Act of Aggression Review

Drop the bomb

It’s a strange thing to know that you’re powerless. As the realization dawns, possibilities and options fall away, leaving you with one inevitable conclusion. While wave after wave of my bombers streak across the sky, I have to imagine that my opponent is feeling helpless. When the bombers drop their payload, it will mark my sixth consecutive multiplayer victory using the same tactic. But the more I play, the more I’ve come to realize that Act of Aggression builds itself on these moments. Each player probes his or her foes, poking for weaknesses before they inexorably find one. But even then, the end comes slowly, and the loser has time to reflect on what went wrong.

On paper, Act of Aggression isn’t that different from any other RTS. You have three basic functions that represent the three core tactics these sorts of games have always had: one for rushing an enemy before they can get themselves established, one for building up defenses until you can wait for superior (albeit more expensive) technology to overwhelm your foes, and one that’s a balance of the two. You gather resources, build bases, train units, and gain control of territory. None of this is new, and Act of Aggression doesn’t handle these ideas in any novel or particularly interesting ways. What makes Act of Aggression special is its rhythm.

Base layout and management is of the utmost importance.
Base layout and management is of the utmost importance.

Each match begins with a core base and one scouting unit. Pretty standard so far. Immediately, though, the formula begins to diverge. Because there's no central location where you'll find all the resources you need, nor any way to build out your base with larger and larger shells as in Age of Empires, you're forced to do things a little differently. First I'd rush with lightly armed troops, stretching out with vulnerable tendrils grabbing what I could. Then I'd hunker down and secure the position with big guns and long-term emplacements. Both of these tactics are common in other games, but here they are essential, and it means that outposts need to be self-sufficient.

Play, then, revolves around poking your opponents' units and buildings to see if they've been careless, to see what they've neglected. Any position can be overwhelmed with enough force, but if you're playing well you'll often spread yourself a bit too thin to secure everything. This makes for an interesting twist on the usual pattern of strategy game play, and one that always left me uneasy. I never felt safe or secure-- was always pushing and always repelling. By itself, that pattern of play is remarkable. It's exhilarating, and I found myself challenging my own tried and true tactics and algorithms I'd built and refined after years of competitive strategy gaming. But it doesn't take long for cracks to start showing in that veneer.

The first and by far the biggest problem Act of Aggression faces is that achieving a level of fluency

The first and by far the biggest problem Act of Aggression faces is that achieving a level of fluency, where play is comprehensible and more importantly manageable, takes some work. As yet, there's no proper tutorial, and the campaign follows some of the worst tropes of its genre. Act of Aggression locks units, buildings, and ideas behind arbitrary walls, only revealing them for isolated lessons that don't teach you how to use these tools and adapt to new challenges. Instead it holds you to a strict path without being able to explore the potential of its own design. If anything, I found that finishing the campaign left me worse off when it came time to square with others. That's exacerbated by abysmal voice work and a cliché plot torn straight from the pages of a Clancy novel.

Even when you do familiarize yourself with the proceedings, Act of Aggression bogs itself down with unnecessary fluff. Your typical battle will have you working with twenty or more buildings, for example, most of which look so similar that it's hard to keep each of them straight. It leads to odd situations where you'll build a "light vehicle" factory that can also make some of the strongest attack copters in the game, long before you have access to the ostensibly helicopter-centric "helipad." That'd be excusable, of course, if the latter building was strictly better, but I only used it once.

A broad range of multiplayer options keeps you engaged in ways the campaign fails to.
A broad range of multiplayer options keeps you engaged in ways the campaign fails to.

This is a complaint that runs throughout. Some units have niches so specific that it's a wonder their role wasn't condensed into something simpler. Yes, options are generally a great idea, but in a game that already struggles with a clean and effective user interface, this manifests as another frustration. It gives the impression that most of the game could have been condensed. It complicates affairs without adding anything of value into the mix.

