Command, Conquer, Calculate: Act Of Aggression

Following the success of the Wargame series, Act of Aggression [official site] sees Eugen returning to a more traditional form of RTS. Retaining ideas from the studio’s previous Act of War titles, as well as the clever confusion of R.U.S.E., it’s a game that aims to fill the gap left by the disappearance of Commander & Conquer Generals 2. Based on the forty five minutes I’ve spent in its company, I reckon it might be more than capable of filling that gap.

The first time I saw a screenshot from the original Command & Conquer in a magazine, I was convinced it would be my next favourite game. I remember a craggy beach, two landing craft and a small squad of infantry soldiers disembarking in the cold water just off shore. In its way, it was as mundane as a military scene could possible be – certainly a far cry from the series’ later outlandish extremes. A frozen moment before engagement, with not even the flash of a muzzle to imply conflict.

There was another screenshot in the same preview article. It showed a tank, or perhaps tanks, crossing a bridge. I wondered if I’d be able to destroy the bridge and reckoned that if I could, Command & Conquer would absolutely definitely be my next favourite game. Like the landing craft shot, the bridge scene didn’t show a battle, instead highlighting possible strategies while lingering on the anticipation of combat.

Landing craft and bridges sparked my imagination in a way that explosions and the chaos of combat never could.

I loved Command & Conquer but didn’t keep up with the series as it moved from the camo-camp of the first game toward the sci-fi pomp of Red Alert 3. There has been an RTS-shaped hole in my life for a long time though. I want a game that demands attention to detail during basebuilding rather than rapidfire construction. More than that – if a macro can follow the formula of building and battle effectively, my interest is likely to wander as soon as I see the flowcharts just beneath the surface.

Act of Aggression looks like it has been specifically designed to satisfy my personal RTS desires. Eugen’s creative director, Alexis Le Dressay, showed me the basebuilding, research and resource gathering side of the game last week, and I came away full of the same excitement that those early C&C screenshots lodged in my brain. I saw thirty minutes of the game before a single bullet or shell was fired simply because there’s plenty to talk about before units go into action against one another.

There are choices to make at every stage, whether you’re planning the collection of basic currency through control of petroleum supplies or the securing of strategic points on the map. On the surface, every action is recognisable: harvesters collect resources from specific points on the map and then trundle back to the base; infantry spawn outside a barracks when a recruitment bar is full; research unlocks new buildings that permit the construction of new units.

The process is familiar but the fine detail shows evidence of a great deal of tinkering. It’s as if Eugen have looked at every expected element of the traditional C&C-style RTS and then asked “Is this interesting?” Where the answer is “no”, they’ve tweaked and redesigned in an attempt to ensure the player is an active participant at all times rather than a nodding bird pushing buttons to activate new functions whenever resources reach the necessary threshold.

Supply lines are a good example of the thinking that underpins Act of Aggression. Vehicles collect resources and return them either to the base or a supply dump closer to the source. While travelling across the map, those vehicles are vulnerable so might require an escort if there are enemies close by. To complicate matters, resource placement is randomised at the beginning of each mission, so even if you know the basic layout of a map, the routes that form across it will vary from one skirmish to the next.

It’s a slight adjustment to the usual flow that should prevent experienced players from relying on autopilot. The three factions also have their own method of ferrying resources around the place – a Cartel cargo helicopter can zip about the map and avoid roadside ambushes more effectively but it’s relatively flimsy, and has a tiny capacity in comparison to a US Army truck.

It’s also possible to gain money by capturing banks, which are actual physical structures on the map. Alexis sent reconaiisance vehicles to a cluster of buildings and upon finding them empty, moved in APCs packed with infantry. Foot soldiers are needed to capture buildings because tanks, for all their qualities, are incapable of performing a heist (Ocean’s Eleven with tanks instead of people would be a fine thing, mind). With the bank’s funds now transferring into Alexis’ account, he set up infantry units in other nearby buildings. They’d be invisible to approaching forces but would create a killzone around the bank if the enemy came too close.

