The Real-Time Strategy genre of video games continues to grow each and every year. There was a time when RTS games where the only reason you would ever own a PC that could run games. Classic titles like the Command & Conquer series, Dune, Z, KKND, StarCraft and many more would give you the tools to build powerful armies and crush anyone who stands in your way. It was just as fulfilling and fun to spam hundreds of tanks and mow down enemies, as it was to plan your attack carefully while coming up with cunning tactics for a precision attack. These classic titles and many others paved the way for the standard that modern RTS games would eventually meet.
Even today great RTS titles like Company of Heroes 2 and StarCraft 2 set the bar for what real strategy gaming should be all about: intensity, excitement and victory. Now developers Eugen Systems along with publishers Focus Home Interactive have released their own theater of war for the strategy enthusiast. It’s the spiritual successor to Eugen’s earlier RTS game Act of War: Direct Action and promises to be a throwback to the RTS classics of the 90’s, complete with resource collecting, base building, unit upgrading and cheesy acting from characters. Assemble the men Commander; it’s time to take the fight to the enemy with Act of Aggression.
You’ll get to play as 3 very powerful and fearsome factions in the US Army, Chimera, and Cartel. The US Army includes battle hardened and experienced soldiers that can withstand more punishment than their rivals. The Chimera is a UN military faction with large and diverse units capable of fulfilling all roles. The Cartel is a technologically advanced private military company who has unprecedented access to stealth technology. The gameplay is reminiscent of classic RTS games like Command & Conquer or Dune.
Every battle begins with a handful of troops, a forward base, and the need to begin operations as soon as possible before your rivals arrive. You’ll start off of with basic infantry units and vehicles that can hold their own, but will unable to withstand attacks from much stronger units. Therefore, you’ll be required to gather resources with refineries to create new buildings that provide power, new units, and acquire upgrades. There are three resource types needed to fund your war effort: Aluminum, Oil and Rare Earth Elements. Oil is converted into currency while Aluminum and Rare Earth Elements are needed to afford specialized units, obtained by upgrading each of the faction’s structure. You can even gain some resources by capturing enemy combatants on the field.
Soon you’ll be developing mighty tanks, jet fighters, rocket-launcher vehicles, gunships, anti-aircraft vehicles, deadly defensive structures, and super weapons complete with upgradable equipment including healing of other units, interference with enemy missile fire, passenger accommodation or increased range and damage. Zooming out completely of the battlefield gives you a tactical view. Resource buildings are highlighted in yellow, friendlies are in blue, and enemies are in red. Tactical view allows a much wider view of the field, enabling you to make more tactical decisions like troop positioning, building placement, and planning attacks.
Keep in mind, immediately getting the best units on the field doesn’t mean the battle will automatically turn in your favor. Factions have exploitable weaknesses which when opened, can lead to disastrous outcomes. For example, US Army bases require a lot of electricity to run, especially defense systems. Pull the plug on their power source and it’s all over. Also their units while tough are not as advanced in technology as their rivals. The Chimera have a heavy reliance on currency and if that supply is cut off they’ll have a much harder time producing new units. The units themselves can’t specialize in anything and may have a harder time facing tougher opponents. The Cartel needs more resources than the other two factions and if all the resources are cut off they won’t stand a chance. Build up a strong supply of resources, upgrade your units and march them straight to the frontlines to keep the upper hand and drive your enemies into the sea.
Watching battles unfold is always a fun and thrilling experience just like watching battles in classic RTS games. The battlefield lights up with gunfire, tank shells, artillery, and other chaotic instruments of war while units are blown away, buildings collapse and the overall warzone is complete chaos. The adrenaline and excitement pulls you in as you order infantry to occupy buildings, send tanks to the front, and launch an artillery barrage while continuously gathering materials to fund the war effort. You’ll be coming up with ingenious tactics giving your opponents no quarter and decimating them entirely. The thrill and fun comes from successfully repelling attacks on your base, harvesting resources, and securing buildings with infantry for added effectiveness before building up your own massive strike force to return the favor and claim victory in battle.
AoA captures the spirit of classic RTS games rather well. It feels like you’re playing an RTS game released in the time of earlier Command & Conquer games. The game is fast paced, action-packed, and will push your strategic skills to the limit. It’s not all fun and games in this theater of war however, as there are some jarring issues with the game that prevent it from surpassing the same games it pays homage too.
The Cartel and Chimera have their own story driven campaigns where you’ll be carrying out missions to uncover conspiracies and endless battlefronts. Unfortunately, campaigns don’t really seem to get much focus as cutscenes are very short and characters are represented by nothing more than badly delivered voice acting and a still image. The missions themselves are rather boring and all they really do is teach you how to use new units and discover new upgrades. The campaigns are really just a warm-up for the skirmish and multiplayer modes where you’ll really be sinking into the action. Skirmish mode has many maps to choose from with multiple AI difficult settings and the option to toggle super weapons on or off. A fast paced multiplayer is also on offer, with up to 8 players duking it out for supremacy. Those who take it more seriously will be able to compete for the top of the ranked ladder.
There also seems to be too much handholding when controlling units. Their attack range is surprisingly short excluding the artillery units and they only seem to react when the enemy is right on top of them blasting them in a hail of ordnance. Having them react faster would help in situations where the enemy is between you and your destination. Vehicles can attack as they move while infantry constantly need to be told who and what to attack if their enemy isn’t within their short range. It’s also rather cumbersome to keep track of the units when they’re sprawled all over the map doing various tasks. Even tactical mode doesn’t do a good job of telling you what units you have on the field and where they are.
Act of Aggression takes the classic formula of RTS, stays true to it, and brings this dynamic into the new generation of gaming. It does indeed feel like a RTS of the 90’s down to the military sci-fi setting, colorful maps, whacky units, cheesy acting, and intense, fast-paced and exciting battles.
There are unfortunately things holding back this otherwise enjoyable and fun game. The campaigns are weak, units constantly need handholding, and keeping track of your forces is quite a task. Hopefully these problems and others can be addressed further down the road with expansions and patch updates. Luckily, the good things this game has to offer is enough to keep any RTS enthusiast ready and rearing for their next battle. Grab this game, choose a side, ready the men and get ready to play out your own Act of Aggression.
This review was based on a review code of Act of Aggression for the PC provided by Eugen Systems.