For those already familiar with the two most recent (and relatively somber) American members of the product family - and the epic gloomfest - discovering Extreme Assault will be a little like meeting the loud, new, black sheep brother-in-law who barges in on Easter brunch with a bellow, a 12-pack, and a Glock on his hip.
Comparable to Black Dawn for the PlayStation, but far sleeker, Extreme Assault is a one- to four- player air/land combat game that pits you in a one-machine battle - who else - Bad Old Aliens who have established operations on Earth. They've taken your towns and factories, they've kidnapped your people, and they've burrowed a staggeringly vast underground network into your tender green planet. Why, the rotten little SOBs even had the gall to swipe and overhaul one of your own naval destroyers for use against you. Your Sioux AH-23 attack helicopter maneuvers with Jetsons-era ease. And while a joystick of some kind feels especially good here (force-feedback models are also supported), you can do just fine with up, down, forward, backward, left, right, and with the fire key. Extreme Assault is not a simulator, and that's just as well, because if you're the kind of player who wants problems, the aliens will give them to you soon enough.
Extreme Assault is possibly the single sharpest, cleanest-looking action game to date for the PC, and it's all managed without the need for any graphics accelerator cards (though 3Dfx is supported). Approaching targets ghost smoothly into view through the mist, alien chambers cloaked in darkness roll by in a shadowy shroud of paranoia, and beautiful, transparent holograms give you a hallucinatory taste of things to come. Many of you will quickly come to anticipate and savor the dissipating contrails from guided missiles as they rip through the air toward their targets. There are few sensations in PC action gaming quite as satisfying as watching that thin vapor snake arcing into the distance and then suddenly seeing the enemy damage bar drop to zero. (The explosions and rains of debris, needless to say, are equally awesome - but the really proficient pilot will already be scanning the horizon for the next victim.) The out-and-out battles in open skies are tense enough, but Extreme Assault really starts to get freaky when you're exploring a dark alien subterranean fortress, skulking around each new corner with no idea whether you're going to find mines or a four-story Anime-style robot. In towns and factories on the ground, chopper-to-chopper (or whatever) combat takes a pugilistic, bob-and-weave turn as you use the local buildings to your advantage, sideslipping to launch missiles or barrages of cannon-fire. The third-person follow-cam view of your Sioux is pretty all right, but the low-interference virtual-cockpit view is better. And the totally unobstructed vista of the sans-cockpit mode is better still, and safer - there are just too many things out there to risk even a minor blind spot.
Some bad points: First, the existence of the easy mode is kind of a moron joke about game difficulty settings - you can take the easy mode that suits you best, and you can fight at what you may think is the best of your ability through some pretty hairy missions, only to learn that you can only proceed through a limited number of operational areas at an easy level. If you want to see more of Extreme Assault's gorgeous and dangerous world, you'll need to do it at a harder level, and you can bet your entire reproductive system that it's going to be difficult. Even easy mode gets brutal when things start showing up behind you and you've got missiles closing in every three seconds from all sides, but extreme mode is - and I say this in a loving way - completely insane. In easy mode you'll make it through several missions without needing to change weapons; in extreme mode you probably won't even get a good look at whatever killed you.
The second gripe is minor but valid. Europe had Extreme Assault before we did - and obviously the publishers have taken out the old-scenario dialogue and replaced it with English - but, somehow, there exists a real corny, jutting-chin Germanic earnestness that puts the linking-cinema portions of the game right up there with Resident Evil on the wince-o-meter. There's something about that slightly filtered Sergeant Grimace voice uttering, "Our scientists believe this place is a damn work camp," in that atonal, debriefing baritone, that's hard on the ears. Despite this annoyance, you'll want to pay attention to those 3-D mission briefings and intro movies, as they often yield valuable battlefield clues - some flatly stated, and some not stated at all but visible to good students (by God, there's even a plot here, of sorts).
The multiplayer value here is both good and bad. It's good in that the easy controls and hovercraft-like physics make for quick, brutal engagements (and not just with the copters - there's a T1 Tank in this game too, which also moves like a hovercraft, allowing side-to-side strafing movement). But it's bad in that you'll probably want more than four players, and you won't be getting them. Oh well. If you work your way (and nerve) up to extreme mode in the one-player game, you shouldn't be getting bored any time soon. Extreme Assault is a gorgeous, high-tech, lowbrow shooter, and you don't need anything special to play it except fish-eye paranoia, an Eastwood-esque trigger finger, and some form of a death wish.