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Act of Aggression

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By elethio08-09-2015
Act of Aggression

The Defence

Developer:
Eugen Systems
Publisher:
Focus Home Interactve
Genre:
Strategy
Release Date:
02-09-2015

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core i5 3.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7870
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
15 GB
DirectX:
10, 11

The Case

Apart from taking inspiration from C&C Generals, Act of Aggression is also the unofficial sequel to the 2005 game Act of War, also made by the Eugen System. There have been various new and re-mastered RTS’s released this year, but Eugen Systems won’t merely be compared to these as they have given themselves a far more specific benchmark: “The Golden Era of RTS is Back.”

That’s a very bold claim from Eugen Systems. They are of course referring to the traditional type of RTS that requires base building and resource gathering, but doesn’t have Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) style units. Command & Conquer is the series that developed the genre more than any other, and Generals (and its expansion Zero Hour) is the game that many consider to be the pinnacle of the C&C series. So the question is this, how does Act of Aggression compare to Generals? And since Generals is a seventeen year old game, how well has AoA brought it up to date without losing its essence?

The Trial

When C&C Generals was released it was a game that really smacked you in the face with its uncompromising fast paced action, it then hammered the point home by having battles in real locations and using “realistic” (although slightly cartoony) units and factions too.

C&C Generals’ influence is clear in Act of Aggression from the menu screens to the music, to the story and settings too. Obviously AoA is not a direct clone of Generals; it has diverged cosmetically, and built upon systems already seen in Generals.

You can create your own fog of war.

You can create your own fog of war.

The storyline has a lot of parallels to Generals with two armies “fighting for peace” against an insidious terrorist organisation. The “proactive good guys” however are no longer the US, but the instead the Chimera, these are a kind of high tech, United Nations Intelligence Task force (yes the Dr Who reference is just me messing around). The American Army now has a role more like the one China had in Generals; they are a slightly lower tech behemoth, with some really tanky units.

Finally, the Cartel are the sneaky terrorist group. Unlike with Generals, this group is the most technologically advanced, they do still rely heavily on stealth but they use high tech systems rather than camo nets to achieve this.

The Cartel is run by a shadowy group of powerful people, with links to mercenary and weapon manufacturers. Their goal is unclear but they seem to be trying to find ways to destabilise the United States for the purpose of “making it their new market place,” but some surprising twists are revealed in the story.

There are two campaigns with ten missions each, one for the Chimera and one for the Cartel. The Chimera campaign starts off slowly, it introduces you gradually to some of the basic units and mechanics but it doesn’t take long to heat up. Clear mission objectives are given but more may appear mid-mission. There will often be secondary objectives too; these are sometimes harder to complete, but offer a nice incentive for experienced players, or for people who want to play the campaign a second time.

By the time you see me its already too late.

By the time you see me its already too late.

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, the campaign often steps up the difficulty, and yes, I did find it sometimes quite challenging. In later missions, you will have to use some careful resource management and think outside the box, but this is one more reason for RTS veterans not to skip the campaign.

Possibly the biggest change in game mechanics to Generals, is with resources: Money is the basic resource for the game, most things need it and you can’t get by without it, but it’s the easiest resource to gather too. You can collect money from prisons, pilots, banks, certain late game buildings, and from oil. The other resources you need to manage are Aluminium and Rare Earth.

During the early game, you will generally rely on mineral deposits on the map to gain your resources. Oil, Aluminium and Rare Earth can be found in different locations each time you start a game even on the same map. Depending on what minerals you find and where, you may also want to alter your strategy, although you will always find some oil and aluminium close to your base.

All three minerals are extracted using refineries, these need to be placed in close proximity to each deposit, but also need to unload the minerals at a depot. This means that either you need to invest in some expensive base expanding, or the cheaper option, more tankers, however tankers are very vulnerable on a long route and make a good target for raiding forces.

Use the satelite view to get a better perspective.

