Base-building real time strategy games are becoming somewhat rarer as time goes on, even on the PC platform. Thankfully, Eugen Systems, developers of Act of War and R.U.S.E., step up to fill the strange absence with Act of Aggression, which scratches an itch with its Command and Conquer Generals style of gameplay. While these types of RTS games are usually quite fun for a quick campaign romp, online play typically lives and dies by unit balance. How does Act of Aggression fare in this regard? Let’s find out.
Since Act of Aggression plays a lot like Command and Conquer: Generals, it warrants a lot of comparisons to such a game. For those who never played an RTS, or perhaps for those who think that Command and Conquer was a line used in 50 Shades of Grey, these type of games are played by creating a base, dedicating time and effort to gathering resources. You establish refineries, create power plants to provide electricity to buildings constructed in your base, while the aforementioned buildings give you access to tanks, infantry, jets or helicopters, as well as upgrades for everything mentioned earlier. On the subject of upgrades, some enhancements are listed in the upgrade menu of *other* upgrades, so you had best enjoy such a thing if you play Act of Aggression. This game puts upgrades in your upgrades, so you can upgrade while you upgrade, dawg.
Eugen System’s pedigree in reference to accessibility in real time strategy is quite substantial, from which they’ve departed in this particular RTS iteration. Eugen’s prior works consisted of games that, while being incredibly complex, were still approachable by a fair number of people by eliminating barriers new players to the genre would experience, such as simplifying ways for players to get a view of the battlefield. Such a system (which was previously in R.U.S.E.) is suspiciously absent from Act of Aggression, which is more view-restricted and focuses more on macro-management. There are tons of icons, building and unit upgrades that require the player either experiment and figure out what works best in each situation, or the player has to search up a guide to read for the sole sake of figuring out what all of the incomprehensible icons mean, just like a lot of traditional RTS titles.
For those just wanting to jump right in and play, some aspects of the game may cause endless consternation at first. For example, the first time researching an ability upgrade, you have to go to each individual unit you want to have said ability and click through their upgrade menu as well. While this is typical fare of older, more traditional entries in the genre, it is a little on the archaic side nowadays. It is also important to note, however, that the added costs for unlockable upgrades (researching it and then the cost to apply per unit) are another aspect used in balancing the game. Of course, balance issues are present but form a wholly separate issue altogether.
There are three separate factions in the game that players can play as: the US, Cartel and the Chimera, with each having significant departures from one another in play style during the building and offense phases. Infantry can capture buildings or enemy units for use as prisoners, even gaining revenue from them by building prisons (I don’t understand how this works, since it seems to be the exact opposite of the Debtor’s Prisons from the mid-19th century).
Deploying the correct resources are needed for each scenario. For example, filling up a building with snipers upgraded with anti-material rifles can stop main battle tanks without significant effort, while anti air batteries will stop the helicopters that the snipers couldn’t otherwise handle. A lot of upgraded infantry can make it so that all but the best armored vehicles are obsolete, though this may be addressed in future balance patches (as infantry can take 8+ shots by main battle tanks, depending on which units are compared).
One thing that can clearly be said about Act of Aggression is that the game is very pretty game, especially considering its genre. With a large number of the graphical options turned up, no matter zoomed out or in, the visuals are simply a treat to look at on higher settings. The environments look superb, dust and various effects are a plentiful constant which, though they may sometimes make confirming what type of enemy you’re about to attack more difficult (lots of RTS games have a rock-paper-scissors system for countering specific strategies or units). Unfortunately, a lot of the units, such as the tanks, for example, look very much the same so sometimes distinguishing exactly which faction’s tank you’re attacking is troublesome. The audio is decent enough, with the sound effects being the better part of this as the music is extremely forgettable, with nothing in particular coming to mind even after hours of play.
Act of Aggression is a traditional RTS in an age where resource gathering was thought to be a thing of the past. A lot of casual RTS titles sometimes don’t require players to scout around the map to find resources, where in this game it’s paramount to success. Several RTS games have great pathing AI, so that units can find their way from one rampant mouse click to the next, while in Act of Aggression, sometimes units arbitrarily get lost or get caught on vehicles on the map. The story is very obviously not the focus of the game’s campaign mode, as a lot of terms or names will be regurgitated to the player- often with no context.
There is online versus play for those who would enjoy it. In my personal experience with it, playing online caused more frustration than anything else as, sometimes, the game would just completely desynchronize the players. In the middle of two games, a friend I was playing with would ask why I wasn’t doing anything for a long while, only for me to reply that half of his base was gone and ask why he wasn’t trying to stop my assault. The same happened in reverse, as well, and there wasn’t a lot of helpful information to try and solve such an issue.
Eugen Systems has a great track record of producing above-standard RTS games, but Act of Aggression rides the fence on what would be considered a great or mediocre game. Those who enjoy multiplayer real time strategy play can get a lot of mileage out of this game should it be something that would fit your fancy: The online service is still fairly active with players. Balance patches and bug fixes, the majority of which were serviced for online multiplayer, are regularly being rolled out by Eugen Systems.
While it’s no Command and Conquer: Generals, Act of Aggression is still quite the decent RTS, albeit lacking in a substantial polish. As it stands, the game may not be worth the full $45 price tag, though with more bug fixes, Act of Aggression may very well become one of the best RTS titles in years since the online play is genuinely fun…when it works.