Act of Aggression's user interface is similarly overwrought. The expand-hold-expand structure encourages waging several small battles across multiple fronts at once, but there's no persistent indication of where you need to direct your attention. There is a ticker in the upper-left hand corner of the screen, but clicking those notifications doesn't auto-snap to the event the game describes. It often led me to lose track of threats and left me ill-informed about the status of the battlefield. Despite these problems, Act of Aggression manages to find legs in multiplayer matches. In my time with the game, I played more than a dozen rounds with a bevy of opponents and each was an exhilarating slugfest.

Despite these problems, Act of Aggression manages to find legs in multiplayer matches.

Keeping to the rhythm I described earlier, I'd start by reaching out for critical points on the map and lock myself down, waiting for my foes' nascent probes. Countless times we'd start firefights that lasted the rest of the game. Banks--neutral buildings that provide a steady, constant stream of income to any player that holds them--were particularly contentious. When infantry takes refuge in a bank, they're well-defended, making them a difficult target for opposing soldiers to capture. Even with plenty of support, wresting an established foothold near a bank is almost impossible. Yet, the cost was low enough and the reward high enough to incentivize a constant, smoldering conflict.

When one of us did start to crack, though, it took time to restructure our war efforts and finish the job. And that's the biggest oddity here. For all of its speed, for all of its, well, aggression, the final moments of any given match are typically quiet. Even when players start wielding the earth-shattering super weapons, countermeasures are easy to deploy. Again, it means that you're waiting to find the one thing your opponent never considered, the one thing they ignored or thought they could do without if only for a little while.

Station troops inside of buildings to fortify choke points and help gather resources.
Station troops inside of buildings to fortify choke points and help gather resources.

These kinds of games don't exist anymore. For better or worse, Act of Aggression isn't from this decade. It opens with riotous bombast backed with haughty metal riffs and maintains a jubilant, adolescent tone throughout. It's rough, it's incomplete, it's awful in places. But it's also raw and decadent. Soaked to the core in that quintessentially nineties cocktail of cynicism and an exultant love of violence, playing Act of Aggression feels like going back in time and returning to a home that only exists in your oldest memories. And that's special, even if it means dealing with some obtuse design issues.

The Good
Unusual and satisfying tempo
Inspires deep strategic thought
Great multiplayer
A worthy refresh of classic RTS concepts
The Bad
Overburdened interface
Occasionally clumsy base management
Some unites are too niche
No proper tutorial
Lackluster campaign
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Daniel Starkey is a strategy game obsessive, always on the hunt for the perfect test of mental acuity. For the purposes of this review, he played a dozen multiplayer matches and finished the campaign over the course of 20 hours.
19 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for k41m
k41m

866

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 19

User Lists: 0

It's really a shame that nobody ever wants to make a good and engaging story for an RTS game nowadays, if you enjoy a good story single player campaign RTS game I HIGHLY recommend playing World in Conflict.. really makes you care about the characters in the story.

Avatar image for Sarbeth11
Sarbeth11

32

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

@k41m: Totally agree. World in Conflict is still an amazing game with an awesome campaign and even better multiplayer. Best RTS in the past 10 years.

Avatar image for therev
TheRev

7

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

Really realy enjoying the multiplayer in this game.

Avatar image for Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

3850

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 11

User Lists: 7

Edited By Warlord_Irochi

Is this some kind of sequel for "Act of War; Direct Action"? I really liked that one back in the day.

Avatar image for PinchySkree
PinchySkree

1247

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 15

User Lists: 0

Edited By PinchySkree

Was released too early.

unites

Avatar image for Cloud_imperium
Cloud_imperium

14994

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 102

User Lists: 8

Edited By Cloud_imperium

Seems like overall it's a great game but Campaign is weak.

Avatar image for naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

3032

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 7

User Lists: 0

Good review, very good actually, but I really wish GameSpot would go back to spell-checking their publishings.

Avatar image for Hurgros
Hurgros

54

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 0

@naryanrobinson: I wish they would go back to doing video reviews.

