MMORPGs – how we love them, and oh, how we love to hate them. Aside from the time that MMORPGs pull from our lives, there are many aspects of them that sometimes make us wonder whether or not they're worth the time we sink into them. Repetitive, boring killing of monsters to gain the experience required to advance (a.k.a. grinding), player-versus-player (PvP) combat imbalance, the oh-so-monumental task of getting a huge party together for the latest dungeon, and so on.
Perhaps the most glaring fault of all, however, is how the genre, with a few notable exceptions, seems stuck on delivering nothing but adventures in generic fantasy worlds. One company, however, seems hell-bent on challenging that tendency, determined to get the genre unstuck from its current gear. That company is NetDevil, and the model they've driven onto the showroom floor is Auto Assault. We at MyGamer have popped the hood and saw what was running underneath. What we saw was…well, nothing too different than other MMORPGs out there, but still fun nonetheless.
You can add functional items like weapons, engines and countermeasures right in the field, but visual upgrades like spoilers and fins need to be added in-town for some reason…
Auto Assault is like an existing car that has been tuned for enhanced performance and given a fresh paint job, rather than a new model that wows everyone with its innovation. The game makes some changes to the MMORPG formula that are notable, but not earth-shaking. As such, it's more fun than the average fantasy-themed MMORPG, but don't expect anything revolutionary.
With Auto Assault, the first thing that is obviously changed from the usual MMORPG formula is its setting. Again, fantasy has been chucked out the back window like so much garbage – gone are the lush forests, elves, dragons, and faeries that are standard MMO-fare, replaced by a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. The setting and theme is a very radical change indeed, as it's not even a change into a space theme like Earth & Beyond or EVE Online, two other MMORPGs that bucked the fantasy trend.
Here's the game's storyline and setting in a nutshell: after an alien vessel drops off its deadly payload of mutagenic terraforming goop called "The Contamination" on planet Earth, whatever isn't killed outright is mutated into something else more powerful, humans included. Needless to say, this causes much societal chaos, as the authorities try to restore order. In an attempt to do so, humans construct one of the three playable factions, the Biomeks. Unfortunately, the Biomeks are not up initially up to the task, so a select few non-mutated humans say "screw this," and hide in underground bunkers. They then nuke the surface in an attempt to sterilize it.
Fast forward a hundred years or so, and now the formerly bunkered humans are fighting it out on the surface with the Mutants, the now-evolved (and rightly pissed off) Biomeks, and other survivors for the planet's scarce usable resources. What's the weapon of choice for these combatants? Well, the game's called Auto Assault for a reason – in keeping with other works in the post-apocalyptic genre, Auto Assault's primary weapons of war are heavily armed and armored cars, trucks and tanks.
With that in mind, it's easy to assume that this game is a straight-up car action game. This is where Auto Assault's game play will become apparent, and either enthrall or disappoint players.
Generally speaking, driving in pools of glowing green sludge can be considered hazardous to your health…
Auto Assault controls like an action game: the mouse controls your turret weapon while the movement keys move the car. You can do things like power slide through tight turns, get air time off of ramps, etc. There are aspects that increase its action and speed factor like collision detection, realistic object physics, being able to hit multiple targets, and other nice touches. Pretty much almost everything in the game is destructible, and such destruction is essential for completing tasks like finding crafting items. Targeting, however, works slightly different than in other MMORPGs: there are four weapon mounts on each vehicle, including the aforementioned turret weapon. If you click on a target, the turret weapon will track that target regardless of where your car goes. The other three weapons are front, rear, and melee, and for front and rear there are arcs displayed on the screen, which show where they are effective.
Behind it all, for every attack that occurs in Auto Assault, be it a burst from your minigun or a Molotov cocktail thrown by a foot-bound bad guy, a die roll takes place behind the scenes to determine if the attack hits and how much damage it does. This is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the fact that there are still MMORPG-style die rolls for combat resolution significantly reduces the game's originality factor. On the other hand, this is being marketed as an MMORPG, so the fact that it does, in fact, use a familiar combat system might reassure players that think they might be getting into a "twitch" gaming situation. Thus, the game's blended nature will most likely turn off purists of either stripe, but for those who are more casual about their tastes, Auto Assault may be a compelling mix.
The game's three factions are divided into four classes. First up are the "tanks" of Auto Assault, called the Commando for Humans, Champion for Mutants, and Terminator for Biomeks. Then there are the rogue-type classes: Bounty Hunter, Avenger, and Agent. Predictably, they're nimble, capable of decent damage, and of course able to utilize stealth, but are fragile compared to the other classes. Next are the "leadership" classes – the Lieutenant, Archon, and Mastermind. They are capable of summoning pets of various stripes to help them deal with threats, and can buff their teammates. Lastly, there are the healer classes – the Engineer, Shaman, and Constructor.
There are a couple fundamental differences between the three factions. One is in how they regulate damage: Mutants can bio-regenerate their hull; Humans have a shield to prevent damage; and Biomeks have the most HP. Second is what is called a Hazard mode, basically a mode where the cars get uber-powerful for a short time: Mutants can change into a wraith-like form; Biomeks can transform into two-legged robots; and Humans can call down orbital bombardment. However, aside from those differences, there really isn't that much difference in the way the three factions play, which is a bit disappointing.
