There was a time when real-time strategy games ruled the PC gaming landscape along with first person shooters. Back then, players were treated to a new offering almost every week, from obscure releases like Total Annihilation to popular series such as Command & Conquer. Act of Aggression harkens back to the good old days by taking more than a few notes off of the now defunct Westwood Studios’ playbook. In this case, anyone who enjoyed Command & Conquer: Generals should feel right at home with this title.
Taking place in the near future, Act of Aggression features an odd, convoluted plotline. What originally began as a separatist movement in New Mexico soon reveals a much deeper conspiracy involving three factions, the brute-force US army, a stealthy military cartel and the mysterious Chimera who take a more balanced approach to their military force. Anyone looking to relive the old glory days of live-action cheesy FMV cutscenes will doubtlessly be disappointed, rather, the story is told via dialog and fast-moving slideshows. Moreover, the plot itself is needlessly confusing and offers little motivation to press forward, luckily gameplay more than makes up for this.
Base-building and resource gathering takes prominence in Act of Aggression, players are expected to erect new edifices, each serving a different purpose and expand onto locations where it’s easier to gather resources. Base and unit construction requires four variables, money, aluminum, rare earth and electricity, the latter of which in only needed for buildings. Map resources are finite, forcing players to expand their base of operations to new locations as they move from one refinery to the next. Each faction also places a different focus on how they are utilized, as some place a greater emphasis on electricity than others, thereby limiting your base-expansion options.
Act of Aggression foregoes standard rock-paper-scissors combat, rather each military force is balanced through more complicated means. The US army employs tanks and other brute-force methods, but these come at an expense while the cartel focuses mostly on stealthy, fast-hitting units with low resilience, requiring more micro-management but having a decided advantage when strategizing for quick strikes or hit-and-run tactics. Cartel infantry units can be more fragile, but they offer a “life insurance” upgrade in which the player is refunded half of the unit’s training costs upon their death.
On foot soldiers can also take cover in buildings providing strategic advantages. Some edifices like banks can produce a steady stream of resources so long as enough units are controlling it. Should a unit’s health meter be exhausted, there’s a chance it will survive, but become either wounded or surrender to the opposing force. Any soldiers captured provide you with an income bonus. Any of your forces who surrender or become incapacitated require you to send a healer so as to have them return to the player’s army.
The view field is what you would expect for any RTS title, but players who desire a more strategic view can zoom out further and turn on satellite view. This mode darkens most of the map and highlights all viewable units and buildings, trading off eye-candy for the best possible tactical view.
Avid readers may notice I have yet to address multiplayer, the reason for this is that sadly, Act of Aggression’s online community is dwindling fast. In theory, matches with up to eight players can be arranged, but expect long waiting times in the lobby. Oddly enough, Act of Aggression prompts players to log into Eugen Systems’ servers every time you start the game. At first it may appear this is a requirement to engage in both single player and multiplayer portions of the game, though thankfully, that is not the case, you can continue a campaign or begin a skirmish match without an internet connection.
A.I. adversaries offer a good challenge on both campaign and skirmish matches, however, it may not be entirely off of its strategic merits. While I can’t confirm this, I was often left with the feeling that computer-controlled foes were either privy to infinite resources or regular lump sums to compensate for the lack of human skill.
It’s not likely Act Of Aggression will revolutionize RTS games, a struggling online community during its first month already seals its fate as a competitive strategy title. However, this isn’t just a solid entry into the genre, it’s possibly one of best traditional real-time strategy games we’ve had in years.
Act Of Aggression was reviewed on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Eugen Systems
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release date: September 2nd
Price: $44.99 via Steam