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Urban Assault

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by Microsoft
ss_ua_12.jpg (20828 bytes)Urban Assault tells the story of a dying earth that has survived a nuclear holocaust and is now being sucked dry by an alien race. You are that earth’s last hope. In order to save the planet you must first fight the Ghorkovs and the Taerkastens, rival human factions that blame you for the earth’s destruction. If you make it past them, you must then battle the alien Mykonians, and after them the even more alien Sulgogars, to save the planet. In order to do so, you must battle these forces in real-time combat. And this is real time in three dimensions, a mix of Quake and Command and Conquer all in the same package.

Urban Assault is very similar to the other two recent 3D real-time strategy games, employing as it does some of the better elements of both Uprising and BattleZone. Like these games, Urban Assault combines resource management with troop management while providing a rich 3D game world. You can also take personal control of the individual units you create and guide them through the 3D environment, adding another level of control.

Urban Assault also takes full advantage of 3D acceleration, providing the player with resolutions up to 1024x768, and under 3D the game runs relatively smoothly even at some of the higher resolutions. The graphics are excellent; vehicles and the terrain both have very detailed textures and well defined models. The very realistic tanks, planes, choppers, and buildings the game a very realistic flavor.

ss_ua_09.jpg (18604 bytes)If graphics and feel of Urban Assault are its biggest strengths, its biggest weakness is its interface. If you happen to be lucky enough to own a good joystick, then the interface is only going to be very difficult to use. Even with a great joystick, you’ll need to use the joystick and a mouse to control the game. Since the only way to do well in the game is to control units yourself in a first person game view (which requires the joystick) while commanding everyone else (which requires the mouse), you’ll often find yourself switching frantically back and forth from the joystick to mouse . If the game is difficult to control in this configuration, it’s nearly impossible using the keyboard, and those of you with an older two-button joystick ought to forget about even trying it. To use the keyboard, you need to know at least a dozen keys that you can hit at a moment’s notice. While other games--such as the MechWarrior series--have required ambidextrous players who can use all ten fingers skillfully, the keyboard commands were never as confusing as those in Urban Assault. While a player can do well playing with only the keyboard and mouse, the learning curve is steep indeed.

If you do manage climb the game’s steep learning curve, you will be rewarded with a game packed with 3D action and even a little strategy. While I expected this game to be, say, Command and Conquer in 3D, I found it lacked some important strategy elements. Unfortunately, the game operates within the all too familiar rock/paper/scissors paradigm. Helicopters beat tanks, tanks beat host stations, planes beat helicopters, anti-air tanks beat planes and helicopters, and the list goes on and on. While this is a workable formula for strategy, the AI seems to have problems implementing it. When I controlled a helicopter I found that the rock-paper-scissors effect held true. I could blast the heck out of tanks, while the anti-air tanks and planes just beat me up every time. But when the computer controlled one of these helicopters, this was not the case at all. Computer controlled units seem to forget to do things like shooting, dodging, etc. All this seems aimed at making the player take control of units, and while the constant attention you must give to first person control does endow the game with a great Quake feel, it certainly detracts from the strategy.

ss_ua_18.jpg (30123 bytes)Like many real time strategy games, Urban Assault contains a resource management system, although it seems rather simple when compared to Total Annihilation or Command and Conquer—it’s even simple compared to Uprising. In order to get resources you must hover your command center above a power station. Once you do this, you constantly have an inflow of power which goes towards creating units and absorbing hits on your host station. In order to get power to flow in more quickly, you need to conquer sectors surrounding your host station. The main problem with this system is there is no end to the power and consequently to the units you can produce. Games often seem to go on for hours with both sides frantically sending wave after wave of units at each other, simply extending the stalemate.

The multiplayer game runs well and playing some of the other factions of the game besides the resistance is definitely fun and often strange. For example, once I found myself piloting a giant cube against my opponent’s flying sticks. Oddities aside, the game provides many good multiplayer maps for two, three or four players, and the multiplayer action is fast and furious.

Terratools (the game developer) and Microsoft have created a game with fast action, great 3D graphics, and a solid campaign game. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the single player game levels and acquiring upgrades while beating mission after mission. Though it has some problems, most notably with its awkward interface and AI, Urban Assault is well put together, complex, and most of all fun.

--David Korus