[Author’s Note: This review is a summation of experiences catalogued in three (1, 2, 3) parts. You may read those if you want to dig deeper into the elements informing this score.]
Auto Assault has been racking up trophies since 2004. Online and print previews galore slathered on the accolades: Most Anticipated. Top Online Game. Best of E3. Etcetera. The press could hardly be more excited. But the proof is in the pudding -- not in the recipe -- and many reviewers apparently already had their fill and moved onto the next course. The gaming media can be a fickle lot.
Regardless, there’s no mistaking that Auto Assault pushes the MMO genre in a new direction. Look at the Tried-and-Trues already saturating the shelves: Fantasy is well-covered. Combat shooters are covered. Super heroes (and now super villains) are covered. And sure, Twisted Metal shoved vehicular combat into the online space already, but didn’t even touch the level of character building, crafting, and story-driven missions that the MMO audience demands. So those comparisons are moot. Producers Net Devil scoped uncharted territory to beam down to, set their phasers on Obliterate Anything That Moves, and proceeded to do just that.
Except the public wasn’t biting.
Devastatingly low player populations brought about a server merger in order to, if nothing else, get the cricket-buzzing chat channels ablaze. As I’ve noted before, Auto Assault is scratching a very specific itch, and -- the polls are in -- the gaming population would rather swing a sword than step on the gas. But, as is the case in many instances, low sales are not 100 percent indicative of a poor game. Indeed, on technical merit alone, Auto Assault effortlessly ranks in the higher echelons. Havok physics keep everything from horizon to horizon almost completely destructible (not just crates and barrels, you D&D suckers). Explosions from low-end automobiles set off bigger booms than most end-level bosses in other MMOs. And no matter how hard you swing your +10 Battleaxe of Instant Pwnage, it’ll never hit harder than the armored fenders on your post-apocalyptic SUV, or sandrail, or Tron-crossover bike, or Sherman tank. In fact, “tank” isn’t just an LFG tag here. A tank is your +10 Battleaxe of Instant Pwnage.
And with the pick-up-and-play learning curve, you can Mad Maximize the destruction as soon as the rubber meets the road. Controls grow progressively more nuanced as you familiarize yourself with the interface, but the furiously fast combat is still a cinch to wrap around your finger. With zero experience penalties for dying (this is probably the most forgiving MMO to date) the arcade action ramps up to 10 whether alone or rollin’ deep in a convoy, but quickly gets out of control if you stray into a part of the map you don’t belong in yet. That “wrong side of the tracks” feeling becomes all too apparent.
This problem only escalates when you’re asked to put your nose to the grindstone. Following chapters of plot-thickened missions racks up the most experience, of course, but there are still numerous potholes in the leveling highway. At some point -- in fact, at several points -- the storyline is going to leave you hanging (“Sorry, come talk to me when you’re a higher level” hanging) and you’ll set out on your Lonesome Dove to grind some experience points.
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