In Massive Assault players take control of the Free Nations Union, formed shortly after the end of the third world war in 2058. A group called the Phantom League emerges in 2099 and is bent on global domination. As war becomes imminent and each force increases the strength of its armies, a new solar system is discovered and begins to be colonized. The Phantom League later forms a secret alliance and targets these space colonies in an effort to cut off Earth's latest supply of energy resources. In what is being called the "New World," the Free Nations Union forms its own secret alliance and a war for the New World begins.
Battles take place on one of the six featured planets with the goal of each game being to liberate all of the continents. Players will be required to develop new strategies at the start of each game as both sides randomly receive their secret allies. There are 26 units included for users to control as they discover advantages within each planet's terrain, outflank the enemy, and cut off supply routes. Games can be played against the computer or against a friend in Hot Seat or Internet play.
It's the 22nd century, and multiple worlds are rife with battle between the Free Nations Union and the Phantom League. As a general of one of the armies, it's up to you to capture enemy territory and destroy all your opponents with a variety of land, air, and sea forces. Massive Assault is a turn-based strategy game that's easy to learn, and yet challenging enough to entertain fans of the genre.
Massive Assault is a game of military conquest, and shares features seen in board games like Risk and hex-based strategy games. You won't have to worry about base construction or supply routes or anything like that. All you have to do is buy units under a budget and field your armies in battle. That means you'll have to make some choices: do you reinforce your frontline with cheap units, or do you hold off and save your money to buy an aircraft carrier? Is it better to mass your units along one border for a decisive offense at the cost of leaving one border unguarded?
Five training missions will get you into how simple it is to direct your troops in battle. From there, there are three game modes to choose from. Scenarios are one-shot battles where you're directed to accomplish a certain objective to achieve victory. Campaigns are a collection of scenarios where you'll get a feel for the storyline behind the game. The real meat of the game, however, is its World War mode.
There are essentially three sides to every World War: An army controlled by you, an opposing army controlled by the AI or another player, and neutral countries. Neutral countries will instantly become allied with the army opposing the force that just invaded its territory. There is only one difficulty setting for the AI, and it's decent. It knows how to protect its territory and mass its troops, but occasionally makes mistakes when concentrating fire on the enemy. If you're playing against a human opponent, both hot seat and Internet modes are available.
What struck me most about Massive Assault was the utter lack in diversity between the two armies. Each side has the same type of units; both have tanks, light armored vehicles, aircraft carriers, land-based missile platforms, and so on. However, aside from their appearance and animations, each unit for the Free Nations Union has its exact counterpart in the Phantom League. For instance, each side's tanks have exactly the same amount of hit points, do the same damage, go just as far as the other, and cost the same amount of money. In a standup fight, the unit that fired first would win the battle. However, that's not to say that's all bad; because one army is just as good as the other and both players have exactly the same resources to call from, tactics are the call of the day. What is bad is that there don't seem to be enough units. Airborne bombers can have a field day damaging enemy troops because there's no anti-air unit, and despite it being the 22nd century, there's no airborne troop deployment, either.
Wars are played on one of six planets. Two planets feature a large, single continent where land units rule, two planets feature island archipelagoes emphasizing naval warfare, and two more are halfway between the two extremes. Each world is split up into countries divvied up between the player, the enemy and neutral powers at the beginning of the game. The object, of course, is to conquer your enemy's territories. You don't have to tip your hand to what countries you own at the beginning of the game. As the game goes on, you'll have the opportunity to reveal an allied country to your opponent in order to get a force on the ground. However, if you keep your allied countries secret, they'll appear as neutral to your opponent, enabling you to instantly raise an army in a position where your enemy least expects it.
Normally, a country in a player's possession produces a certain amount of money from which additional units may be bought. However, that money is finite, lasting only about a dozen turns, giving players the impetus to expand their empires or lose their wars of attrition. Not only that, but if a single enemy unit occupies a space in a country, that country can't raise its regular funds. Therefore, controlling and securing your borders is absolutely necessary. Many games feature bitter battles along the borders, each side seeking to gain that crucial foothold into enemy territory.
In multiplayer, Massive Assault is a thing of beauty. Once you've created a multiplayer account, it's easy to find players interested in a game or two. You can send or receive challenges, and once that's done you're taken to the game screen to set up your initial military situation, like what forces you show and what countries you'll control. From there, you can perform a turn and send it off to your opponent. They'll receive an e-mail notifying them of the opportunity to take their turn, go online, do the turn, and send it off to you. You can have as many online games going at the same time as you want, and I often find my hands full with four. While it may not be great for people who like to take their turns in a fast and furious manner, it's a great system for those who take their PC gaming in small bites. From what I've seen, there are more than enough skilled opponents willing to take you on.
Massive Assault has relatively decent graphics, but chances are you're not going to notice it. Like most 3D strategy games, a player is torn between the desire to get up and personal with the action and wanting to see the big picture of how units are moving on the map. While each unit is rendered with loving detail, the dramatic unit animations are too quick to really appreciate. There's no fog of war, and no concern is paid to having the higher ground or line of sight. Sonically, the music in Massive Assault is a collection of synthesized compositions subdued enough to not interfere with the game, but still prompted me to turn it all the way down. The explosions and troop unit movement sounds are appropriate, but still nothing terribly notable.
Sadly, Massive Assault doesn't seem to offer any room for customization of games. It would have been nice to be able to alter certain facets of challenges, such as how long countries produced money, how much they produced, the damage units inflict and take, and so on, and there's also no option for creating your own maps.
Massive Assault is a good game on the strength of its accessibility and multiplayer support. Breaking border battles and conquering territory requires great tactics, both against the AI and human opponents. However, one can't help imagine what might have been if more units had been added and specialized tactics would have been allowed to take shape.
People who downloaded Massive Assault have also downloaded:
MechCommander 2, MechCommander Gold, Master of Orion 3, No Man's Land, Medieval Lords: Build, Defend, Expand, Mayday: Conflict Earth, Neighbors from Hell (a.k.a. Neighbours from Hell), Master of Orion
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