NCsoft's strategy is clear: The company is seeking to become the dominant player in the massively multiplayer online role-playing genre. It's just unleashed the popular City of Heroes and Lineage II, but NCsoft has lots more where that came from. One of its upcoming offerings is Auto Assault, a unique-sounding massively multiplayer game set in a postapocalyptic world in which you'll get to wage war from within a variety of different tricked-out vehicles. The premise sounds like it combines aspects of the classic Mad Max series of films with a few touches from Interplay's also-classic Fallout series of games. Those are some amazing sources of inspiration, so we can only hope Auto Assault will live up to them.
The developers of Auto Assault, the people at NetDevil, are no strangers to massively multiplayer gaming. Their previous effort, an online space combat simulation called Jumpgate, might not have achieved the same widespread success as other online games such as EverQuest, but by most all accounts it was a good, solid, and innovative effort. Undoubtedly, NetDevil's experience in crafting vehicular online games will be brought to bear in this next offering, and we happen to think that the Road Warrior-esque theme of Auto Assault is more interesting than the sterility of outer space, as well.
Apart from just having a cool concept, Auto Assault has some features that sound like they could make for a very exciting experience. A fully integrated physics engine (the Havok physics engine, to be precise, which is pretty much the only physics engine in town these days) will ensure that vehicles perform in a lifelike manner--and, better yet, the physics will enable you to pretty much blow anything up. Auto Assault promises fully destructible environments, which will be a first for a massively multiplayer game. One of the inherent problems with putting destructible environments in a persistent-world setting is, of course, that there won't be much of a world left after a few days' worth of carnage.
The action-oriented gameplay also means that, according to the official release, you'll "level up while playing, rather than [be] playing to level up." This is a significant point (especially if it turns out to be true), because if Auto Assault succeeds at having naturally fun and entertaining action, then it will succeed where a lot of other online games have failed.
In the game, players will create a character (options include humans, mutants, and "biomeks") and will also get a customizable vehicle of some sort. Vehicles include motorcycles, cars, and semi trucks, presumably each with distinctive strengths and weaknesses. Characters will eventually be able to own multiple vehicles, which should be great for variety's sake if not for tactical value. The game will also offer mission-based gameplay for solo players or for groups, if you want something a little more plot-oriented than pure arena-style combat.
There hasn't been a truly great car combat game in a long time, and certainly there's never been one in a persistent-world setting like this. As such, we can't wait to see more of Auto Assault, and we intend to bring you additional impressions from the E3 show floor. The game is currently slated for release sometime next year.