By David Haughton
Act of Aggression is like taking a trip down memory lane back to 2003.
The year of the London congestion charge coming in, all that Iraq bother and worst of all, Brookside finished. Not the best of years then. But at least it gave us Command and Conquer: Generals; which Act of Aggression does its damn best to be a worthy heir to its legacy.
For those not familiar, let me give you a brief overview. In Act of Aggression you play as one of three post-modern factions. First up is an underfunded, but battle hardened, US military who have the most recognisable units and a good choice for newcomers to the genre. Second, the multi-national United Nations force, Chimera, who sport a good mixture of adaptable high tech units. Lastly there is the shadowy Cartel; a criminal organisation of cutting edge tech and private military contractors.
Act of Aggression is actually a soft-sequel of sorts to 2005’s Act of War – also by Eugen Systems – and as such has some similarities to it: you can capture injured soldiers, banks can be garrisoned for extra cash income and the factions play similar to Act of War‘s. The basic gameplay is your standard C&C formula that any veteran of the genre will be familiar with. You start with a HQ and a scout unit then expand your base using nearby semi-randomized resources; building units and upgrading through the tech tree until you eventually reach superweapons like the US’s tactical nuke. There is no cover system here and scant special abilities. It’s all down to your production capability and having the right forces in the right place at the right time. Or you can screw that noise and just tank rush those fools! Or can you?
Act of Aggression takes some points from its more mature big brother, Wargame. Scouting the front line and combined arms is the name of the game here. Everything has a hard counter; I learned the hard way when my 25-strong group of M1 Abrams were utterly annihilated by four Chimera turrets and a Superhind. I think they got two shots off at best. Without a constant stream of reinforcements, the battles are quick and decisive. I found this made players unwilling to commit forces unless it was overwhelming odds, meaning a lot of games turned into turtling matches, trading artillery until a weakness is exposed. This was a feature from Wargame I hoped wouldn’t carry over too much, but I appreciate that it prevents early rushes and I can take my time a bit. Maybe its just because that’s what the playerbase is used to, and it’ll eventually correct itself as balance patches are released and tactics are developed.
Perhaps they are just like me and have to unlearn a lot of behavior from the current generation of RTS. I mean the last (good) Command and Conquer game came out in 2009 and that was a bloody expansion pack! There’s not been a “traditional” RTS since then. Starcraft is about clicks per minute and micro-managing units, which is irrelevant here. Relic gave us squads, cover systems and directional armour which are both absent here. I personally will never cope with building a singular infantry unit and having him standing out in the open like an utter pillock.
The three factions are distinct enough that you’ll have to alter your playstyle for each. The US Army is the easiest to get to grips with as each unit has a clear role so you’ll naturally know what to do with them. The UN Chimera is more defensive and its units more adaptable, with you able to branch into the “Sword” and “Shield” tech trees as needed. The Cartel is perhaps the trickiest faction to master. Their units are glass cannons and favor hit and run approaches to fighting. On the surface all three seem the same but they are subtlety different nearing the end game. Eugen would have benefited from pushing the distinction a bit more since more often than not it will boil down to Rock-Paper-Scissors in a fight.
I haven’t talked about the single player aspect yet simply because it’s terrible. There’s a skirmish mode, but the AI is questionable at best. The campaign mode is a bad Tom Clancy novel with voice acting that ranges from “Generic gruff army fella” to “Is that blood coming out my ears?” The missions themselves are like a light tutorial to the game mechanics. Expect the missions to put you in situations you’d never find yourself in online, and your units are seemingly much stronger. It’s there if you really don’t like other people I guess, but you can do better for cheaper.
Graphically, Act of Aggression is nothing special. It’s not bad; its just not got much of a distinct art style and far too many units look the same when zoomed out a bit. The effects are nice with the explosions being big and colourful, rockets leaving smoke trails and buildings having nice little details which help your base to look visually busy. The soundtrack is a generic techno-thriller fare with some hard rock riffs thrown in for good measure. Nothing that gets the blood pumping but hardly offensive.
Overall, Act of Aggression is a nice comeback for the traditional RTS. It isn’t without its flaws and some mechanics are starting to become dated (in my opinion at least) but I still had plenty of fun. It’s a nice blend of the C&C formula with some basic elements of Wargame and it comes together rather nicely. If you’re a big RTS fan and want something a bit old school then I highly recommend picking it up.