Auto Assault - Diary Two

Article

posted 8/4/2006 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC

Enemy encounters in Auto Assault are frenzied and often bewildering exercises.  Your opponent’s vehicles spin off in hurried directions, gunfire erupts from shell-shucking turrets, and, often enough to notice, your enemies get stuck behind some stubborn hunk of blasted debris, or they turn n’ burn their wheels up a precarious slope in a futile attempt to take evasive action.

There are countless ways for your own vehicle to be slowed down or stopped while fighting, even while just taking a Sunday afternoon cruise.  But in this end-of-the-world backdrop, standing still equals death.  Keeping your vehicle in constant motion applies defense bonuses during combat (or so I’ve read; it’s pretty tough to do the math in the middle of a firefight.)  The turreted weapon affixed to your roof is hot keyed to lock onto an opponent, but actually nailing your target is determined by your character’s skills and some behind-the-scenes dice rolling.  It’s pretty easy to forget that fact when you’re in the heat of combat with an enemy in your cone of fire -- unloading your guns for all their worth -- and you only see the words Miss, Miss, Miss, Deflected, harmlessly scrolling off their vehicle.

Taking down an enemy that is on par with your level already serves as a decent encounter (good job), let alone if they’re one or two levels higher than you (good luck), and then there’s the principle that enemies roll in packs (good night).  One strike against the enemy AI -- which translates into a saving grace for me -- is that it doesn’t negotiate the terrain with the greatest acumen.  It will thump lamely against a piece of rubble, going to great effort not to destroy the already blasted ruins.  I would credit the AI if this were true in their hideouts and bases, since wrecking their own home wouldn’t be in their best interests.  But this is the default setting for the enemy: Never hesitant to take a player down, but squeamish in clearing a path for themselves.

Like I said, this is a saving grace for me.  I’ve already sunk myself into many a life-threatening situation, only to be saved by an ill-placed pile of destruct-o-building or stalagmite that traps an enemy.  Thankfully, players are equipped with a ‘B’ button that will bounce them out of those same tight situations.

And as the enemy grind their gears to drive out of their glued-in state of affairs, I’m limping off, healing myself over time by communing with nature.  That may sound like some Daryl Hannah tree-sitting agenda, but it’s actually how mutants self-medicate and repair themselves.  In answer to this ability, humans have devised superior shielding technology and biomeks have superior armor fittings; a game balancing mechanism between the three races that keeps them from operating like clones of one another.

Communing with nature, however, represents how mutants haven’t just adapted to the environment; they’ve learned to live in harmony with it.  It’s also a great way to quick-fix your vehicle on the move, instead of pit stopping at repair shops every time a Pike takes a potshot at you on your way to the next zone.

Should “the world’s fastest MMO” not get you to the next zone fast enough, the neutral INC corporation provides prompt airlift services for every faction.  For a fee they will drop you off at any previously unlocked waypoint on the map; a great service if there are four or five zones between you and your goal, but perhaps a tad wasteful of ‘clink’ if you’re only a few miles from your final destination.  Again, this fee is waived should you end up as a stack of burning tire rubber and metal bumpers, or if you just need to catch a ride to the last repair depot you visited (this particular service is probably subsidized by all three factions’ governments).  Also, if that B button isn’t bouncing you out of a stuck spot, INC can get you out of any situation, anytime, providing you sit still long enough for them to pinpoint your location.  You can’t get a rolling airlift with your pedal to the metal, evacuating some enemy hotspot.

The mutant hierarchy, however, is not paying me to idle around, so uncovering some map acreage and getting a feel for my Cub Cab 50 (which looks like a Chevy Avalanche dunked in a vat of ugly) is of paramount priority.  Main transportation arteries won’t serve my purposes when I’m trying to figure out how to ‘B’ bounce my truck up the vertical cliff face of that plateau over there.

Even though the landscape doesn’t wow me at every turn -- though it has its moments -- it does a laudable job of conveying lengthy sets of latitudes and longitudes to explore.  Mutant outposts are placed at intuitive niches on the map, with large swaths of gravel, grass, and sand blanketing between.  My tires have a spec readout for driving on ice and snow, but it doesn’t look like I’ll encounter any of that soon.  Right now it’s all baked earth and wavering heat lines on the horizon.  Flora and fauna grow up apropos of their environment, with mutated wildlife flocking around bodies of water.  Scavengers scurry like field mice amongst the ruins, salvaging whatever junk they can.  And Pikes, apparently a group even more outcast than mutants, dig for minerals in makeshift mining camps that polka dot the hillsides, religiously seeking out their god in the dirt (and generally acting hostile toward anyone coming within 50 yards of them).

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