Why would a game publisher release two sequels to an armored combat simulation that didn't have much going for it in the first place? Did it hope the third time's the charm? Or is it three strikes and you're out? When NovaLogic's original Armored Fist came out five years ago, it wasn't a bad game, but it didn't really deserve a sequel. Nonetheless, in 1997, NovaLogic followed up with Armored Fist 2, which received a lukewarm response. They've now released Armored Fist 3, a game that claims to be a simulation of the US Army's M1A2 main battle tank. Aside from 50 new scripted missions, four new linear campaigns, the inclusion of foot infantry, and the souped-up Voxel Space 32 graphics engine (which doesn't use 3D hardware acceleration), it's difficult to see how Armored Fist 3 is much different from its predecessor. It certainly offers little in the way of improved gameplay.
Having played the first two games, I can't help but wonder why NovaLogic bothered with the third. It appears that little, if anything, has been done to improve the game's AI in the past five years. Armored Fist 3 retains problems that dogged the original game, such as an autotargeting system that locks on to the least threatening targets at the worst possible times and attack helicopters flown by pilots with death wishes.
In the second game, NovaLogic attempted to appease those who hated the autotargeting system by including a more realistic gunnery option that let you select your own targets, then lay and fire the gun. That was great, except that as campaigns became more difficult, it was less and less practical to use manual gunnery. Amazingly enough, the same unworkable manual targeting option that was in Armored Fist 2 is also in Armored Fist 3 with no changes whatsoever. No matter how much you want to avoid using the lamebrained autotargeting method, you're practically forced to use it when you begin facing the hordes of enemies thrown at you to mask the game's horrid AI. It's the only way you can target and kill enemy units fast enough to remain alive.
Considering the lack of 3D acceleration, what is achieved with this graphics engine is surprising. However, since the game runs at a maximum resolution of 640 x 480, it makes you wonder how much longer NovaLogic can ride this aging horse. It's not as if this engine lets slower computers play the game. With all the detail settings maxed out, my Pentium III 450 slowed noticeably when the action became intense, forcing me to turn off some options to maintain a smooth frame rate.
Perhaps NovaLogic is banking on the game's multiplayer support to give the Armored Fist series new legs. Up to 32 players can participate in a mission over the Internet via NovaLogic's free NovaWorld game servers. Unfortunately, this is the only multiplayer option available. There's no support for LANs, modem play, or one-on-one Internet play. You can either play against the AI or play on NovaWorld. Period.
At least there are plenty of multiplayer options on NovaWorld. You can play games either cooperatively or against others individually or as a team. You can host a public game or one locked with a password. NovaWorld provides deathmatches, team deathmatches, platoon-versus-platoon battles, and capture-the-flag matches. Currently, the preferred styles of play on NovaWorld are team deathmatches and capture the flag.
There are two advantages to playing multiplayer games on NovaWorld. NovaLogic says that its system provides for smoother and more reliable play. While this appears to be mostly true, I did see occasional problems with lagging and warping. There were also instances in which I could not reconnect with NovaWorld after temporarily leaving it minutes earlier. Gameplay can slow to a crawl when you operate your tanks' smoke generators, which most players do to help avoid being hit.
The second advantage of NovaWorld is the ability to use Armored Fist 3's Voice-Over-Net technology. If you have a headset equipped with a microphone, and your computer has a full duplex sound card, you can play while talking to other members of your team. But many Armored Fist 3 players avoid using this feature and seem to prefer sending messages the old-fashioned way - by typing.
As someone unfamiliar with voice communication over the Internet, I found it somewhat difficult to get my system properly configured to take advantage of this feature. And once I could send and receive voice messages, sometimes what I heard was unintelligible because players don't always bother to properly adjust their microphone levels.
Of course, not everyone will appreciate online battles that consistently degenerate into wild tank melees, whether they can talk to each other or not. In multiplayer mode, there's little time for planning strategy or devising tactics. You simply throw your tank into the fray and blast away at point-blank range. In fact, the online version of Armored Fist 3 is a simplified version of the single-player game in which you have no choice but to use autotargeting.
NovaLogic calls Armored Fist 3 an "action-oriented simulation," but it's really just an action game disguised as a simulation. As a single-player game, it's outdated, and as a multiplayer game, it lacks the variety to provide long-term enjoyment. Not even the cool Voice-Over-Net feature can rescue this game from mediocrity.