NCsoft are a publisher who are achieving great things. They have shown that they can pick out gems when it comes to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). They have published Guild Wars, Lineage 1 and 2, City of Heroes and City of Villains. Each of these games has achieved success and each for different reasons. The newest game in the NCsofts catalogue is Auto Assault, developed by NetDevil. I played in the beta weekend event which was promoted in conjunction with Penny Arcade.
As I've stated each of the above games has something different about them. City of Heroes is a simple yet compelling super hero fest, Guild Wars made MMORPGs more accessible by putting skill in front of playtime along with an absence of an online fee. Auto Assault is the most bizarre concept I have found in a MMORPG. In simple terms the game is a car combat game mated with a role playing game. Imagine Carmageddon mixed with World of Warcraft. The mixture is an ambitious one to say the least.
The game is set in a dark future in a struggle against a mutant foes humans rely on bionic army to assist them. The humans lock themselves in vaults underground and hope that an apocalypse will purge the lands of any enemies. The humans re-emerge to find that the fight is far from over. The game puts you in the boots of a road warrior for one of three factions Human, Mutant or Biomek. Each Faction has its' own advantages. Humans are experts at energy shielding and using energy to gain an offensive advantage. Biomeks are environmentally oblivious and use fire and corrosion to their advantage. The Mutants are adept at living in a land riddled with contamination and use this contamination against their enemies.
Fans of the Mad Max movies will find themselves quite at home with Auto Assault. Whilst it doesn't really match the storyline of the movies at all, it does have a very strong road warrior feel
Like a traditional role playing game, you are required to select a character class. Each faction has 4 classes consisting of; frontline combat, special ops, command and one for support and indirect combat. Frontline combat classes are the hard hitting high hit point vehicles. Special Ops are stealth experts. Command classes can summon allies, air strikes and even turrets to aid them. Support/indirect combat classes can heal allies and drain enemies.
The classes are distinctly different when you compare between factions. This should make it enjoyable to play as the different factions as it won't feel like your playing the same type of character if you choose to try a different faction. The best example of this is with the command class. Biomeks can create robots; Mutants can summon ghostly beings whereas the Humans can call in helicopter gun ships and supporting fire from a number of sources.
In terms of game play the game has elements of both genres within. Movement is similar to a car combat game. You whiz around the games areas at breakneck speeds, launching yourself over various ramps and ploughing into infantry units. Then on the other hand once you have an enemy in sight your chance to hit is based on your skill and not any form of manual aiming, like in most roleplaying games. Completing quests given by non player characters or killing enemies will give you experience points which increase you characters level. As you gain experience levels your characters 'stat' will increase giving you access to more deadly weapons better vehicles and more advance upgrades, with each level increase you will also be given skill points to purchase new skills such as special attacks or more support options as well as passive skills such as damage resistance or increased hit points.
Enemies are colour coded depending upon your level, with grey enemies being remarkably easy with red being remarkably difficult. Purple enemies are likely to be impossible. This is another concept frequently used in roleplaying games.
You can equip your vehicle with a turret weapon, front facing weapon and rear weapon, along with different power plants and armour. This allows you to develop your vehicle over time. You can also change the aesthetics of your vehicle. Custom paint jobs, spoilers and trims really give your vehicle a unique feel.
Parts of the game are played on foot, where you can talk to traders and get missions or visit your apartment and decorate it. You can even show of your apartment to your friends by inviting them in. Crafting also forms part of the game. You can upgrade items using various kits and also repair items salvaged from enemies. Materials for crafting are very easily come by as they litter the wastelands.
The physics and graphics engine are fairly robust, different classes have different vehicles which each handle differently, from lightweight motorbikes to heavy tank like trucks. The physics engine will need some tweaking before release as some vehicles would seem to flip at hitting the tinniest of bumps. A very nice feature is destructible scenery, generally speaking if you can see it you can destroy it. I found it especially satisfying to tear through a building using my mini guns and then slaughter the infantry on the other side. The games engine is knows as Havok 2, other titles that have used the Havok engine include; F.E.A.R, Halo 2 and Half Life 2. So in other words expect to be impressed.
The game is quite stable, my machine only crashed once during a weekends play and performance doesn't seem to be a major issue. The developers have promised further optimization before release which should allow players with lower end machines to play the game.
One feature that I was very pleased to see in the game was the end bosses. Certain areas have giant bosses that have to be slaughtered. For example one huge beast dropped small beasts to attack you and could fire a devastating area of effect skill. I do get bored in some roleplaying games when the boss is no different to a standards enemy except for a name.
One of my main gripes with the game is the use of another roleplaying concept, the naming of items. In a fantasy game I can understand a sword being called a 'Sword of Strength'. I don't expect in a futuristic game to see 'Ceramic Armour of Perception', it would be nice if the developer would put some time in to at least using some inventive naming rather than taking the easy option.
I have lots of smaller issues with the game such as not being able to reset skills and the difficulty with targeting enemies due to forced hostile targeting, though these are things that I'm sure will be sorted before release. With each patch the beta seems to be improving and the developers really seem to be listening to the testers and implementing suggestions.
I didn't get chance to see what Player versus Player options were available. This is often the area which can make a game fail or succeed. A factor that will also affect the feel of the game is the community. The attitude, age and experience of players can shape the community.
The game is fun, though it is too early to see how successful it will be. There are plenty of loose ends for the developers to tie up and the game will need plenty of polishing. The main issue I have is that the game is neither role-player nor action game and it's a balancing act that will be very difficult to accomplish. There is still plenty of time for tweaking and balancing before the game is released. Gamesxtreme will be bringing you a review once the game in due course.