The meat of the game, like many MMOs, is the PvE (player vs. environment) questing. While playing, we have to say that we experienced moments of sheer brilliance coupled with other moments where we wondered where that brilliance went. One thing that ups the action factor in Auto Assault is that many quests are of the short, atomic variety, involving the usual MMO staples such as kill X number of bad guys, go speak with somebody, collect a certain item, etc. It's definitely fun to be able to breeze through quests more quickly than other MMOs, without having to devote an insane amount of time to gather a party and navigate a complex and insanely long dungeon just to complete a quest.
Also, the vast majority of quests we ran were soloable, so you don't always have to find other people to team with to complete your tasks. There are some quests in Auto Assault that are brilliantly executed and extremely fun to play. One particularly memorable mission is a quest where three or four different players from opposing factions each must race to the top of a mountain. The four players compete head-to-head, and the first one up gets to complete the quest and score cool stuff.
For those who do get tired of PvE questing, there is, of course, PvP. Here, Auto Assault offers two flavors of PvP: OCD arena battles (highly reminiscent of World of Warcraft's Battlegrounds), and free-for-all faction vs. faction combat, called Ground Zero. Both are pretty fun and well done, with touches like powerups (both beneficial and harmful) scattered throughout the OCD arenas, as well as other objectives, such as capturing and holding territory in Ground Zero.
The Mastermind class can create robotic minions to help them in combat…
Unfortunately, the game has its occasional low points. PvE questing, aside from some of the aforementioned brilliant moments, can feel a bit dull and repetitive at times, as the same types of quests are recycled over and over later in the game. One big disparity is the amount of quests available to each faction – the Humans have a far greater selection of quests to choose from than Mutants or Biomeks. This leads to situations where Mutants or Biomeks are sometimes offered quests that are way too high for the player's current level. If that quest is the only one available, the player is forced to grind to gain levels before attempting the quest. There are also some balance issues in PvP, for while the three factions play very similarly, there are still areas that need tweaking- ramming opponents and stealth seem to be heavily stacked towards the Human side, for example. Some of the quests involve going into towns, and in towns, the player must exit their vehicle to run around the town on foot. Unfortunately, the towns really aren't that interesting, as there isn't much to do there other than shop, craft items, or deliver quest items to NPCs.
Speaking of crafting, the crafting system in Auto Assault is intriguing. Instead of being able to craft any item from scratch in Auto Assault one must first acquire a "broken" version of the item that's non-functional, and then try to repair or upgrade it. In doing so, the player has the opportunity to improve the item being crafted or even to create a new item. This crafting system opens up a lot of possibilities for unique items, but these possibilities are ultimately handicapped by the lack of a player economy. There's hardly anything in Auto Assault, sadly, to facilitate any sort of inter-player trading, as the game is missing things like a postal system, auction houses, or loot linking.
Gameplay- 7 Auto Assault definitely has some good things going for it in terms of breaking the MMORPG mold, in its blend of action and RPG to create a different experience. However, the game feels like its missing some key components, most notably a full range quests for Mutants and Biomeks, balance adjustments for PvP, and, most glaringly, the lack of any systems to facilitate a player economy.
Graphics- 7 Auto Assault's post-apocalyptic style is well done, and effectively conveys the devastation wrought upon the world. Bombed out buildings and areas of glowing green Contamination dot the landscape. There are some particularly well done areas, such as the desert of the Mutant starting area, that does much to evoke the swept sand and carved stone of the deserts of the Southwestern US, to high mountain areas with blinding snowstorms. However, the environments, while certainly not barren, do end up looking a bit "same-old" after a while. Also, the Southwestern desert and the snowy mountain are pretty much the exceptions rather than the rule in terms of graphical diversity- most of the time, the ruins all start to look alike. The game's cars, however, look really fantastic for an MMO, and can be heavily customized as the player acquires new Trim and other loot.
Sound- 7 the game's audio doesn't really stand out, which is both a good and a bad thing. There are no particularly annoying sounds, save for a few of the weapons, but there aren't any sounds that really add anything to the experience. The music, much of the time, is a generic techno track that gets repetitive, and cars sound similar regardless of which chassis one's using or how fast one is going. A few weapons sound off like the thunderous cannons they are, but others sound like middling pea-shooters to the point of annoyance. There are also some occasional audio bugs that prohibit playback of certain sounds, especially the different sounds of each car chassis.
Value- 8 If nothing else, Auto Assault's usage of action game conventions in an MMORPG environment do wonders to subtract from the drudge and hamster wheel conventions found in many other MMOs. The fact that the game contains elements usually found in Action games makes it more compelling and less boredom-inducing than the average MMO.
Curve- 9 Overall, Auto Assault has a lot of potential to be a truly engrossing experience, more so than most MMOs out there. Unfortunately, such potential is marred by a lack of polish and care- there is simply too much that is flawed or missing to place this game in the "great" category, despite the noble ambition of delivering a unique MMO experience. Auto Assault is still a lot of fun, mainly because of its departure from the generic, fantasy MMO formula, but if NetDevil were going to buck the fantasy trend, they could've bucked some other trends while they were at it, as well as put a bit more polish and care into its release.