Auto Assault Impressions - E3 2004

We take an up-close look at NetDevil's upcoming online vehicle combat game at E3 2004.

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Publisher NCsoft has made something of a name for itself with an almost single-minded focus on bringing online multiplayer PC games like City of Heroes and Lineage II to market. One of the publisher's next games will be Auto Assault--a vehicle combat game developed by NetDevil (creator of the cult favorite online game JumpGate). From what we've seen so far, you could probably describe Auto Assault succinctly by calling it a massively multiplayer Diablo on wheels.

Like Blizzard's infamously addictive hack-and-slash role-playing game, Auto Assault will let you freely roam an open world in search of treasures and experience points to be gained from the wholesale slaughter of your enemies. According to the game's story, a mysterious alien force crash-landed on Earth and attempted to plunder the planet of its resources. Humankind fought back with everything it had, but was beaten back and forced to live underground for the next century. Auto Assault picks up at the end of this century at a time when human beings have emerged from hiding to attack the aliens in armored vehicles along with the help of two other factions--you can play as a character who belongs to any of the three. The nonhuman factions are the technologically enhanced biomechs--whose vehicles have the ability to briefly change into lumbering robots that deal exceptional amounts of damage--and the mutants, which can make better use of appropriated alien technology.

However, all players of all races will find it in their best interests to blast their enemies (and their enemies' hiding places) to bits. Auto Assault will be powered by the Havok 2.0 physics engine; this not only allows for rag-doll animations on any enemies you happen to blast or run over, but also allows for what NetDevil calls "fully destructible environments." We watched as a test vehicle tore across a countryside blasting trees, buildings, roadblocks, aliens on foot, enemy vehicles, and basically anything else that wasn't part of the road or the rolling hills. The vehicle we watched traveled extremely quickly and shadowed its path with two separate, transparent cones of light, which indicated the general firing radius of the vehicle's primary and secondary weapons. While you can click your mouse to fire in real time, your chances of hitting and the exact amount of damage you deal will be determined by a role-playing game-style number generator (rather than being solely dependent on fast reflexes).

Whenever you destroy anything in Auto Assault, you'll have a chance to recover weapons, ammo, and other items to outfit your vehicles. These can include machine guns, missile launchers, and flamethrowers, as well as specific decals for your vehicles. Interestingly, you may also recover blueprints for new vehicle add-ons as part of the game's streamlined crafting system--if you can then find all the necessary components specified in the blueprint and follow the directions to the letter, you'll be guaranteed to successfully create your new item. However, if you decide to risk deviating from the formula by using different ingredients, you'll increase your chance of failure, but you may also create an unusually powerful special weapon.

The game includes sports cars, vans, semitrucks, and motorcycles among other vehicle types--you'll actually be able to amass a garage full of them. These vehicles will come in handy not only for the game's "instanced" missions (quests that take place in private areas that only you and any members you have invited to a temporary group, or "convoy," can engage in), but also for the game's player-versus-player combat. Auto Assault will feature team-based player-versus-player combat in which players must destroy enemy outposts to claim them as their own, then rebuild the outpost using parts that can be salvaged only from player-versus-player battles. The game will also feature consensual player-versus-player arena combat in towns that can be customized to allow only vehicles of a certain chassis type or a certain weight limit.

Auto Assault was in an extremely early state when we saw it. It was clearly intended to be a very colorful game, and while the game's graphics seemed a bit aliased, the game is nowhere near completion--the team has plenty of time to enhance the graphics while maintaining the brisk frame rate we witnessed. The game is scheduled for release after NetDevil is finished developing the launch version.

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