Over the past few years there has been a real lack of good new real-time strategy games. You know the ones, like the old Red Alert, Command and Conquer or Company of Heroes. Yes we have had some new expansions and sequels come out, but nothing we could really call brand new. However, new indie title Act of Aggression is going out of its way to change that.
Act of Aggression. You could say it is a bastard love child of all the old Westwood Studios games – it really shows its love of the games and brings back the old gameplay. Act of Aggression is your typical near-future war-based RTS, so you must pick a faction. This time around, you have a choice of three: Chimera, United States Army or Cartel. Each of these factions have the normal types of units, soldiers, light vehicles, heavy vehicles etc, all with their pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. Of course, the units are all unique to each faction. This is what you would expect from a solid RTS.
Act of Aggression does include a single-player element. Traditionally this is the way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of units before you hop online and get destroyed by undoubtedly better players. This I found lacking.
Firstly the story. I actually found it a little hard to follow – yes, someone is doing something bad to someone else so we must stop them. I get that. But the story is told via a mosaic of information, news reports, voice chat all with a unique style I found a little difficult to follow.
Then there is the learning curve. Traditionally you are shown the units bit by bit over the story, This is also true in Act of Aggression, however there is very little to guide you on which unit to use when. There is the occational suggestion but overall you are just thrown in the deep end with four cinder blocks tied to your ankles and told to swim. I found this extremely frustrating. I would be bombarded by enermies only to discover I have a new unit that just cleans them all up, I had to restart a few rounds because of this. Once I discovered the best unit for the task, the rounds became much easier. As the storyline is normally where you are taught how to play, this strikes me as lacking.
Then there is the multiplayer element. It’s solid. Not perfect, but very solid. As you would expect in a multiplayer RTS, you are going to get hurt, at least until you work out the details of the gameplay. There is a strong learning curve here too, however things are mostly balanced.
I do have one or two gripes though: Firstly, some of the units look too similar. There are multiple types of light vehicles, however when you are in combat it is really difficult to tell which is which. This can lead you sending in something designed to destroy buildings when really you need an anti-aircraft weapon. It wouldn’t take much to improve this relatively minor aesthetic issue.
The bigger problem I had is less simple to fix: Resources. I hate comparing this indie title to one of the most solid RTS out there but it is the easiest way to show the issue.
Tiberium was the main resource in Command & Conquer. It was always limited on the map, and yes you could run out. However once a Tiberium field ran out it would slowly regrow, preventing a stalemate at the end of the game. In Act of Aggression, the main resources come from mining, which also runs out. You can gain a small amount of resources from capturing buildings, capturing enemies and healing your own, but it is limiting and prevents you from building many units. This will inevitably cause stalemates where neither side can progress.
It takes a fair amount of units to get past a well fortified building or base, meaning you can end up throwing many small units at them only seeing them be destroyed with little effect. Over and over and over… that is, if you’re able to get to that point – I found these resources ran out almost every game I played well before I was ready to mount an attack.
Although I didn’t enjoy the single player side of Act of Aggression much, I did like the multiplayer which really is the main part of the game. It does have some issues but most RTS do when they first come out. It is all about balance and it really does take a large user base to get that right. I would like to see resources improved, whether it is with more mines, or just more resources in them, but I think it shouldn’t be a difficult fix.
Act of Aggression really is one of the first old school RTS to come out in a long time and if you love them then after learning this one you will love this one too. Right now, it is a good game, but with a few changes and an active userbase it can really be a great one.