Enter the hotseat
Act of Aggression claims to be built like games from the “golden era of RTS.” You know, back when StarCraft and Command and Conquer were taking the industry by storm. At least, I assume that’s what they mean because I can’t find any clear definition of the “golden era” of the genre.
I don’t know that it ever reaches the level of those games from the past, but it’s probably the closest that any game has come in recent memory.
Act of Aggression (PC)
Developer: Eugen Systems
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: September 2, 2015
Act of Aggression‘s plot takes place in the near-future where political agencies are being exploitative during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The player takes the side of the Chimera and U.S. government, who believe a group called the Cartel are behind this financial crisis. There are also standalone missions that play out from the perspective of the Cartel.
The campaign isn’t the most interesting story, which is compounded by downright terrible voice acting. I’m honestly not sure if they were going for a “so bad it’s good” angle, but the end result is just bad.
The campaign also does a poor job of acting as the game’s tutorial. After completing a campaign, jumping into an online match will be mostly foreign. Personally, I recommend playing through AI skirmish matches to get used to how the actual game handles before jumping online. That way, players can take their time reading unit descriptions and getting a feel for the various factions.
Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a real-time strategy game before. Players need to harvest resources, build up their base, create an army, and wipe out the opponents’ base. There are four resources to keep track of: oil, aluminum, rare earth elements, and electricity. The first three are harvestable from the map using Refineries, but electricity is created by specific buildings. There are other ways to acquire certain resources, like occupying banks or constructing specific buildings.
Not everything is par-for-the-course RTS gameplay. Players can send ground troops to occupy any building that litters the map. Soldiers inside of buildings have increased defenses from that structure, with the obvious downside of being stuck inside the building. Enemies can either attack the building in an attempt to destroy it and kill the soldiers inside, or send in their own troops to fight inside. Winning battles inside of buildings seems to be a case of numbers; having more soldiers than the enemy will end in a victory.
There are tons of buildings spread across just about every map, which makes traversing an area way more interesting since the enemy can be in any of them. As mentioned, large bank buildings will generate (finite) resources when occupied, so the early game usually consists of players rushing towards those areas. It’s easy enough for players to take a bank next to their base, but heading directly towards an enemy bank early on can also be worth it. It’s an incredible gameplay mechanic that truly does alter competitive play.
Another important element involves prisoners of war. After a soldier is defeated in battle, they don’t disappear from the map. Instead, they become a unit that has no action other than to move. Players can have the wounded soldiers retreat to base, but if an enemy gets there first, they can capture the POW. From there the enemy can generate resources, and even be traded for different resources. This is something that can really impact the late-game, and can easily separate mediocre and great players.
Base building is standard for the genre, and consists of three tiers of buildings. Certain structures need to be built before constructing anything from a higher tier, and many of the late-game buildings require rare earth elements, the late-game resource. It feels like a natural progression, and still allows for many different “builds” and strategies.
Perhaps the best part about playing Act of Aggression is that it actually feels like war. Players, in general, need to have a well-balanced army to see any sort of success. “Deathballs” of a single unit can see mild success, but will usually fail to bring complete victory (trust me, I’ve tried). Having a balanced army, stationing units in buildings, and occasionally calling in airstrikes made me feel more like a strategist than any RTS in recent memory.
Each faction can also build a “superweapon,” which takes the form of a nuclear missile. All three superweapons are pretty much identical, with some numbers being changed like area of effect and damage. These aren’t an automatic victory once they are built, and in fact can be defended against by certain factions with specific structures.
It’s important to note that “actions per minute,” or APM, isn’t an emphasis here. Players won’t need to worry very much about micromanaging their armies in the midst of an intense battle. It’s more about keeping your enemy on their toes with a strong overarching strategy, along with intelligent placements and makeups of an army.
Visually, Act of Aggression impresses. Players may not realize it, but zooming in reveals a nice level of detail given to each of the units. It can be hard, using the normal camera level, to discern between specific units which makes combating armies tougher than it needs to be.
It’s unclear whether or not Act of Aggression will have any legs to stand on within a few months. The player count hovers around the 1,000 to 2,000 range at any given time and I’ve had no shortage of players to compete against online. The larger price tag is likely limiting its playerbase, and it can be hard to justify due to the lackluster single-player option.
This might not be the prophet of the next wave of “golden-era” RTS games, but it’s a fresh entry to a genre that desperately needs it. It’s one of the few games that has truly made me feel like a strategist, and changes the way I approach familiar situations when playing online. For those only interest in single-player, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. If online multiplayer or even AI skirmishes are all you need, Act of Aggression delivers a wonderful product.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]