French developer Eugen Systems takes to the real-time strategy scene once again with Act of Aggression. Known for Act of War, Wargame and R.U.S.E, Eugen aims to rekindle the golden age of the RTS genre by bringing back the gameplay mechanics popularized during the 1990 to early 2000’s era of games.

Put simply, Act of Aggression is a throwback to the good ol’ days of RTS where you collect resources, build a base with said gatherings and then proceed to assemble an army until you’re confident it’s large enough to obliterate your opponents. Ah, sweet nostalgia.

But of course, we’re not in the nineties, and as such Act of Aggression does not fall short of modern game elements. Throughout the campaign, the player comes across neat cut scenes of news reports and sequences replicating something you might expect to see in Mission Impossible, complete with hacking terminals as if you were at the helm of a covert military operation. The whole thing sort of reminded me of Battlefield 4’s cutscenes, with its merciless lens flares and that cliché terminal font.

Players have a range of factions to choose from: U.S. Army, Cartel and Chimera, each with their own diverse range of tech and weaponry. Each faction approaches different tasks in their own individual manner. For example, the U.S. Army takes the most simplistic route in that they charge down their enemies with brute force. The Cartel employ stealth to surreptitiously weave their way through enemy defenses with prototype technology such as cloaking fields. Lastly, the Chimera are the most versatile of the three, with more complicated battle techniques that require the player to use both offensive and defensive mechanics.

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Upon loading up the first Campaign mission for the Cartel you’re thrown in to the deep end in a rather sink-or-swim situation. You’re prompted to move through a war-torn town whilst keeping on your guard (obvious violence ensues). After being met with my first enemies, I approach them without any sense of strategy or game mechanics as, well, I haven’t been told these things. Needless to say my troops shred through said enemy without a bat of an eyelid. It’s this kind of wandering into the unknown style of gameplay that really takes you back to the roots of the RTS genre. You’re almost set up for failure, and the only way you’re going to advance is through trial and error.

There is no clear template ever set out for you in Act of Aggression- no set rules. In order to become accustomed to the games many nooks and crannies, the player should let their cursor wander as if searching for hidden jewels buried within an intricate maze, and voilà. Like a metal detector to a treasure chest, the cursor lights up and the player can interact with said object, whether it be rallying troops into a building for a vantage point, or capture a prisoner of war, there’s always something new to discover.

It’s this learning element that also makes Act of Aggression replayable. You find yourself thinking ‘I wish I knew that before’, and ‘that would have been useful back then’.

Strategies become clearer as you make your way through the campaign, little snippets you will have missed before that makes you go back and tear through the missions, wondering why you ever had any difficulty completing it before.

Eugen have been known for revolutionizing the RTS scene, and R.U.S.E was one game that contributed to this. By casting aside boundaries set by the genre, Eugen created a god’s-eye view with no limitations on what you can and can’t see. With Act of Aggression, Eugen suppressed their thirst for new mechanics and instead brought back the ‘fog of war’, meaning the player can’t see areas when they both don’t own it and their forces cannot see it. This is where scouting comes in. Similar to games such as the Civilization franchise, armies need to constantly scout in order to establish where resources are located and where the enemy is. If a player fails to do so there’s no telling when they may be ruthlessly attacked with no one in place to do anything about it. Also, resources are a vital element for building and expanding your base, and in turn, your army. There are no gimmicky energy levels to maintain, just good old-fashioned money and resources.

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Though you might be thinking now- it’s almost too good to be true. So where’s the catch? Well, there’s one vital aspect that Act of Aggression really slips up on: its story. The U.S. Army campaign is great, with an interesting narrative that offers a rewarding touch where it’s due. The same can’t be said for the Chimera and Cartel factions, however. There are no clear objectives made apparent in either campaigns, and you feel like you’re playing just for the sake of playing. That’s just not quite good enough, especially for a single player game. Accompanied by lackluster voice acting, it seems Eugen’s plate of narrative creativity is bone dry with its latest release.

That said, the main source of enjoyment from Act of Aggression stems from its gameplay and how well Eugen Systems goes about its mechanics, leaving the player with a gratifying experience. After breaching the towering wall that is the formidable learning curve, I learned to appreciate Act of Aggression in all its magnificent glory.

Graphics wise it’s everything a modern game should be and more. During extensive battles it becomes a joy to sit back and marvel at the events unfolding- missiles eradicate buildings in the most splendid explosive displays, squadrons navigate through battle-scarred landscapes and rain bullets upon their enemies, and tanks let loose their artillery, destroying everything in their path, all with unmistakable detail. The eye is never given a moment to rest as there’s always some aesthetically-pleasing group of pixels that’s a spectacle to look at.

You may have realized I haven’t mentioned an obvious classic to compare Act of Aggression to. I am of course talking about Command and Conquer. That’s simply because Act of Aggression is Command and Conquer – reimagined and rectified in the most glorious of ways.

Great map design, diversity in faction and weaponry choice and a traditional resource-based building structure all come together to make Act of Aggression an overall great experience to play. So to those fans of the RTS scene or just anyone who’s looking for a refreshing throwback to the origins of said genre, I’d certainly recommend Act of Aggression for the sole reason that it is a fantastic game, given you have the time to learn why.

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