Research requires reactive thinking as well. In many RTS games, you’re essentially filling a bucket. Drop points into research and eventually you’ll unlock all of the best units and hopefully go on to win the day. Act of Aggression has several buckets. There’s an emphasis on upgrading existing units rather than building new ones and the limited resources on a map – particularly the high-end minerals – means you’ll have to make some tough decisions. You can’t run around the shop and buy one of everything so rather than clicking to form build queues as soon as you complete a new piece of research, you’ll have to consider the particulars of the map and mission, as well as whatever you’ve managed to learn about your enemy’s movements and plans.

A great deal of the groundwork for Act of Aggression was already in place. Before they became widely known as the creators of the Wargame series, Eugen developed the Act of War games, and Aggression picks up where they left off, also borrowing ideas from the information warfare the developer explored in R.U.S.E.. Alexis tells me that he’d been looking forward to Command & Conquer Generals 2 until its free-to-play design was revealed (the game was later renamed and eventually cancelled) and reckons there are plenty of people, like him, who want a forward-thinking but old-fashioned RTS.

The demonstration wasn’t scripted and there were many digressions as Alexis addressed my questions by demonstrating the answers in realtime as he played. Using dev tools to hurry the process along, he built a large base and assembled a huge army, then dropped a couple of missiles into a silo and filled the screen with fire. Buildings collapse, the ground is scorched, and vehicles buckle and burn. It’s a spectacular game, although quietly so considering the subject matter. The buildings and armies look as if they’re interpretations of tabletop models, packed with fine detail and admirably solid.

What I’ve seen so far brings back my fondest memories of the original Command & Conquer. My main concern is that the AI will behave too predictably, or that despite the attempts to complicate the traditional RTS flow, players will quickly find the best method of playing for each faction. Alexis responds to my doubts about the AI by acknowledging the difficulties involved but says he’s confident it’ll use the same tricks and fall into the same traps as a human player. If that’s even remotely true, Act of Aggression could turn out to be the game that helps me to fall back in love with a genre.

Act of Aggression will be released this Spring.

28 Comments

  1. DarkFenix says:

    If this game turns out even half as good as C&C Generals it’ll last me years. Grey Goo has already disappointed me, let’s hope this isn’t a second stinker.

    • XhomeB says:

      Wha… Grey Goo I’m absolutely in love with, what is it that you don’t enjoy, YOU HERETIC?! Explain thyself!

      Concerning Generals – wow, I recall being rather torn when it came out. I didn’t like it as a C&C game, because it wasn’t one (no MCV-based construction mechanics, no FMVs, different style of gameplay), but I LOVED it as an RTS.
      Its futuristic/wacky, yet grounded in reality universe felt authentic. The campaign was incredibly fun (I loved it that the missions and maps didn’t feel like they were *designed by someone*, but felt *organic*, like *real places*. Town felt like towns with their own inhabitants, for example), the missions didn’t guide you, you had absolute freedom in terms of achieving your goal – a far cry from Blizzard’s scripted campaign missions. The in-engine cutscenes were stupidly impressive and well directed, loved those. Oh, and the soundtrack is among the best I’ve heard, USA tracks absolutely rock.

      Then came Zero Hour and it felt a bit… meh. Still good, still enjoyable, but by including all these various generals with different weaponry (and restrictions on which unit you can or cannot use, which I didn’t like at all), the game lost a bit of its original charm for me. Suddenly, the universe became TOO wacky for my taste. Laser tanks and all that… The original game nailed the atmosphere of the conflict, ZH kind of missed the mark if you ask me.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      I hated Generals.

      GIve me my Kirovs and Tesla coils back, dammit.

      • Dux Ducis Hodiernus says:

        Maybe rise of the reds mod is for you then? I would link it(its on moddb, just google it) but im afraid the anti spam system might block my comment if i did.

