Act of Aggression is Eugen Systems’ triumphant return to the classic RTS. Seen at the last two editions of Gamescom, it delivers on its promise – here’s the review.
The Real Time Strategy (or RTS) genre exploded in the mid-nineties, with franchises like Dune, Command & Conquer and Warcraft all seeing numerous (successful) sequels and expansions. Dune disappeared after 2001’s Emperor: Battle for Dune and Warcraft morphed into a MMORPG, while the Command & Conquer series lasted a bit longer. Still, it’s been five years already since the release of Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight. We’ve had other great RTS games like Company of Heroes and Starcraft 2, but Act of Aggression promises to return to the formula that made the aforementioned franchises so beloved.
In Act of Aggression, the key to success is in blending resource gathering with sound military strategies and tactics, all the while keeping an eye on your tech research so you can start developing new units and structures. The key to all of this… resources. Every map you play on has a finite amount of them, and harvesting and controlling them is essential if you want to survive and eventually triumph. In this sense I’m talking about resources like oil, aluminum and rare minerals, but the use of resources is far deeper than that. Your units and structures are precious resources as well, especially if you consider that the resources you need to produce them will eventually run out.
This is where the brilliance of the game lies. Do you invest resources (in this case units) to go and secure access to the minerals you need to make your army stronger, or do you send them to weaken the enemy? You can do the latter by attacking them directly, heading for their base before they have a chance to fortify it, or by cutting off their supply lines to the same resources you’re trying to collect. Whichever tactic you choose, there will almost always be some form of retaliation. If you went for the option to cut them off from resources, they might either try to regain control of the situation or launch an assault on your base directly – which you’ve just left partially exposed when you moved your troops out to secure more supplies.
The entire game, in both single and multiplayer, is full of such decisions – and scenarios can be approached from a multitude of ways because of the approach taken by the developers to include resource-gathering like the classic RTS games of the past did. Whether this works out is all down to balance though – are the different factions in the game balanced well enough, and are they different enough to warrant extra playthroughs? In Act of Aggression, you can choose between the US Army, the Cartel and the UN-founded Chimera – focusing on strength in numbers and equipment, (stealth) technology and versatility respectively.
Each faction has its own technology tree for you to develop, its own units and structures and of course its own agenda. The game further balances the different factions by tweaking certain game elements in their favor or against it. One faction will use up more resources for a certain type of structure or unit, and development might also be quicker or slower based on which faction you choose to play with. Later on in the game, another strategic layer is introduced in the shape of super weapons like the atomic bomb. You can choose to develop such a weapon, and your opponent can choose to build up defenses against it. If you invested in ground troops instead, their anti-nuke measures were a waste of precious resources. You’ll have similar decisions to make yourself though, because the enemy could very well be gearing up to use a super weapon against you.
The core gameplay in Act of Aggression is excellently done. The different factions are well balanced, and each scenario offers multiple ways of approaching it. The only element of the game that we would have liked to see a little more fleshed out is the storytelling aspect. We’ve gotten to know the last few Command and Conquer games as real gems in terms of the audiovisual presentation of its story, and this is where Act of Aggression’s focus lies more much clearly on the RTS gameplay itself. This makes the single player campaigns a little less memorable, but the game more than makes up for that with the quality of the gameplay that’s being offered here.