On the surface, Auto Assault seems like an entirely different type of massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Instead of running around with swords or laser pistols, you're a postapocalyptic car, armed to the teeth and armored for protection from all sorts of mutants, scavengers, rogue militiamen, and so on. As you get deeper into it, though, Auto Assault reveals itself as a pretty standard MMORPG. Like most games in the genre, it's addictive. And the tweaks and the setting itself help make it feel different. But it also has a series of problems that really hold it back.
The biggest change that Auto Assault makes to the genre's typical formula is its combat. Rather than just press an attack button and watch the fun while firing off the occasional spell or special skill, Auto Assault makes you think more about your car's position while you're fighting. That's because your main methods of attack are a front-mounted weapon and a turret that rotates atop your vehicle. And you don't just hit an attack button and watch the shots fly back and forth. Instead, you actually hold down a fire button to start firing your weapons. The game draws a few arcs on the screen that represent the range of your weapons, and when you get an enemy in those arcs and hold down the fire button, the game starts rolling a ton of theoretical dice against your stats to determine if your shots miss or hit, and how much damage is done. There's a bit of skill involved in keeping your enemies in front of you when you're engaging in direct combat, though not all of the classes in the game specialize in such direct methods.
There are three different races here. The humans have only recently resurfaced onto the contamination-covered planet after locking themselves in massive arks and bombarding the planet in an attempt to cleanse it. The mutant race is very spiritual about things, and it uses the contamination to heal itself. The biomeks were once the human race's front line of combat against the mutants, but after all the pure humans locked themselves away and left these cyborgs to die, the two factions don't really get along very well. That leads to player-versus-player conflict in the middle of the world map, but you don't really get to see that until you've reached the upper end of the level cap.
Each of the three races has four classes. They all have different names, but the four classes fill similar roles for each group. There's a warrior-style class designed for direct frontal combat. You tend to have a ton of hit points and plenty of skills focused on dealing damage, as well as skills focused on taunting enemies to attack you instead of any weaker allies in your convoy. The engineer (or constructor or shaman, depending on your race) class serves as a healer and is also able to resurrect broken vehicles. The mastermind (or archon or lieutenant) class is your pet-handling class that engages in combat indirectly by sending various robots or creatures out to do battle. The fourth class is a stealth class. As you might expect, all of the various classes have their ups and downs, and some of them seem better suited to survive than others, though survival isn't actually too important in the grand scheme of things.
There's no real death penalty in Auto Assault. When you run out of hit points, your car blasts apart and you can either wait to be healed by another player or get an airlift back to the last repair station you visited in that zone, which more often than not, isn't really very far. This encourages exploration, but at the same time, you never really feel any tension from the battles. Win or lose, it almost doesn't matter. If you have enough hit points, you can complete many quests by driving into a cluster of enemies, ignoring all of them except for the ones you need to eliminate for the quest, and killing them until you die yourself. Then just get an airlift out, repair for free at any of the healing pads placed around the repair stations, and drive back out there to kill a few more, if you have to. We spent most of our time as a human commando and rarely had any trouble taking care of quests without help from other players. Only a few of the game's boss-type characters required some extra help.
Even though there are some benefits to be had from teamwork, it's a good thing that you don't always have to rely on help from others in Auto Assault, because the servers really aren't very populated. The game's four servers are usually listed as "very low" population, though one of them occasionally gets up to "low." Even still, outside of the main low-level city area where people are always trying to sell crafting materials, seeing other players can be something of a rarity, which helps to give the game its barren, postapocalyptic feel. In fact, each one of the zones is instanced to prevent any one of them from getting overpopulated. But considering how little of the game feels "massive" or "multiplayer," the monthly fee to continue playing beyond your first 30 days seems awfully hard to justify. Save for the large player-versus-player area that you can get into after grinding your way to the top, this game could have easily worked under the Guild Wars model of strictly instanced areas and no monthly fee.
