Monday, December 18, 2006

Massive Assault Network 2 Review

Massive Assault Network 2, developed and published by
The Good: Straightforward strategy gameplay, decent graphics, flexible turn submission time constraints, pretty easy to find games, no more monthly fees
The Not So Good: Practically the same as previous versions, laughably horrible tutorial voice-overs, games against the AI must be submitted to the network each turn, limited to two players
What say you? Another online-centric iteration of the Massive Assault franchise: 6/8

The Massive Assault franchise has been around since 2003, starting with the appropriately-named Massive Assault. The game’s brand of clear-cut gameplay has a good following among the wargaming community, and it has tried to branch out into the multiplayer realm with the second version of Massive Assault Network, appropriately named Massive Assault Network 2 (or, to veterans of the game, U.N.C.L.E.). How will Massive Assault Network 2 take the game to the next level?

Massive Assault Network 2 has good graphics for the genre, but they are generally unchanged from previous versions. The game is rendered in 3-D: this is already a step ahead of most wargames that are released these days. The game features an exaggerated landscape in terms of scale, with large, continental areas containing large, easy to identify units. The maps look good and are distinctive: you’ll instantly recognize a screenshot of Massive Assault 2 as being from Massive Assault 2, which is more than can be said for the cookie-cutter World War II strategy games out there. The maps combine meaningful terrain with good visual flair, and the results are pleasing. The special effects, while repetitive, are pretty good: explosions are impressive enough, and the weapons are powerful. Massive Assault 2 has combination of cartoon and realistic elements that’s unique to the genre. The game level of quality is not equaled in the sound, however. The background music is pretty much what you’d expect and the sound effects are sporadic and generic. The voice acting during tutorials is horrendous, however, and frankly hard to listen to. It’s a real distraction from playing the game, and you’ll routinely skip or completely turn off the audio.

Massive Assault Network 2 is more of a culmination of the series rather than a completely new edition, as the changes from previous version of the game are minimal. Of course, Massive Assault Network 2 is the best version of the game, but people who have played any of the previous games (Massive Assault, Domination) will notice the striking similarities. Massive Assault Network 2 features two-player, turn-based strategy for control of a planet. There are 25 maps in the game, including some new ones to the series. I would like some random maps, but the maps in the game are well designed and the inclusion of the secret allies mode (more on that in a bit) ramps up the replay value. Being an online game, you would expect Massive Assault Network 2 to make it pretty easy to join an online game, and it does. The game lists all of the players that are currently logged in, plus allows you to challenge a specific player, including those players who are offline at the moment. Massive Assault Network 2 keeps you abreast of your current games, making it easy to play multiple contests at the same time. The turn-based structure of the game allows you to proceed as quickly or as slowly as you and your opponent wish, but Massive Assault Network 2 also gives you the ability to play “live” against another opponent, which is really nice. You also have the ability to play against one of two AI opponents, and the AI is pretty good at the game and will offer a good challenge for beginning players. There are some additional options available in creating a new game, other than the selection of the map. You can use various unit sets that unlock progressively more units and you can change the timing settings to limit turn time or activate an overall turn clock for the entire game (like chess). Massive Assault Network 2 does deserve the “network” moniker, as it makes it easy to join and play multiplayer games.

Massive Assault Network 2 concerns the struggle for control of the world through military action. The maps are divided into a number of different provinces, each of which produces money to construct more units so that you can take over more provinces. Massive Assault Network 2 features the secret allies mode, where a number of neutral provinces are actually owned by you and can be disclosed later in the game. This can result in sneak attacks on enemy forces and also varies the gameplay on any particular map somewhat. Each turn is comprised of four phases: guerilla phase permits invaded provinces place defending forces, movement phase lets you move and attack enemy units, recruitment phase let you buy new units, and disclosure phase allows you to disclose secret allies. In order to control a neutral or enemy province, you must “remove” all the enemy units from the province and capture the capital. An invaded province cannot produce any new units, which makes having a good defending force a primary strategy. Each of the game’s units have a set number of hit points, movement points, damage, fire range, and price, and they can travel on the ground, over the sea, or through the air. Massive Assault Network 2 actually has a pretty generic arrangement of forces: fast but weak units, slow but powerful units, expensive and powerful units, and units in the middle. Not surprising for a game that’s been through three complete versions, Massive Assault Network 2 features very refined gameplay: each unit in the game has a specific purpose, and the game is very straightforward in terms of mechanics. Massive Assault Network 2 hardly has any rough edges to it, and the game feels very complete and there aren’t really any improvements that could be made to the basic formula. Really, you either like the Massive Assault series or you don’t; Massive Assault Network 2 makes a great introduction to wargames, where other titles might be a bit too much to handle for new players.

Massive Assault 2 is identical to previous versions of Massive Assault with the exception of a couple of new features, most notably the option to play in “real time.” The game is obviously not revolutionary, but it is a well-designed game that features relatively simple gameplay mechanics that should appeal to new players. Massive Assault Network 2 is a solid and entertaining strategy game that should provide enjoyment for people who like the genre. The removal of monthly subscription fees sweetens the pot, and the ease of joining and playing online games makes Massive Assault Network 2 the most polished of the games in the series. This title feels more like one of the yearly updated EA Sports games, where a couple of tweaks have been made from the previous version. Thus, owners of previous version of the game might be wary to dive into this new title since it is extremely similar. But, this is a fine culmination of the series and Massive Assault Network 2 is a enjoyable strategy game if you fancied the earlier versions.