The mutants’ thematic storyline is heavily embroiled in tribal lore and tradition, in social prominence through combat, and a divinely- and scientifically-inspired communion with nature. They marry concepts from logic and metaphysics, knowledge and meditation, and they do it within the societal conventions of honor and sacrifice. Take equal parts shaman and samurai and you’ll have a reasonable grasp of mutant philosophy.
While good deeds and a Boy Scout reputation deal their own kind of currency, it’s not the hard currency that pays the bills; and the mission rewards in Auto Assault keep you well-abreast of the best technology you can outfit your vehicle with, considering your level progression. You can shovel out the “clink” for that next-best trigun blaster for your front-loaded vehicle hardpoint, but completing the missions hand out so much more money and experience as to make level-grinding that much harder to engage in.
I’m a story-driven individual. I’m willing to ride out the inherent difficulties of surviving a post-apocalyptic landscape as long as the game keeps feeding me plot points. I get particularly edgy when gaps appear in level progression due to a lack of missions. And I’m downright inconsolable if I’m on a certain-level mission that is wretchedly imbalanced with overpowered enemies. Sitting around and cleaning my windshield at the local repair shop is not my idea of an afternoon of fun either, but here’s where Auto Assault takes another big risk: in death and dying.
There’s zero experience loss when you die, which, I’ll admit, gives plenty of berth for guns blazin’, balls to the walls action. Taking on damage will start to crack your health meter and send sparks shooting from your vehicle, but with so many vivid explosions and particle effects saturating the screen it’s easy to not notice you’re dying. Sound effects rage in 360-degree arcs with guns, lasers, missiles, flamethrowers, and biochemical sprays tearing up vehicles and landscape with commendable gusto. Gear shifting, grinding ground textures, and vehicular crashes (into buildings, trees, other vehicles -- nearly all of it destructible) surround you with such a cacophony of chaos that, again, the sound of your own death will simply drown in the off-key symphony of combat.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, your vehicle will serve as your coffin at several points throughout your Auto Assault career. So don’t complain too loudly if the only loss of experience comes through the agony of defeat and the embarrassment of INC picking up your smoking carcass and dropping it off at the last repair depot you visited … which might be several miles away from where you progressed on the map. Since much of the map is non-instanced, those enemies you so courageously plowed through the first time have subsequently respawned for you to face again. Then there’s the added factor that you, weak link that you are, left the rest of your convoy amidst even greater overwhelming odds to perish out there in those desert sands. No penalty for dying? There’s penalty enough.
But don’t abandon hope, all ye who enter here. There is ample time to scale-up your gameplay abilities, and for the mutants, the newbie yard is known as the Proving Grounds. After personally accepting to follow The Way, my mutant mentors commend me with the respect due a Champion of the tribes, and they opened the horn-rimmed gates for me to proceed to these Proving Grounds and begins my Rites of Ascension.
A short video implored me to “witness the glory” of the nuclear-blasted landscape, excellently narrated with movie-trailer panache (“It began in fire. It will end in fire), and gradually pans into the third-person camera that I’ll be directing the destructive action from.
I comprehend that I’m now existing in a scorched earth campaign, but the land shouldn’t be devoid of striking or even beautiful sights and sensations -- it should douse me with the shock and awe of the insurmountable devastation; I should be moved by Sodom and Gomorrah-levels of ruin; I want to shake my head at the painful realization that this could truly be a heart rending portrait of our Earth a few centuries from now.
Instead, I’m somewhat impressed by the arcade-y nature of the landscape and the few other dull comparisons my mind is dishing up. The gameworld’s wreckage doesn’t approach the hellish pileups you can witness in a Constantine, or a Mad Max, or a Terminator film. It’s not completely unprecedented to compare a videogame to a movie, these types of movies are the obvious inspiration for Auto Assault, and for some reason the filmic quality of Auto Assault doesn’t aptly earn my Roger Ebert thumbs up. Maybe it earns my Richard Roeper thumbs up, but we all know the difference.
There’s no requirement for this title to go extra large on their architecture and landscaping as, say, the concept artists in World of Warcraft do. Nor do they have to create the fantastical sheen of a Guild Wars instance. But the structures that make up the outposts and towns in Auto Assault appear somewhat shrunken down in scale: Like the players are oversized micro machines driving circles around zoomed-in RTS structures. The towns are even set up like an RTS base, which, on one hand makes perfect strategic sense for the struggling races, and indeed makes short work of commuting on foot, but nonetheless takes a dainty bite out of the immersion factor. Buildings that are, externally, the size of a gas station mini-mart suddenly expand to the size of a soccer field when you walk inside of them. And only a strategic bare minimum of structures exist. Old World buildings, still standing or not, are rarely-inspired rectangles of rusty steel and concrete. You gotta make me a believer, and I’m not buying 100 percent of what I’m seeing.
Hell with it. Let’s blow something up already.
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