Review: Massive Assault Network 2 (PC)

GAME: Massive Assault Network 2
DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Wargaming.net
PLATFORMS: Windows 2000 or higher
GENRE: Turn Based Strategy
RELEASE DATE: November 17th, 2006
COMPANY WEBSITE: http://www.massiveassaultnetwork.com

As the former administrator on the Internet’s largest English based Fire Emblem community, and a noted fan of games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre and Dynasty Tactics, it’s easy to see that I have an affinity to turn based strategy games. Everything from Fire Emblem to chess, any chance I have to show that I’m smarter than other people, I tend to jump all over it.

Therefore, it was fair to assume that when the opportunity to review this game came up, I jumped on it like a mangy dog humping the first leg he sees. Turn based strategy? Against humans? Sign me up!

Looking at screenshots, I did, however, have to ask a couple questions, the first one being, namely, “are you sure this is turn based?”; everything looks, acts, walks, talks and moves like a real time strategy game in Massive Assault Network 2 (henceforth known as MAN2). Personally, I never have been a fan of RTS, nor will I ever be; they’re just not my cup of tea, and when it comes to online play, the people that play RTS games tend to border on fanatical, and aren’t afraid to let you know it. I’ve never liked punching my computer screen for lack of a person to hit, as monitors and doctors bills are expensive, so therefore, I tend not to venture into that foray.

However, this definitely is a turn based game, much in the same way that the aforementioned favourites of mine are. When it comes to online play, this falls into the game’s favour, as this game, unlike it’s predecessor, is solely based on it’s online play; there is no one player mode to speak of. The concentration on it’s online play is not only the best thing this game has going for it, it’s also it’s biggest detriment.

What you’re left with is something TBS gamers like myself have been waiting for for a long time: a chance to test their wartime skills against opponents from around the world, in an environment that places an emphasis on planning and cunning, with a touch of luck thrown in. However, there are some issues which drag the overall quality of the game down considerably, and prevents me from giving it a full out recommendation, even to strategy fans.


STORY

About two hundred years into the future, two advanced civilizations, the “Free Nations Union” and the “Phantom League”, are warring over supremacy over newly discovered planets in the outer reaches of the universe, using the newest weapons on land, sea and air.

That’s it. There’s your story. What, you want a deep, resounding storyline that will affect you for years and lead you to tell it to your grandchildren? Then pick up FF Tactics. If you want a shittier version of that, then pick up FF Tactics Advance.

There’s no hidden meaning to this game; no historical references, no plot twists, no Vince Russo-esque swerves. I had to look at a press release to so much as get the little bit of story that I gave you above (and as the game was developed in Russia, even THAT was Engrished).

This works both for and against MAN2; on the one hand, it seems a little empty to people like me that were weened on FFT and Tactics Ogre; even most of the Fire Emblem games are light reading compared to those tomes. But on the plus side… there are no distractions. This is definitely a gamer’s game, and since you’re basically playing an Chess-like game, it works out that the two games have similar stories (read: none).

If storylines are important to your game playing experience, then stop reading this review right now; this game isn’t for you. If it is? Then factor this score out. Simple as that.

STORY: 1/10


GRAPHICS

Like I said before, this game looks a lot like a Real Time Strategy game, in the way it looks, and the way everything moves. This is a good thing; TBS games tend to be bare bones simply by nature, due to the fact that statistics are always more important than the way the game looks, and the simple fact of the matter is that you could play most strategy games with pen, some paper and a calculator if you wanted to do so.

There are some very minor issues with the graphics; there are some jaggies, and some models tend to dissapear in the environments (like the remains of a tank partially disappearing into the ground); if this were a game where the focus was on the graphics, then this would be a problem, but it’s not, and even as such, there’s nothing here that’s going to get in your way.

On the positive side, the planets, though barren of any life whatsoever, do give off a nice atmousphere, and explosions look good; the larger battles look good when viewed as replays, when moves blend into each other. And best of all, the graphics look decent without having to have a high-end graphics card.

