Don't believe the hype. All Aspect Warfare may be receiving some press proclaiming the shooter/flight sim hybrid to be a kinder, gentler take on the 3000AD school of game design, but this exercise in frustration is arguably more annoying than its Battlecruiser and Universal Combat predecessors. Where developer 3000AD’s earlier games possessed roller-coaster-steep learning curves, wild complexity, and ancient graphics and sound, All Aspect Warfare teases you with a promise of accessibility before pulling the rug out from under your feet. Even though the smaller-scale focus on shooting it up first-person-shooter-style and zipping around in fighter planes is much easier to take than the kitchen-sink craziness of the earlier games, this is still a grueling experience that revels in confusing and punishing players.
Many of the superficial aspects of All Aspect Warfare are reminiscent of Universal Combat--which means that everything is dated and bland. Particularly the story. You're part of a Terran force attacking the evil alien Gammulans on their military base world LV-115. Something has gone wrong with an offensive, and you're stuck on this barren rock fighting overwhelming enemy odds while a superweapon called a Random Access Nuclear Destruction of Obsolete Matter, or RANDOM, ticks down to going boom and taking out the entire planet. Not that you need much of a backstory to start shooting in a game, but still, this tale feels phoned in, even with the added nuke spice. So does the environment. All the action takes place on a large, nearly empty desert planet where you can run around for ages without going anywhere. Foreground visuals are reasonably sharp and modern, especially when it comes to Halo-esque soldier models and beat-up spaceships, both externally and inside their detailed cockpits. Still, the terrain is dull and the scenery is so flat that it feels like you're fighting in front of stage scenery that you could knock over if you don't watch your step. Bases and terrain have no depth, coming off like a matte painting in an old Star Trek episode. Explorations in this cardboard world are accompanied solely by shrill rat-a-tat-tat gunfire and a theme song that fires on all eight cylinders from the moment a level starts until you make it back to the main menu. Dialogue is absent, aside from wingman chatter and the occasional comment provided by the "Mother" computer that looks after battle alerts.
Beyond the cosmetics, All Aspect Warfare is very different from its predecessor. The focus is on just two methods of combat. The 16 instant-action missions are pretty much evenly divided between shooting it up in FPS fashion or dogfighting in spaceships. Story mode is a little more wide-ranging, with sandbox levels that set out objectives and give you latitude to accomplish these goals however you want. Multiplayer supports up to 64 players online (good luck finding opponents) and over LANs in game modes such as the conventional Deathmatch and Base Wars and the unconventional Nuclear Winter, where you try to set off one of those RANDOM doohickeys. But no matter which way you choose to play, the action always spotlights either shooting or flying, so you can concentrate on what you're doing instead of stretching yourself all over the place a la Universal Combat. This is of course a dramatic break from 3000AD games of the past, which broke their backs trying to depict every single way that sci-fi soldiers could go to war.
It's a shame that this new keep-it-simple philosophy doesn't work. The shooter aspect of play, for instance, is a total disaster despite being based on a familiar formula where you pick a soldier from four basic weapon loadouts and lead a squad into battle. There are so many problems that almost every aspect is wide open for complaints. One of the biggest issues is the level design. Since much of the action takes place at Gammulan bases surrounded by flat terrain, the combat is remarkably boring because there isn't any cover. Even worse, enemies deploy at long range, so you spend most of the game shooting at dots on the horizon. Gammulans also shoot with unerring accuracy and can kill with just a couple of shots. If you hesitate at all, they will turn out your lights, usually with a shot that you will never see coming. It's easy to get killed by unseen enemies in the first minute of a level. Over and over and over again. Even if you can somehow learn to live with this unreasonable threat, the game further tests your patience through unnecessarily complicated and dated controls that don't even support using the mousewheel to switch weapons. Furthermore, there are an incredible number of bugs that run from plain-Jane desktop crashes to weirdness like dead enemies springing back to life as phantoms and immobile statues.
Aerial combat is equally demanding, if a little more stable. Complexity is the most obvious sore point. It's shocking to hop into a cockpit for the first time, as you move from a fairly straightforward shooter to a relatively hardcore flight simulation. Each of the game's many vessels features a serious-looking instrument package and HUD. Flight controls are keyboard- and joystick-only, so mouse jockeys are out of luck. Keyboard flying is very awkward, due largely to the strange key mapping that uses the WSAD and arrow keys to mimic a flight stick, with the Enter key used to fire the onboard guns and the spacebar used to load and launch missiles. Nothing feels natural, especially the arrows handling roll, pitch, and yaw, because you need to pull your hand off these keys every time you want to fire either the guns or a missile. At least you can rebind the keys. Still, the real annoyance is difficulty. While most furballs have an intense, Battle of Britain feel, the odds are just as stacked against you in the air as they are on the ground. It's all too easy to get blown out of the sky by the missiles of long-distance enemies before you even get close enough to fire off a shot. You're very, very lucky to survive even the first 30 seconds of an engagement, let alone shoot down any bad guys.
The one defense for All Aspect Warfare is that it is supposed to be a tough "thinking man's" action game, not an arcade shooter. But it doesn't feel like a stiff-but-fair tactical challenge for smarty-pants gamers. Rather, it's a sloppily made mess, with archaic level design, controls, graphics, and sound.