When taking a first look at the DVD box of Massive Assault, I immediately noticed the quotes from some reviews on it. “Strategy gaming has never been so sweet”, “the AI takes no prisoners”, “for those seeking an “easy to learn, difficult to master” turn-based game it may be just what the doctor ordered”, … well, that sounds promising. Let’s take a closer look at the game and see if these statements are well-founded.
Massive Assault kicks off with a nice intro movie and a long, but nevertheless interesting synopsis of all political events from 2056 until 2130. After World War 3 the Free Nations Union is established, uniting most of the earth’s states, and a new Golden Age commences. However at the end of the 21th century, revolutions in Russia, Panama and many other countries bring forth the establishment of the Phantom League, a secret alliance between several strong military forces. Represented as a revolutionairy force, the Phantom League’s only goal is global domination. At the beginning of the 22th century the eve of World War 4 between the Free Nations Union and the Phantom League draws near, but is ultimately avoided by word from outer space. A discovery team has found new planets suitable for human life.
Troughout 10 years, no less than hundreds of millions of people immigrate towards those New Worlds, founding new countries, who immediately declare their independence. While man celebrates the newly found peace, some of those new countries secretly join up with the Phantom League. When they disclose some of their allies, the Free Nations Union is left no other choice than use the same tactics. Both sides disclose their secret allies one by one and attack nearby neutral countries. And thus the First War for the New Worlds commences …
The fight takes place on 6 varying planets, each one represented by a map. On that map you’ll see a number of countries and their adjoining borders. The entire map is hex based, which means a unit can only be placed on a spot, which is surrounded by 6 other spots, and so on. This way players are given the opportunity to block other units and calculate in advance how far exactly your opponent can move up. A country can only be controlled when you have control over the capital and no enemy units have crossed the border. When you have full control over a country, you will earn revenue points each turn. With these you’ll be able to deploy new units in your country.
Actually Wargaming.net, an ambitious developer specialized in military strategy games, has come up with a daring approach for this turn based strategy game. Unlike some more popular games in this genre, such as Civilization or MAX, they paid no attention to the economic side of the game. No building, food-providing whatsoever, all you have to do is move your troops and attack. This sounds a lot like chess, and in fact it is! This game is chess, only a more refined and complex version of chess.
Each turn is divided into several phases. The first turn of a new game will commence with an “initial disclosure phase”. On a still blank map you’ll see your secret allies. These are countries that you can disclose and deploy a number of units in, specified by the “secret army points” of that specific country. In that initial disclosure phase you’ll need to choose 2 of your secret allies that you wish to disclose and deploy your units. Next up is the “movement and combat phase”, which I think doesn’t need explanation, and the “reinforcements phase”, that lets you place new units according to the amount of available revenue points. Each turn ends with a “disclosure phase”, where you can disclose one of your remaining secret allies.
When the enemy invades a neutral country, you are put in charge over that country and need to deploy guerilla forces. These are just common units, and indeed, the amount of them you can deploy is restricted by guerilla points. However it’s very interesting since this additional “guerilla phase” is the first one of your turn, so you can deploy guerilla forces and immediately move them and attack the invaders. When that country is actually one of your secret allies, it’s even more interesting, since you can not only block and attack the invader first, you can also disclose that country at the end of your turn and deploy artillery units to blow the enemy out of the country during your next turn.
You’ll encounter all these phases in the World War mode, comparable with a skirmish mode. However there are also 3 other single player modes: tutorial, scenario and campaign. There are 5 tutorials available (8 if you installed the first patch) that teach you the basic manoeuvres very quickly. Next up are 26 scenarios, divided in easy, medium and hard categories where you need to conquer a country or defend your own. Each scenario commences with a short, but complete explanation on the situation and some tips so you know what you need to do. They are very enjoyable, although they don’t offer that much variation. It would’ve been nice to get a task like “destroy all rocket launchers” or “survive for 10 turns”, but since the developers release a set of new scenarios from time to time, we might just get some of those in the future. And finally, there are 4 campaigns, that are in fact nothing more than sets of succeeding scenarios. Entertaining, but hard to beat !
In fact, you can say that about the entire game. It’s very easy to pick up, all you have to learn are the different phases of a game. However it’s been a long time since I played a game that is harder to master than Massive Assault. There is no real “learning the game”, you just need to practice, adapt certain techniques that you saw from your opponent and practice some more. I watched myself getting better day by day, and it’s really satisfying when you succesfully complete a scenario you couldn’t possibly beat the week before. The game may have a reputation for being a tough nut to crack, it’s one you won’t put down very quickly, giving you a chance to improve your skills and become a better “nut-cracker”.
An essential factor for winning a round of Massive Assault is “know your units” ! Each side (Free Nations Union and Phantom League) has 13 identical units (there are both land, naval and air units) that only differ in appearance, resulting in a total equality of both sides. Every unit has some specific points that determine how far it can move, shoot, the amount of damage it inflicts and how much it can take. No need to learn them by heart, since you can see them when you put your mouse cursor over a unit, but you should always pay attention to them. For instance, don’t put a unit 4 steps away from an enemy turret if you can place it further as well, thus stepping out of the turret’s fire radius. Each unit has its purpose in a specific situation. A small jeep doesn’t require much revenue points to be placed, but only inflicts a damage of 1 point on an enemy, making it rather useless for offensive purposes. However, since it’s cheap and has decent armor, it’s perfect for blocking enemy tanks, and preventing them from shooting at your artillery.
Once you’ve covered the basics of the game, you can go online and challenge other gamers in the multiplayer mode or play against a friend on the same computer in the hot-seat mode. You need to make an account for online gaming, and all players that have signed up are listed. The only available mode is World War, and after the challenger chooses his side and the map, the match begins. One player makes his turn and sends it automatically to the server, then the other one gets an e-mail notificiation (this can be turned off) and is asked to make his turn. It may sound quite boring, having to wait for hours, exceptionally even for days, for the opponent to make his turn, but the multiplayer is the most entertaining side of the game nonetheless. The developers are doing an exceptional job on keeping the community alive, you can even play against some of the devs if you want. At the moment of writing, they have started the first tournament for Massive Assault, for which you can sign up for free and even win a prize. From time to time they release a new map as well, so it’s worth checking out the official site from time to time. One of the few negative sides of the game however is the lack of a map editor, which would let you create your own personal map.
So the concept and the gameplay are nothing short of stunning, and guess what, the graphics are aswell ! This is without any doubt the most beautiful turn based strategy game out there, offering grand and detailed environments, populated by good-looking military units and gorgeous effects. The camera can be rotated 360 degrees around and moved up and down, forth, back, left and right. The different maps are also pretty varied, offering both snowfields, small islands and some kind of purple desert. Sometimes the environment also affects the gameplay. For instance, units won’t be able to go that far when passing through a forest or go further when moving on a road.
In spite of what you’d think by now, I can be quite short on the sound. The music is rather calm and with atmosphere and every ingame move triggers a nice sound effect. Nice work, but nothing out of the ordinary.
In conclusion: As you’re probably aware, I could go on for hours about Massive Assault, but it would all just come down to this: buy this game! If you’re into turn based strategy games that are all about moving and destroying units and don’t really care for the economic side of strategy, then you won’t find a game that is more satisfying than this one. Both gameplay and presentation are the best in the genre I’ve seen in years, and probably even for years to come. I’ve played this game for a couple of weeks now and without any doubt will do so for many weeks, probably even months. Still don’t know if this “next dimension of chess” is your cup of tea ? Then don’t hesitate to download the extensive demo, and remember, you owe it to yourself to play this game !