When I previewed Auto Assault back in January, it was clear from the Beta that it was a game of great potential. With a grand scale, riotous combat, three-way PvP action and a unique setting in the MMORPG genre, Auto Assault was a title that had my saliva glands almost gushing in anticipation of the retail release. Now that I've had an extended play of the final version, it's with some regret that I have to inform you that the game remains one of great potential, but no more: to use an automotive analogy, it's like a car with a dodgy wheel bearing - technically, it's still perfectly functional, as the wheels still turn, but there's always a squeaky annoyance reminding you that something's not quite right and that maybe, just maybe, the wheels might fall off.
Whilst everything I loved about the Beta is still there, it seems that all the reservations I had are still there, too. Normally I wouldn't start off a review so negatively, and I'll get on to the actual gameplay later in the review, but from a technical standpoint, I feel obligated to tell you that the game isn't quite there. If you're going to make a game as combat-oriented as this, where you're going for visceral satisfaction rather than any sense of complexity or multi-layered gameplay, you've got to get the basics right. Unfortunately, the limitations of the graphics engine are cruelly exposed by the introductory movies, highlighting the limited draw distances and the blandness of the environments; and it doesn't get any better in game. Granted, perhaps the devastation of a post-apocalyptic world doesn't necessarily predispose itself to eye candy, but even if you install the high resolution option, the terrain textures are worryingly drab.
Likewise, the sound effects are a little weak, and there's precious little musical score to enjoy as you make your way around the game world. If that weren't bad enough, the game's a chronic system hog, and suffers from frequent frame rate problems, even with low server populations and with the more demanding technical options (such as shadows and particle effects) turned off. Clearly, a lot of the performance optimisation you would expect to have been done for a title in the MMORPG genre either hasn't been done, or hasn't been entirely successful. Technically, the game is barely improved over the Beta I played in January, and that's terribly disappointing, because with a little spit and polish, there's a real gem of a game here.
'There's nothing most gamers like more than fast cars, excepting perhaps fast cars with guns'
It's refreshing to see an online game attempt a different setting from the traditional orcs 'n' elves fantasy, because it's hard to see anything toppling World of Warcraft from its lofty perch at the top of the fantasy MMOG genre for the time being. As game concepts go, Auto Assault is a winner: there's nothing most gamers like more than fast cars, excepting perhaps fast cars with guns. Couple this with outrageous Hollywood stunt physics, explosions aplenty and one-touch combat, and you've got a recipe for arguably the most accessible and playable MMOG ever created.
If there's one reason to buy Auto Assault, it's for the combat. The fast, almost frenzied pace from the Beta is still intact, and thanks to a little tweaking, now has a bit more cut and thrust. The more powerful weapons in the game now generate more heat, meaning that you can't simply hold down the right-mouse button for extended periods of time to wipe through the opposition. So you now need to duck out of combat range once your weapons overheat, or use coolant flush power-ups to extend your battle endurance. Boss battles in particular will test your ability to manage your power reserves (used for combat abilities, such as spawning support bots or unleashing sneak attacks) and how well you can prevent your weapons from overheating, whilst employing other power-ups to repair your vehicle mid-fight or to buff your targeting abilities.
Vehicles can equip weapons on no less than four separate hard points; the first being the roof-mounted turret, which tracks enemies once you select them. Once you've gained a few levels, you are then able to acquire a front-mounted weapon, which essentially doubles your firepower, provided you're pointing at your target. Around level 10 (give or take a level or two) you will be able to equip melee weapons, which allow you to ram enemies for significant amounts of damage, and finally, somewhat later in the game, rear-mounted weapons can either be bought or looted, adding further to your vehicle's lethality. The more weapons you have, the more damage you do, but that comes at a cost of greater heat generation, meaning you have to manage combat more effectively, firing only when a target is in range, and within the tactical arc of your armaments. Some weapons are able to target more than one enemy at a time, or provide bonuses to your character stats and are particularly prized, or can be sold on to other players, if they're incompatible with your vehicle. Perhaps the most valuable weapons in the game are the mortar-like turret weapons with an explosive effective range, causing collateral damage to anything within a certain radius of the targeted vehicle, and are especially useful against large clusters of enemies. Once your ride is pimped out with weapons, you can then set about customising it with 'trick' parts, looted from enemy mobs. These vary from bloody tank-track treads to carbon fibre air scoops, depending upon your character's race, and with a little imagination, you can truly create a unique looking vehicle. Other vehicle hard points, for armour, tyre sets and power plants, add further to the customisation options, and also give you the opportunity to boost your character's stats. Equipment comes in varying grades of rarity, and less common hardware may have tinkering slots, which allow you to install various upgrades that may modify damage or resistances, for example.