Review By: Erin Ellis
It’s dangerous to try to strip a game down to its core strengths. While the resulting product can be very strong, it is also possible to streamline a game to the point that it becomes shallow and repetitive. Matrix Games’ tactical turn-based strategy title Massive Assault attempts to focus on pure tactical strategy, and though they succeed well in that regard, there are aspects of this offering that will leave you wanting more.
The introduction to the game attempts, through still shots and a narrative provided by an ambiguously foreign woman, to set up the story. The several minutes of future history that you sit through can all be boiled down to this: it’s 100 years later. We have colonized other planets. Everything’s still all f****d up. Green guys are good. Bad guys are red. Go!
Massive Assault provides a nice variety of gameplay options. The training mode provides a good primer on the various units within the game and how to attack and move them about the map. While this is a valuable mode for new folks, it really doesn’t provide much instruction in the art of war. With that in mind, you can choose single mission scenarios that escalate in complexity and difficulty. This is a good place to get your combat boots wet from a strategic point of view, and it will provide you with a good introduction to all of the available units.
You’ll take a big bite out of the meat of Massive Assault in the Campaign mode. This option comes closest to presenting any sort of story. You have a choice of four campaigns from which to choose, and you will be given a succession of missions that need to be completed in order. These missions are all variations on conquer and defend objectives. The only differences from mission to mission are the composition and the placement of both armies as well as the nature of the terrain.
The World War mode will be the major consumer of your free time. In this option, you will be plopped down in one of six worlds, each with different terrain, and a single mission: eliminate the opposition and liberate all countries. This is where the extremely limited economic and unit-production portion of the game truly comes into play. Every world (map) is divided into ‘countries’. Each country contains a capital city. In order to generate money to buy new units, you must control a country uncontested. Spend your money wisely, for each capital produces only a limited amount of money for the duration of the war. Hot Seat games, which utilize the World War maps, allow you to control both sides of the conflict, or if you’re so minded, you and a friend can play each other on the same PC.
There is definitely an addictive quality about Massive Assault. As with many, long, turn-based games, there is never a definite stopping point. You always want to take just one more turn. Just one more turn ma! You want to see what effect your latest moves have instigated. You want to see where your enemy is now headed. You could definitely kill many an hour if you’re a true tactical nut. However, once you sink your teeth into all of this martial meatiness, you start to realize that it’s a bit tough and overdone. Tough because the difficulty level is not adjustable, and if you are a relative tyro within the genre, you’ll soon become frustrated and give up. Overdone because, after a time, you’ll start to feel you’re going through the same battles time and time again.
You have all 13 units available to you from the start. The only inhibitor is the amount of money you manage to produce or bank. While this means you won’t have to decipher any tech trees, it also tends to make the game feel a bit simplistic. There is nothing to strive for other than the conquest of more and more territories as quickly as you can. The form of this conquest basically involves using cheaper, weaker units to clog up the front lines while long range units with a stronger attack pick off the opposition from a distance. Strategically speaking, this is it. Sure, there’s a variation on this theme. You may have to use amphibious units and naval transports to establish a beachhead on a neighboring island, but it’s no different than using small, armored vehicles to secure a foothold in another country’s territory during a land battle.
The political system adds a little twist to the action. You have the ability to ‘reveal’ secret allies at a time of your choosing. The timing, if implemented well, can have a significant impact on the tide of the battle. Once again, this system, presented as “original” and serving to “preserve intrigue”, is awfully simple, and it is generally over with early in the contest.
While rather bland and sterile in appearance, the terrain plays a large role in determining your strategy. Mountains, hills and water can be used in the positioning of your forces. This aspect does require solid strategic thinking, for if used to your advantage, the 3D maps will provide you with many opportunities to create choke points and execute flanking maneuvers.
There are only two factions within the game (The aforementioned green and red.), and though you can play as either faction, there is no motivation to do so since there’s nary a difference between either of the factions. Yes, most of the 26 total units have different names, designs and attack animations, but don’t be fooled. A Mortar on one side has the same hit points, range and attack as a Scorcher on the other side. There is no shift in strategic thinking required in order to switch factions.
The soundtrack of the future is apparently a horrid techno-pop beat laid down over a Souza-like drum march, all on a repeating ten second loop. There are a couple of other pieces of music that are repeated in their turn ad nauseam, but the star of the audio show is the vixen of undetermined origin from the opening narrative. She comments on the action throughout the game. Whether she’s helpfully alerting you if you’ve forgotten to utilize a certain unit or just letting you know the phase of your turn, she trills on and on in her bizarre Slavo-Indo-European accent. She’ll even taunt you when you fail and offer to sleep with you when you succeed. I have nothing against the latter behavior in principle, but any chick that gets hot and bothered by war creeps me out.
While Massive Assault has the potential to be a massive assault on your free time, it falls a bit short due to the repetitive feel and limited depth of the gameplay. If you’re a veteran strategy freak, you can do worse than this game. You will most likely enjoy the pure, strategic focus with large-scale battles taking place on many fronts. Since it’s always more fun to play against human opponents, you will also enjoy the multi-player online component hosted by Wargaming.net. However, if you are a casual fan or a newcomer to the genre, you will soon be put off by Massive Assault’s difficulty, limited scope and lack of flexibility.