Long story short, MAN2 won’t blow you away with it’s graphical appeal, but it’s still a good looking enough game for what it is.

GRAPHICS: 6/10


SOUND

The music that plays during the entire game – weather you’re in a menu or actually in the game – is fairly generic wartime stuff; dramatic, operatic instrumentals, like you’d hear in a war movie’s action scenes. Not bad, but some innovation here would have been nice.

There are a few voices to be heard, mostly in the game’s tutorial mode. I’ll be nice and say that the voiceovers are “retro”, much like the ones you would hear in Night Trap, or any other Sega CD game. Someone much meaner than myself would say that the voiceovers were horrible; forced lines, bad accents, and poor quality overall. The guy’s voice in the tutorial is the highest of unintentional comedy, and the two females on both the P.L. and P.N.U. sides are not much better. Considering where the game comes from, I guess it’s to be expected, and old school CD game fans like myself can use it as a reminder when this kind of thing was expected, but unfortunately, our game voices are no longer expected to sound like the developing company brought in a hobo off the street and handed him a script and a bottle of Jack Daniels, and therefore, I have to ding it.

SOUND: 3/10


CONTROL/GAMEPLAY

The first thing anyone that tries this game will have to do is go through the tutorial, to explain how units move, and the other rules this game has. Anyone not familiar with Massive Assault, a brief rundown: Depending on the size of the map, there are a set number of countries; for the sake of this example, let’s say there are eight. Now, some of those countries belong to you, some belong to your opponent, and some are neutral. Here’s the kicker: your opponent doesn’t know what is what at the beginning, and vice versa. During your first turns, each of you will disclose one of your countries, called “Secret Allies”. Once you do this, depending on the size of the country, you get a set amount of credits to recruit vehicles for your side. Some of your vehicles – land, sea or air – are small, weak but cheap, some are large and powerful, and some are for long range fighting; depending on which side you are, they have different names, but they all have the same stats. After you recruit, you have a choice of where to put them – anywhere in that country – and where to move them. If you choose, you can have your units invade a neighbouring country, at which time, guerrilla forces for your opponent can be placed down and attack your units. Also, if you invaded a secret ally of your opponent, those units can be used to attack your forces in addition to the guerrilla forces, rending your invasion useless. To move, simply click your unit, and click on a resulting circle in range; to fire, click on any opponent’s unit inside your vehicle’s fire range, shown with a red circle around your unit’s vehicle. After the combat phase, any country that you have total control of (read: no enemy units within) gets a set amount of currency, depending on the size of the country; that currency can be used to recruit new units. If you conquer a neutral country, you get it’s currency, and if you capture a country that was a secret ally, you get an large indemnity, depending on the size of the country. And here’s the fun part: the secret allies of both you and your opponent are determined randomly, and different each time you play; realistically, someone could have fun doing nothing but playing the demo map, as they’ll get a different game each time.

Actually playing the game is easy; a very simple click interface, and mistakes are easily covered up by using the undo/rewind buttons (your turn isn’t fully over until you end the phase). Moving the map’s camera can be a bit of a problem; the edges of the map aren’t necessarily responsive, and the way to rotate the camera – move the mouse while holding in your scroll wheel – is unbelievably touchy. This can be alleviated in your options by setting the camera to fixed, however.

