of craftable materials and broken equipment that can be mended as new by crafters. Part of the crafting process is also the reverse engineering of complete parts that you come across. I didn't really dabble that much in the crafting side to the game, but it seems quite extensive and complex enough - I couldn't quite fathom out the mechanics of the process, I trained to become an armourer, but couldn't make anything - didn't have the materials nor the skill to actually craft. No doubt it will become a big part of the game, there just wasn't any tutorial or lead in as such, the people who were playing and crafting seemed very busy and the couple I talked to just wanted to trade materials and such like. shrug
Shooting and Shunting
The Combat was quite frantic and quite satisfying stuff. I managed to secure a front mounted gun, as well as my turret gun, so I had two shooting arcs, one out in front, and one I could control and secure on an enemy with a left click. The front machine gun sprayed shot out so as long as I was pointing the vehicle at the enemy there would be some damage going on, the turret required directing with the mouse (or setting to a specific target). Holding down the right mouse button would set a stream of fire from both guns. The beauty of this system is that I can whittle away enemy in front of me, as well as keep planting slugs into a specific target no matter where they were. Takes a bit of getting used to, but can be devastating cutting down swathes of footsoldiers whilst manoeuvring enough to keep the main target in my main turret guns sights. Face your turret target and you're now inflicting almost double damage on them. Groovey! As a commando I was also equipped with a skill to send a bolt of magnetic/electric energy out which I used effectively for final kills, if the enemy started to accelerate off in panic. Also one of the commando skills is a typical "tank-type" area of effect taunt, again a magnetic blast that inflicts some damage to any vehicles/people/monsters close by.
Chitty Chitty BANG! BANG! BOOOOOOOM!
Explosions and dramatic vehicles being flung high into the air are nice and theres plenty of those in this game. Shamefully though, any damage on your vehicle only manifests itself as fiery bonnet, or electric sparking out of the bonnet, or the old plenty of black smoke from the back end. Theres no physical damage, or bits torn off from the vehicles. Which is a crying shame really since you could go that direction here because none of these cars are tied into showroom models. I'd love to see doors hanging off, or plates being lost in particularly nasty confrontations.
A lot of the environment is destructible (is that a word?), trees fall, or set on fire, oil cans ricochet about and eventually explode, chunks of wall tumble, whole buildings can be laid flat with some organised shunting and shooting. Nice touch. Only seen it matter in one quest specifically, whereby a gantry on a building had a row of thugz with rocketlaunchers and to get at them you had to shoot the gantry down. From the debris of buildings and even roadsigns you can salvage some parts if you are lucky, so its often worth gunning down stuff on the way to a mission (you have unlimited ammo afterall!). Another groovey touch is that you can pre-destroy debris, barriers and what not that are in your way and would otherwise stop you and jolt you around. Doesn't sound all that groovey, but, turning off track and blowing the barriers down as you speed through the gap does have its satisfying moments.
I DO NOT FEAR DEATH
As such there is no penalty on death. There may have been a small xp loss, I couldn't tell. When you pegged it, you click the button and a big airship picks up your wreck and drops you off at the nearest outpost. You arrive knackered, so you have to sit on the repair pads for a minute or two, and then youre off again! People didn't seem that bothered about dying.
From what I could gather, there wasn't much in the way of team dynamics, or I should say 'convoy' dynamics. You could set your convoy flag to looking for others, and it would auto-slot you into a convoy if one was being formed. I joined a couple of convoys to see how it played out, and it was a good feeling to be shipping out with a bunch of others on the road, side by side, racing forward to do battle. However, when we arrived at the combat area, all hell broke out, cars spinning everywhere, shooting anything that moved, there was no healing, slight buffing but only very local and because your on the move most of the time, that was negligible to the outcome of the combat. I couldn't get a feel for roles at all. Perhaps I just convoyed with the wrong people, or perhaps the vehicle/race roles come into their own much higher up in the game. Basically it just felt like a bunch of cars at a stock car rally, shooting the crap out of what they could. As a commando, I basically had to stock up on repair stims, that whacked 50-60 points back on my cars status, to be able stay out in the sticks and fight long periods. To have to travel back to an outpost after every battle would be tedious. And theres no ambient regeneration on the cars repair status. Your power reserves top up from your power plant, but theres nothing I had bolted on to my car that could repair it as a background process. You could also get 'repair over time' stims, instead of 50-60 points, you'd get 5 x 10 points over say 10 seconds. These were interruptable though, so best not use them in combat.
I played the game for a good few hours, and I quite enjoyed it, especially after I grabbed that second front gun, things picked up nicely. I wanted to go hunting and tinker with the car even more. At 7pm there was a meetup outside one of the main cities, entitled 'pimp your ride', one of the PlayNC community spods was going to be there to greet everyone and take screenshots etc. So I showed up for that. Basically a lot of scooting about and getting into line ups for screenshots, to see some of the higher level buffs you could get from the big level 20+ bangbuses. Nice to see a good few different car designs on display. Ultimately just a get together for people to show off.
All in all, it was a good blast, and more enjoyable than I'd first imagined. Just how long can you get involved with a game which is basically Twisted Metal. But there was that tinkering with the kit side to it, and the missions where always something new, not in the description - most of them were kill x of y style, but when you got there, there was usually a twist to the story, like they'd be in deep craters, surrounded lots of support nasties, or they'd be trucks on a cargo run, that basically meant there would be passing support trucks very soon after you started combat with them. Or the rocket launching baddies on the gantry. There were a number of named boss baddies you had to dispatch, and you would have a big warning if they were way too tough for you. All quests had really good waypoints, so you never roamed lost if you set the quest active. Essentially though, the game is all about the action, and theres little here to reward the usual MMORPG crowd. Perhaps the crafting would be complex enough for them, but I'm not sure of the depth to that. Like City of Heroes, its there for the action, its there for the tweaking of kit, but I don't think interest in it would survive much past the first free months play. Especially since I couldn't get a grasp of the teaming game at all, I expected a bit more cohesion between the vehicles. If you're after a fast paced shooter with plenty of skidding/bouncing terrain navigation, you could do worse than Auto Assault.
*Regarding the quality of the screenshots, I must add that I was having some stuttering/laggy stuff going on (that they have acknowledged as a problem with ATi cards) so I turned the details and textures and shading/shadowing down bigtime. So perhaps it looks a bit ugly, but I was prepared for a cut in visual quality to make the action smooth and speedy.
7 / 10