Unlike other massively multiplayer games, Auto Assault from NCSoft and NetDevil won't make you play as a comely elf fighting skeletons or rats for handfuls of copper coins. You'll instead roam a postapocalyptic wasteland version of planet Earth in the wake of devastating alien attacks. Now that the aliens seem to have lost some of their sway, the last remnants of humanity (and reasonable facsimiles) have begun to reclaim the surface of the world--and not with friendly peace treaties or clearly-marked signs. The only thing the aliens (and other races) understand in this hostile world is heavily armored dune buggies with flamethrowers mounted on either side. No, this isn't EverQuest, it's more like Mad Max online.
And when things get really hairy, the members of the game's three playable races--the humans, the mutants, and the "biomeks" (a race of intelligent cyborgs)--can trigger a powerful ability that's built into their vehicles: hazard mode. Even though Auto Assault will let you assemble an entire personal motorcade of motorcycles, buggies, trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles armed to the teeth, hazard mode is generally a last-resort act that lets you and your souped-up ride pull out all the stops to temporarily deal huge damage to your nearby enemies. Originally, only the biomek race, whose advanced knowledge of robotics let them enable a hazard mode that transforms their cars into gigantic walking mechs, was supposed to have a hazard mode. However, after the reception that NetDevil received at last year's E3 convention, it became clear to the developer that all three playable races should have something as powerful and as impressive.
While biomeks can turn their cars into giant robots (which tend to wreak havoc in the game's almost completely destructible environments), the humans have a very different hazard mode. The humans of Auto Assault have apparently spent many years underground in fear of nuclear fallout, and they've spent the time researching, among other things, a high-tech energy-shield technology that comes to the fore in hazard mode. The humans' hazard mode creates an inversion shield that makes the vehicle impervious to damage and also zaps nearby enemies with electromagnetic pulses, causing them to slow down. In hazard mode, humans can also call down satellite strikes to their location and redirect the blast to nearby targets, which also causes devastating results.
The mutants, on the other hand, will possess hazard mode abilities that stem from their physiological ties to the earth's contamination. Hazard mode lets them use their inherent "phaseform" ability, which is basically an out-of-body experience in which mutants project their beings outside of their vehicles as a phaseform entity. Phaseform grants the entity the ability to travel almost instantaneously across limited distances in short bursts, as well as to create a powerful blast that damages all enemies in the vicinity.
Interestingly, hazard mode will be based off of a "hazard kit" item in your inventory, which you'll be able to swap in and out for new kits that may provide new abilities and other miscellaneous bonuses. For instance, humans carry shield-generator hazard kits that may also aid their vehicles' inherent energy shields. The mutant hazard kit is known as the "locus," an artifact that actually assimilates the earth's contamination and channels it to power mutant vehicles. Biomeks use "hazard chip" items, which not only provide various bonuses, but also affect the way the biomeks' hazard mode mech performs.
Obviously, this kind of power won't always be available. You'll need to advance your character to a level of eight and defeat a certain quota of enemies that will be tracked in your hazard gauge. However, your early career will build toward acquiring hazard mode in Auto Assault's many, many missions, which, once acquired, will attempt to advance the game's overall story while providing you with an almost endless stream of randomized loot you can trade, craft upgrades with, or just toss right onto your vehicle as is.
Auto Assault is currently in beta testing. We'll have further updates on this promising online game as we approach its release date later this year.