The issue here is the difficulty of the game. It’s a hard game to learn, and that’s not made any easier by the practise bots. Depending on who you play against – it could be Emily, the F.N.U. girl that looks like she just got done picking apples in a field, or Kate, the dark mistress from the P.L. who looks like she’d be more comfortable with some handcuffs and a strap on – the computer opponent is vicious. There are no difficulty settings; you get one choice, which I’ve conveniently called “Fuck You Pig Shit”. It’s not so much a learning experience as it is a humbling, and quite frankly, I’d like to know where they get all those f*cking units. I have nightmares from playing against Emily; that bright, toothpaste commercial smile is misleading…

If you’re looking at playing against an A.I. other than Kate or Emily… you’re shit out of luck. Simply put, there is no offline mode to this game at all. Here’s a dirty secret for my readers: this review should have been up last week, but I lost Internet for five days (a story for another time, one I have given the working title “I Hope Comcast Goes Bankrupt And It’s CEO Chokes On A Chicken Sandwich”). OK, no problem, I just figured I’d play it offline, and get a general gist for the game while waiting for my Internet company to get their thumbs out of their asses… but there is none. Even to play the AI bots, you need to be online. This is intentional on the part of Wargaming; after each turn is done, it sends the game’s statistics to the server, where your opponent – either the computer or the human – can act at his or her convenience. While this is great for human opponents, the lack of an offline mode – vice the tutorial – is not good, and as proven, can cripple someone that loses their Internet

The game is fun to play… once you get good. And learning can be problematic considering the learning curve. Basically, put into it, and you’ll get a lot out of it. It’s like Othello: easy to learn, but very hard to master.

CONTROL/GAMEPLAY: 5/10


REPLAYABILITY

Once the learning curve is conquered, you’ll be playing this game often. Maps are generally small enough to be beaten in a day, but the fact that the game saves your progress after every turn is a huge boost to this score, as you can basically do turns at your convenience. You’re only limited by the amount of opponents there are, and while the memberbase is small for this game (estimated at 7,000 worldwide), it’s fervent; you’ll find games against good opponents.

REPLAYABILITY: 7/10


BALANCE

For anyone that’s new to the game, the game is balanced firmly against the poor unsuspecting sap that doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Anyone getting into this game can expect to lose frequently no matter who they’re playing, and to make things worse, like a chess match, most games are really decided within three turns, as one mistake will turn the battle against the person making the mistake to the point where it’s largely inevitable, even for turn after turn, as to who’s going to win the battle. This can be frustrating even for someone experienced in strategy games; for newcomers, it could turn them off to the game altogether.

If there were changeable difficulty levels for AI opponents, this would rate better. As it stands, expect to get humbled – often – should you want to get good at this game, no matter who or what you play against.

BALANCE: 3/10


ORIGINALITY

Wargaming heavily – and admittedly – borrows from it’s predecessors in the TBS genre, and did so with it’s first entry. Since MAN2 only ads a few novel changes to it’s originally established formula – one that didn’t add much to the table to begin with – there is almost no “originality” being established here.

Admittedly, this also works to the benefit of this game. I’m personally getting a little tired of my strategy games trying to add in too many innovations in order to get their games on the front display case at the local EB Games, while ruining the gameplay in the process; see FF Tactics Advance for an example as to what I’m talking about. MAN2 is like an online version of a board game, in that it has it’s set rules, you will play by them, and your 40th game will be similar, but different, from your first. Think of it as Risk with lots of kabooms.

Again, this is a rating that readers can selectively ignore if they so choose.

ORIGINALITY: 2/10


ADDICTIVENESS

While this game is highly replayable, I wouldn’t say it’s addictive; thankfully, the fact that you can essentially play one turn per sitting helps the game, as the truth of the matter was that I was ready to quit half the games I was in. Due to the fact that most battles have a very small window of turns to essentially decide the battle – when winning a battle, you’d have to screw up royally in order to lose – a lot of battles turn into the loser playing out the string, so to speak. That drains a person in that situation, and in my case, makes me want to just end the f*cking thing.

ADDICTIVENESS: 4/10


APPEAL FACTOR

This will not appeal to a wide base of gamers; the people that are going to like MAN2 are fairly hardcore, and know exactly what they want, to the point where I’m guessing that anyone that would be interested stopped reading before I even started throwing numbers around. To that group of players – a group that’s a little too small, in my opinion – this game appeals right to them; I’ve been waiting for a game like this for a long time. For the others, there’s a strong chance that they won’t want to put in the time or effort that goes into games like this.