Use the satelite view to get a better perspective.

Units and upgrades all require one or more different type of resource. Money is the base resource, Aluminium is the high tech resource, and Rare Earth is needed for the most advanced weapons and technologies.

Each faction also has a slight preference for specific resources: America has a greater need for money, Chimera needs more Aluminium, and the Cartel have a greater need for Rare Earth. Each faction also have different late game buildings that will help with their specific resources.

Vehicle pilots were used in Generals as an occasional source of income, but Act of Aggression has expanded greatly on this mechanic. More expensive vehicles may spawn as many as three pilots, and infantry have a chance of being disabled instead of killed and can be taken prisoner too. When capturing a prisoner you still get an immediate bonus for them. If you build a prison, prisoners captured are stored there and give you a permanent source of income (think of the Chinese hackers in Generals.) Each faction’s prison works slightly differently but you can trade prisoners for Aluminum or Rare Earth.

Pilots are controllable but won’t move if in proximity to enemy forces. You can also return your own pilots to your HQ for a small income bonus. This whole mechanic works in favour of the victor of any battle, and makes controlling a battle's location more important. It also discourages throwing units away as destroyed units can equal bonus income for your opponent.

Helicopters don't have a problem with buildings being close together.

Helicopters don't have a problem with buildings being close together.

Power is another type of resource each faction uses. Just as in Generals, you will have to keep an eye on your power levels as many buildings use it and a power failure can leave you defenceless. Apart from having different resource requirements, each faction has many other differences too. They all have distinct vehicles and infantry and they all work differently even if some of their roles are similar. Each faction also has its own general preference for tactics.

The American Army benefits most from aggressive strategies; replacement buildings and units are cheap and tough, the base can quickly expand to defend choke points and it can support all its units easily in the field.

The Chimera faction benefit the most from “turtle” strategies (building defence oriented bases); it takes longer to develop; units and buildings are more advanced than the American equivalent, and supporting an attack force is also slightly more difficult as they can only be repaired in proximity to a base.

Case Review

  • War Games: So many strategies.
  • Golden Age: Spiritual successor to Generals.
  • Be Yourself: Fun and unique asymmetrical factions.
  • Mutual Annihilation: Spectacular effects, units, and superweapons!
  • Turbo: Well optimized.
  • WOPR: Tough AI.
  • Tom Clancy: Good campaign.
  • Hunger Games: Multiplayer is tough.
  • Mensa:  Complex factions.
  • No Hair Trigger: Slight delay in unit response.
  • Specsavers: Prescription needed for some text.
  • For Science!: Needs a tutorial.
4.5
Score: 4.5/5
Traditional and modern, the best RTS in years.

Appeal

The latest RTS coming from French developer Eugen Systems, Act of Aggression looks to recall fond memories of “the golden age of the RTS,” and for the most part, it succeeds. A variety of units backed by sprawling, haphazard bases constructed hastily as needed, makes for some genuinely exciting combat moments. Armoured vehicles lumber along, destroying terrain, buildings and almost everything else in their way, while infantry takes cover in buildings, engaging at opportune moments.

Unfortunately however, Act of Aggression commits the cardinal sin of focusing entirely on multiplayer, leaving much to be desired with the singleplayer campaign. While I can't be surprised anymore by this, it's still equally frustrating. Story sections are little more than static images with a voiceover, and the actual missions themselves are embarrassingly short, even for an RTS. Granted, it does a nice job of introducing you to the mechanics, but any dedicated player could blow through both halves of the campaign in two hours, at most.

Regardless, it's clear that Eugen has learned much from their time spent working on the Wargame series of RTS/grand strategy games, and it's made Act of Aggression better for it. Maps are impressively large, there's a genuinely good mix of micro and macromanagement, and intelligence is prized above all else. For hearkening back to the days of the “classic RTS,” Eugen have honored games such as Command and Conquer well, even if their story is severely lacking.

4
Score: 4/5
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