Massive Assault -- Any Impressions?

I just saw a couple of reviews for this turn-based sci-fi game (seems to feature tanks and mechs) in combat with no research, tech, or diplomacy:

The two reviews seem fairly positive. Anyone have impressions of it? It looks like this might be a little TBS sleeper that slipped under my radar - I was thinking of picking up Warlord IV later this week but now I am wondering if I want Massive Assault instead.

Any thoughts?


It’s simplistic, but a lot of fun. Think of Total Annihiliation, but in turn-based form. It’s also damned beautiful. If you like simple, yet tactically enjoyable futuristic wargames, this will be a lot of fun for you.

Of course Matrix Games has thoughtfully declined to provide a demo.

Boy that sucks. I guess I’ll have to pirate it and decide if I want to pay for it after.

It looks like a RTS.

How is the combat played out in a turn based system?

We wanted to sign this game, but the developer took the first offer he got. <shrug> I hope it does well, 'cuz this game is a lot of fun.

Basically, each scenario plays out the same way: You are given an objective, usually to take over the enemy base in an adjacent sector. You plot out your actions (place/buy/move/attack etc.) and then hit end turn. All actions are executed and then it’s lather, rinse, repeat until only one side is left standing.

Thing is, the graphics are much better than you’d expect (the unit design is great, the animations are terrific and it’s all in nice 3D), the units are varied and balanced and the strategy is quite deep. The enemy AI is VERY clever, and if you’re not thinking several turns ahead you are toast. Comparisons to chess would not be unfounded.

I’m no reviewer, and I only played an early beta build wayyyy back before E3, but I would totally recommend this game to strategy fans. I’ll be picking it up.

{Disclaimer: This is based on about 5-6 hours of playing around with the gold master a few weeks ago. I didn’t have enough time to really confirm the conclusions below. This is not a review!}

I agree with Brian that it’s a neat little game. It may look like an RTS from a cursory look at screenshots, but it’s actually turn-based in the most classic sense of the word. It’s basically a boardgame with really polished 3D graphics. It feels a lot like the Battle Isle games, with a bit of Empire thrown in.

There is about a page of backstory in the manual so I may not be doing justice to the extensive motivations for why two factions with the same basic types of units are at war with each other, but the non-fiction part of the game works pretty well. You have cities which generate production points ($), with which you buy units. The units are rated for movement, damage, hitpoints, and range. Players take turns moving/firing all of their units (a unit moves, then fires).

Combat resolution has no chance element, so a light armored vehicle will always do one point of damage, a tank will always do two, a rocket launcher will do three, etc. Because of this, and the fact that units can only move, fire, or move/fire (but not fire and then move), it plays like a boardgame where you can undo, redo, or take back any number of moves (since there will never be any “re-rolls”). The interface does a great job of letting you click around and adjust things without having to hit a bunch of buttons: if you try to move a unit which has already fired, the game will let you know that the fire will be undone. You can click on any unit to undo its move, or sequentially “rewind” through your turn so that units don’t block each other in taking back their moves.

Like Brian said, it feels like chess in that slight differences between moves can make a big difference. An enemy “heavy bot” may have three hitpoints left, and you have two tanks that can kill it. You’re wasting one damage point in that case, so you may want to bring in an LAV to finish the bot off and use the second tank for something else. The game encourages the kind of endless pondering of moves that some people find totally engrossing and others find excruciatingly boring.

There are a number of neat mechanics that make the choices more varied: maps are divided up into nations of one city each, and if you violate a neutral nation’s territory, the other player can use that nation’s resources to build “guerrilla units” which he controls. At the beginning of the game you’re assigned “secret allies” (in the form of neutral nations) and disclose them throughout the game, whereupon you get to place that nation’s units and they join your side.

The maps are pretty varied, with different amount of water affecting the types of units you build. The unit mix is reasonably broad, but limited enough to give you clear-cut production decisions to make.

With all that said, some things bothered me about this game. First, the combination of movement rates and map terrain can lead to a lot of congestion in the middle game, much like on the strategic map of the original Shogun: Total War. Ranged units have a big advantage when this happens, and because a unit can only move before it fires, it’s hard to take advantage of fast units like tanks. The decision to have light armored vehicles move half as fast as tanks, do half as much damage, cost half as much, yet have only 20% fewer hitpoints leads to some weird situations and contributes to this congestion. This makes the game feel even more like a boardgame because there is no “raiding” in the sense of striking quickly and then withdrawing: everything is very set-piece.

Second, the units themselves suffer from that “generic sci-fi” look and feel that makes the game feel a bit bland. The factions have exactly the same kind of units (just different names and slightly different models), which just accentuates the whole boardgame thing. There aren’t really any hooks besides the general game concept.

This game will probably get some Moonbase-Commander-style reviews where someone will play the free copy he got that day for five minutes and complain about how the turns are “stupid” or how he hates that there are bombers but not fighters, or that it’s just not the game he was hoping it would be after looking at the box. There may be real balance issues, or the gameplay problems I saw in the midgame may go away with better play. Who knows - maybe a real reviewer will figure this out. It kind of feels like a game I’d imagine Kevin Perry and Jason Lutes coming up with together over lunch at the Shadow Watch Revival Society.

Two small corrections to this: You don’t plot your moves and then have them executed. You just move each unit sequentially. Move your tank, fire your tank. Move your rocket launcher, fire your rocket launcher. When you’re done, you purchase new units, and then it’s your opponent’s turn to move/fire his entire army (+navy + air force).

Also, while there are scenarios which are pretty small and are limited to taking over a single base or defending a single territory, there are much larger “world war” games in which you have allies and need to fight over large amounts of territory. This is where the game is like Empire. When I was trying the game out, it seemed like a lot depended on which countries ended up as your allies: if you got a good placement, your could quickly take over a neutral and then gang up on the next country. The smallest of the world war maps took me an hour. The next larger one I never finished. There are also some campaigns where you start with small scenarios (defend this city and take back that city) and build up to much larger ones, but I didn’t get far in those. Because of the way the system works (no luck) the scenarios seem pretty much puzzle games.

Anyway, the game may have changed a lot since Brian saw it at E3, so I wanted to clarify those two things. Also, the woman with the Russian accent who tells you that you forgot to move a unit or that you haven’t purchased any reinforcements sounds pretty sexy. Much better than Flanker 2.0. The whole interface is just rock and roll.

Actually, Bruce, it’s more likely that I’m just a dunderhead and forgot exactly how things worked. :oops: Thanks for setting things straight.

And I can’t believe they kept the Russian woman! I totally would have re-recorded her v/o if we had released the game! It’s awful.