So a game that appeals right to one group of players, but will turn off another group… falls right into the “average” scoring.

APPEAL FACTOR: 5/10


MISCELLANEOUS

What would discussion of an online game be like without discussing the way the game plays online? That’s what this is going to be.

Let me make an admission here that I might have made in different words before: I do not like online games most of the time. My PS2 is online, and I even bought a USB dongle for my DS; they have both been relatively unused for some time, as I am turned off to competing against other people by a combination of a lack of time to get good enough to compete with stereotypical, mama’s-basement losers, said losers’ lack of will to help opponents get better, and last but not least, said losers’ willingness to tell you how much you suck… or should I say, “how muhc u suk u f@gg0t”. I am sick and tired of playing against bots in WoW, Gameshark cheaters in Fight Night, and money play abusers in NHL and Madden, to the point where I just say f*ck it, and move onto something that isn’t going to make me smash my controller/keyboard against a wall.

That said, I will say this unequivocally: the online community that I have dealt with playing MAN2 is the best that I have ever seen. I was told that this is a small (by online server standards), but friendly and tight community of people that want to help each other, and I have to admit that it is 100% true so far. I have played against both Wargaming staff members and regular players, and it is an enjoyable experience both ways, as well as educational, as each match has made me a better player. The players I’ve played against have made this game 10 times more enjoyable than it would be otherwise.

It’s a good thing that’s the case, as there are no provisions in place should there be trolls. All matches – even practise matches against the Fuck You Chicks – are viewable by other players as they happen. This has proven to be a good thing so far, as I’ve gotten tips on how to play, as I played, by someone that developed the game, but there is definitely potential for someone to come in and ruin the experience, especially considering the fact that, so far, there seems to be few, if any, provisions in place to handle something like this occurring.

It’s possible to chat with anyone on the server while playing the game, even people not in your game. However, it’s not possible to see who’s online elsewhere while you’re in a game, but if you know someone’s online, and know their handle, you can private message them and chat while you play. The interface for in-game chatting with multiple people, however, is clunky and requires changing multiple menus, something that can be a pain in the neck at best, or game killing at worst, as the game’s timer doesn’t stop counting while you’re in a menu, for games that have timed turns.

There’s a rank system in place that goes up or down depending on your performance in the game. It doesn’t really matter how badly you do, however; I have had my points go up, despite the fact that I haven’t won once yet.

Finally, the full game, and a lifetime subscription to the online server, are available for $39.99 USD. I personally think that’s about $10 too high for the options this game offers; if there were a notable one player mode, I’d be up for a $40 fee, but as it is, it seems a little bit pricey, especially considering the effort that’s going to have to go into learning the game in the first place. The fact that there are no other pricing options at the current time also hurts, but to their credit, I’ve been told by Wargaming.net that they are considering adding a $20 for three month pricing option, which gives gamers more flexibility if they decide that this isn’t their cup of tea.

Overall, the community is delightful, and easily trumps any minor issues I have with the pricing of the game, and the other interface issues there might be with the online backbone.

MISCELLANEOUS: 7/10

THE SCORES:

Story: 1/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 3/10
Control/Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Aggregate: 43/100

FINAL SCORE: 4.5 (BELOW AVERAGE)

Short Attention Span Summary
Massive Assault Network 2 blazes no new territories other than having a reliable server to test wits with against other people. For what it is – an online focused strategy game – it’s decent, and will endear itself to the hardcore strategy crowd; for those people, I recommend this game, as long as the $40 price tag isn’t too much. If the price were $30, I could recommend it higher.

For people that don’t play strategy games, I don’t recommend this; the learning curve is too steep, the AI opponents are too hard, and the other assorted issues could turn you off to the genre altogether.