Eugen are probably better known in recent times for the Wargame series, with highly realistic and tactical strategy in the late Cold War – though PS3 owners might also remember RUSE – but with Act of Aggression, they’re taking a step back to a more traditional RTS set up, with base building and resource hunting that harks back to the genre at the turn of the millennium. More specifically, this feels like C&C: Generals, which was certainly an inspiration for the team.
Just as in that game, three factions vie for control in the not too distant future – around 2030 in this case – as The Cartel rear their heads and look to shake up the world order. With advanced but fragile prototype units at their disposal, their strengths will lie in striking from the shadows as they are chased across the globe by The Chimera, an adaptive and flexible force funded by the UN. That fight looks set to reach North America, dragging the war weary US Army into the fray, but they quite unusually won’t be the most advanced military force on the battlefield.
It’s pure techno-thriller fodder, but I couldn’t help but feel that the three sides felt a little run of the mill and lacked distinction from one another. It will no doubt be the case that each will play rather differently from the others, but all three are advanced military forces without the admittedly rather hammy plots of C&C or the more obvious and visual distinctiveness of Generals’ GLA terrorists.
The gameplay could also be accused of looking somewhat unremarkable on the surface, but as you dive deeper into the gameplay, it’s clear that Eugen have got some clever ideas about how to address some of the genre’s problems of old. It might have one foot in the past, but it’s also trying to take into account the last decade of gameplay evolution into account.
One particular issue is that of getting the perfect start to a match, relying on prior knowledge and executing exactly the right order in the right sequence and quickly enough to get the advantage in the fight. It’s with the map’s resources that Eugen are trying to tackle this by making them semi-random in how they drop on the map. Petrol and aluminium can be gathered and brought back to base, but you’ll have to scout the area, with a scout truck in the US’ case, to find where the best place to build a refinery is, in order to have the greatest amount of resources within its catchment area.
Building near to a road means that your trucks can drive back to base faster in order to deliver the goods, and you’ll have to keep your supply lines protected. There are no such worries with the third resource in the game: money. In order to earn this, you want to capture and hold any banks on the map with ground troops, to siphon money into your coffers, but you can also earn it in other ways, like capturing enemy soldiers and making these POWs work away in prison to make you more cash.
That money will become more and more important as close matches start to drain the map of all its resources. Thankfully, rather than having these two finite resources leave you with a stalemate, each faction has certain units that can be bought purely with money, and though the exchange rate will be poor, you’ll even be able to buy petrol and aluminium, should you so wish.
Those units that you do buy, you’ll want to try and protect as you play, as you’re able to upgrade them to varying degrees. The Chimera will have the most upgradeable and specialist forces, in keeping with their background, but all of the upgrades will have a knock on effect. Modifying a Humvee, for example, to augment its armaments with a rocket will forego the ability to ferry ground troops back and forth, and so on.
In terms of base building, things look to be nice and simple to get to grips with thanks to a proximity based grid for placement and with three stages of upgrades from DEFCON 3 to 1 to unlock more advanced buildings, units and abilities. You can stick with a single base that’s heavily defended or create ancillary bases around the map that might make resource gathering easier and better protected, but stretch your defensive line thinly.
Of course, the ultimate goal in any close contest will be to build the game’s super weapon and try to wipe out the enemy from afar. Building a silo won’t be too difficult, but stocking it with rockets will be both costly and take a lot of time. It’s a race to who can build the most first and fastest, but with the wild card that your enemy might be prepared for you with a Patriot missile system, though this also requires you to stock it with ammunition.
Though I think it might struggle a little to grab people’s attention, there’s a lot to like about Act of Aggression as it heads to a closed beta for Wargame VIPs and a launch towards the middle of this year. Eugen have stuffed it with smart ideas to keep maps interesting and playing ever-so-slightly differently each time, and with lots of little details that tweak and fine tune the classic RTS formula. It might not have the hamminess and wacky story of C&C Generals, but this might just be the closest thing we get to Generals 2 any time soon.