Avatar image for Caldrin
Caldrin

257

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 21

User Lists: 0

@Hurgros: I like written reviews as sometimes I am not in a position ot have sound to watch a video review.. maybe they should do both in one article.

Avatar image for ps3gamer1234
ps3gamer1234

1512

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

Edited By ps3gamer1234

Good review, but what is this "Some unites are too niche"?

Avatar image for Ice-Cube
Ice-Cube

2189

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 3

User Lists: 0

Edited By Ice-Cube

@ps3gamer1234: Yes, Unite one and all!

Avatar image for sethfrost
sethfrost

704

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

Edited By sethfrost

Really well written review. Finding things, I have not read or heard from other reviewers.

Knowing previous Eugen games, I can see more clearly, what I am (not) getting myself into. I had high hopes that Eugen would deliver a R.U.S.E like campaign again. They seem to have forgotten how to do those, after the Wargame series.

The quick turn-around on Steam's Early Access made me skeptical. Now I learned why.

Avatar image for topgun182
topgun182

439

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 6

User Lists: 0

I'm reading this review and thinking, "this sounds a bit like Act of War", which I loved. There is NO mention of it so it must be a coincidence, then after the review, I read the summary and find that it is from the same people. How do you leave that out of a review? In fairness, I came here from a link to the review, not the main game page, so I didn't see the obvious connection until I scrolled down. Great job GS.

Avatar image for verysalt
verysalt

257

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 8

User Lists: 5

Edited By verysalt

Terrible campaign. Was expecting something like Act of War but it is nowhere close to it. Couldn't stand how bad it was and deleted after number of missions. People say MP is good and it might be true but my choice for MP is SC2, not Act of Aggression.

Avatar image for Caldrin
Caldrin

257

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 21

User Lists: 0

@verysalt: But you might find Act of agressios MP to be a hell of a lot more fun than SC2 so why not give it a go ?

I dont own the game so i am not saying it is.. but its strange that you wont try it because you play another MP RTS game.

Avatar image for garfield
garfield

94

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 10

User Lists: 0

@verysalt: Second that completely! The campaign is terrible disappointment and I loved AoW!

Avatar image for Smosh150
Smosh150

2423

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 4

User Lists: 0

I'm still wary, I mean I loved Act of War, but it doesn't seem like a true successor. Could be wrong, but the videos just look different.

Avatar image for drebin1349
Drebin1349

17

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@Smosh150: I never played Act of War but I do have this game and can happily say it is the best RTS to come out in years. None have really grabbed me since C&C 3 and this is a really great throwback to that style of game.

Avatar image for Smosh150
Smosh150

2423

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 4

User Lists: 0

@drebin1349: Definitely convincing, I was a huge fan of C&C 3, first got it on the console then bought it once again for the PC. Probably gonna end up buying this, been watching it, but I have remained skeptic. Thanks though, definitely helps reaffirm my belief in this game being good.

Act of Aggression More Info

Follow
  • First Released Sep 2, 2015
    released
    • PC
    In what is shaping up to be their most ambitious project since Act of War, Eugen Systems will deliver a real-time strategy experience set in the 2020's in a darkly realistic future where 3 major factions fight for their interests. In a world where international crisis and financial order is set in a seemingly unending loop, the shadowy organization known as "The Cartel" attempt to complete a secret agenda with high-tech technology, stolen prototypes and stealthy operatives. Against this looming threat stands the Chimere, a UNO funded, classified military organization specialized in fast strikes, which attempts to maintain global peace and order. Finally, somewhere between the two stands the US Army, worn out by two decades of being kept on a war footing with too few replacements, but still fielding a great deal of battle-hardened veterans.
    7.6
    Average Rating20 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Act of Aggression
    Developed by:
    Eugen Systems
    Published by:
    Focus Home Interactive
    Genre(s):
    Real-Time, Strategy
    Theme(s):
    Military