Not just another hit-and-run.
NCsoft, masters of MMOs and makers of some of the most addictive games ever, recently invited us to look under the hood of their latest foray into the massively-multiplayer sphere at a recent presentation of Auto Assault, one of the world's first massively multiplayer online caR-PGs. Attempting to fuse fast, furious action with a solid role-playing vertebrae and a Mad Max aesthetic, Auto Assault looks to be kinetic, violent and deep...and should completely change what you think you know about MMO gaming.
[image3]The game is built upon a classic RPG foundation with races, classes, equipment, PvP, trade skills, guilds and quests. But instead of placing their game in an idyllic fantasy realm, Auto Assault's developers, NetDevil, have crafted a gritty, post-apocalyptic world full of mutants, monsters and biological hazards. According to legend, humanity was driven underground by an earth-scorching nuclear war. Many were left on the surface to die, yet some survived to become a new, hardy race of humans called Mutants.
Years later, the untouched humans attempted to return to the surface, only to be greeted by this angry green race that was still a little sore about being left on the surface to die. The two factions fail to get along, so the humans send cyborgs known as Biomeks to cleanse the Mutants and make Earth nice for humanity once more. But instead, the Biomeks turn on humanity and start their own surface civilization. The humans, realizing that they're just going to have to kill everyone themselves if they want a clean, happy place to live, return to the surface and engage in all-out war with the other two factions.
While role-playing as a xenophobe isn't the most intellectually stimulating prospect, racially-fueled plots at least give players a good, imaginative reason to want to kill each other. And Auto Assault provides some excellent means.
When the game begins, your first task will be to create an avatar. You'll give this little you a name, sex, race and class, then jump into the game. While each race has its own name for every class, there are essentially four: the tank (specializing in up-close, dirty combat), the commander (a support class that uses pets), the engineer (a repair class), and the ranger (a ranged-attack class). These classes clearly define roles within groups known as convoys, and dictate which vehicles the player will be proficient at driving.
For example, ranger classes will have access to small, stealthy vehicles like dune buggies and will want to stay far away from the combat while pelting foes from afar. Tanks, on the other hand, will basically drive heavily-armored nightmares and dish out damage while absorbing enemy fire.
Such roles and group dynamics are common to all MMORPGs, but what makes Auto Assault different is the fact that everybody is driving around in a car, blowing stuff up and demolishing the destructible environments. Instead of having a tank lamely stand in front of a clump of Orcs soaking up damage, Auto Assault's tanks will be rolling over foes, spewing bullets and wreaking havoc.
[image2]Players can only enter combat from within vehicles, so in a sense your vehicle is your alter-ego. Of course, you won't be limited to only one vehicle; at any point in the game you'll likely have a handful stored in a garage somewhere, each decked out for various purposes. Vehicles can be equipped with three weapons, which can be fired in real-time at anything within a given weapon's attack range. These extend from your car as transparent cones, and you can situate them however you like. For example, you could set one weapon to fire out the front of your car and one the back, or just put all your guns up front for maximum damage.
When you fire on an enemy, his and your attributes will be taken into account and you will hit or miss accordingly. Even though Auto Assault is fast-paced and takes place in real-time, its action is still predicated on a deep, rational RPG system of armor, attack ratings and various attributes. You'll get all the twitch-based satisfaction of an action game plus the die-rolling depth you've come to expect from NCsoft titles.
As you blow your rivals to pieces, you'll be able to salvage scraps and either refine them into new, useful parts or sell them for money. You'll also be able to follow blueprints to make your own parts within the game's trade skill system. Following a scheme to the letter will let you replicate whatever part you're trying to make, while experimenting will give you a chance to make a superior part at the risk of breaking everything.
And since you'll have several cars to play with and an economy full of rare parts and pieces, you won't ever feel tied down to just tweaking one model. This will allow players to get much more creative because they'll be able to try techniques and builds on test-cars before implementing anything on their bread-and-butter rides. No gimping here.
Once you piece together a wicked ride or two, you're definitely going to want to see how you stack up against other players, and there will be two ways to do this. The first is the game's arena system. Arenas will offer players several different game types that can include anywhere from two to eight cars, even allowing game-wide tournaments. This means that you will potentially be able to compete against every player in the game to possibly prove yourself the undisputed, ultimate warrior.
Otherwise, certain highways and areas will be open to factional PvP. While it isn't entirely clear how this system will work when the game is released, we can't wait to scrap some rival rides.
[image1]Questing should be fun and easy thanks to a friendly travel system, lots of instanced areas, and a minimal death penalty. For a price, you can be picked up and dropped off anywhere in the world, so if your friends are questing on the other side of everything, you can call a drop-ship and be there in no time. Instances will be interesting in that they will track your progress as long as you are the group leader, meaning your group will be able to leave and return without everything resetting. Then, if you want to do everything over again for more loot or experience, you can simply drop group-lead and head back in. This is an extremely user-friendly system and should cut down on the often excessive travel time associated with most MMORPGs.
While you wouldn't think of a car-based MMORPG as something that would push visual envelopes, Auto Assault makes excellent use of the Havoc physics engine and destructible terrain. According to the devs, your ability to lay waste to everything around you is very important. That's why little humanoid bodies will realistically fly into the air when caught in explosions, enemy vehicles will twist, burn and explode, and buildings will utterly collapse before your virtual might.
Auto Assault tosses the basic tenets of MMO gaming under the myriad hoods of awesome, apocalyptic vehicles and sets those rides free upon a fully-realized world. If you love the depth and strategy of MMORPGs but miss the twitch-sanity of your favorite shooters and action games, then buckle up, because NCsoft is hoping to take you on the ride of your life when this one hits the scene later in 2005.