The quest design doesn't help shake this feeling too much. While you'll encounter handfuls of different factions out there to fight against, almost every quest seems to boil down to killing a specific number of a certain type of enemy, killing specific enemies until they drop a specific number of items, driving around a series of waypoints, or running around town to deliver items. The towns in the game are awfully dull, and you're taken out of your car when you're there. Since you don't really customize the look of your player after creation, all of the players look roughly the same in town, and they don't look very good. Aside from going there to get quests or craft items at a crafting station, there's very little reason to remain in a town for very long. But since questing is still the best way to earn experience points (despite a few spots where there didn't seem to be many quests available for players of our level), you'll quest like crazy.
You'll often get rewards for completing quests. The most common reward is money, but there's also equipment to earn. You outfit your vehicle with a handful of different items. In addition to the turret and front weapons, you can also get a rear weapon, like an oil slick or a land-mine dropper. Armor protects you and raises your defense. Your power plant determines how much power you'll have for your skills and how much heat your weapons can take before they overheat and stop firing. An ornament slot acts much like a slot for an enchanted necklace would in a fantasy-themed RPG. Tires determine your handling on different surfaces. And your hazard kit is used at higher levels as a sort of super-move that's different for every race.
Though much of Auto Assault puts you in a car, this game doesn't really control like a driving game. You'll use the typical set of MMO game controls to drive around, and they work well for controlling the action. The car movement is good enough, but it's not very exciting on its own. The cars bounce around, some of them flip over more frequently than others, and so on. But you're never going to mistake the driving in this game for the control you'd get in an actual driving game. The physics in the game are reasonably good, and you'll spend a lot of time blowing apart abandoned buildings and watching parts of them fall as you scavenge for crafting materials.
The crafting in Auto Assault is interesting, though it also seems like it's awfully extraneous through much of the game, as you're constantly earning and finding new and better equipment as you quest. Instead of actually making items from scratch, crafting starts with you repairing broken equipment using items like duct tape, polymers, rubber, radioactive material, and tons of other salvaged material that drops off of enemies or pops out when you shoot up abandoned buildings. When you fix an item, you have a chance to memorize that item, which lets you make another dozen or so of them before you "forget" how to build them from scratch. It's not very intuitive, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. You'll have to choose which crafting disciplines to become proficient in and work your way down a crafting tree until you choose a master discipline. Other aspects of the crafting let you improve the items you create via experiementation, and if you can't find the proper broken items to fix, well, you can break the items you have with the reverse engineering skill. The crafting seems like the sort of side project that would become more useful in the end-game, but along the way it doesn't come off as a very key part of the game.
The game also has its share of technical glitches that impact its looks. This is unfortunate, because the car models and the environments generally look great. Granted, it's mostly a series of postapocalyptic areas with a lot of burned-out buildings, but they all look great, especially in higher resolutions with antialiasing enabled. Unfortunately, the game seems to have some sort of memory-leak issue that causes frame rates to sink over time. If you spend a long time playing the game in one sitting, it seems like your frame rate eventually sinks into single digits, making the game barely playable until you quit and restart to fix it. Things like weapon effects and explosions are all done pretty well, but with the problematic frame rate, the whole game is a little hard to look at.
The sound has similar problems. Sometimes sound effects seem to randomly cut out or just not play at all. Motor noises are extremely subdued, and you never really get a good sound of your tires driving on different surfaces, so there aren't any squealing tires, loud skids, or anything like that. Also, the game would have definitely benefited from a little speech. Without it, your time spent in the towns is practically silent. Just some sort of "oh, hello there" when you activate a quest-giver would have really gone a long way to giving the towns a little more personality. Also, the music in the game is often quite good.
Auto Assault certainly has a lot of potential. But in its current form, that potential is squandered with repetitive quests, technical glitches, and a complete lack of challenge from most of the environment. It still has the same addictive nature that most good MMOs have, though, so if you're an MMO player looking for something new that you'll only really need to play during the first free month before moving on to something else, Auto Assault will scratch your itch.