  2. Vandelay says:

    This sounds just like what I would want from an RTS game. Not played the Act of War games, but I have played a Wargame and RUSE a little. As good as the Wargame series is, I do like that they are looking back at more traditional gameplay of the genre and this us sounding like it is building on some ideas from RUSE. Any word on stealth or bluffing abilities?

    • MrTijger says:

      I played Act of War and found it quite good, the graphics were outstanding for its time, far more realistic models and capabilities than C & C games. I thought they were pretty good RTS games and was kinda disappointed they went to creating different types of games.

      Good to hear that at least someone is going to bring back a, hopefully, solid RTS.

  3. HothMonster says:

    That first screenshot just reminds me how badly I want a new Desert Strike type game.

    • XhomeB says:

      One day, I dared hope the guys behind Renegade Ops would create one. Sigh.

    • trooperwally says:

      Oh so true. Desert strike was an awesome game, the nostalgia is strong. To kickstarter?

      • AsboScum says:

        I missed Desert Strike, but I was there for Jungle strike and Urban Strike. Never played anything else like them. Nostalgia is lurking nearby indeed.

  4. Sian says:

    “Vehicles collect resources and return them either to the base or a supply dump closer to the source. While travelling across the map, those vehicles are vulnerable so might require an escort if there are enemies close by. To complicate matters, resource placement is randomised at the beginning of each mission, so even if you know the basic layout of a map, the routes that form across it will vary from one skirmish to the next.

    It’s a slight adjustment to the usual flow that should prevent experienced players from relying on autopilot. The three factions also have their own method of ferrying resources around the place – a Cartel cargo helicopter can zip about the map and avoid roadside ambushes more effectively but it’s relatively flimsy, and has a tiny capacity in comparison to a US Army truck.

    It’s also possible to gain money by capturing banks, which are actual physical structures on the map. Alexis sent reconaiisance vehicles to a cluster of buildings and upon finding them empty, moved in APCs packed with infantry. Foot soldiers are needed to capture buildings because tanks, for all their qualities, are incapable of performing a heist (Ocean’s Eleven with tanks instead of people would be a fine thing, mind). With the bank’s funds now transferring into Alexis’ account, he set up infantry units in other nearby buildings. They’d be invisible to approaching forces but would create a killzone around the bank if the enemy came too close.”

    Maybe I’m missing something, but how does that differ from C&C fare? Surely players will build supply dumps as close to resource nodes as possible in order to make harvesting as efficient and safe as possible, no matter the vehicle they’re given.
    And invisible infantry in buildings… Well, maybe they weren’t invisible. It’s been a while, but capturing buildings with infantry isn’t new either.

    I don’t mean to be derisive – this game sounds like I’d really like it – but I’m having difficulties grasping what makes it different in these paragraphs.

    • Vandelay says:

      I expect it is like RUSE. If I remember rightly (has been awhile, so could be wrong,) you had a limited area to build your base, so you couldn’t just plonk down depots next to all the resources. It meant you had supply trucks moving all across the map and had to defend them.

    • mrpage says:

      In Ruse you start with a HQ structure, and supplies have to make their way back there, so as you start making use of resources a way from your base you get convoys of trucks having to make their way across the map. I expect this will work similarly.

  5. BalkanOkami says:

    !!!!

    SOOO relieved to hear this is still in development, and coming out in the next quarter or so no less. I’m STILL getting mileage out of Act of War: High Treason, AI quibbles aside. I’m hoping that Act of Aggression does indeed provide the same toybox thrills that Act of War (and C&C Generals, before it) did, and by this account it will. Maybe with a bit more braininess (re: the research strategy), but still a heap of fun nonetheless.

    Exciting!

  6. Rich says:

    Is there a single-player campaign?

  7. SuicideKing says:

    Lol this is what I actually wanted from Wargame: Red Dragon.

  8. Duke of Chutney says:

    Supply Lines! Sold!

    But how many Tunguskas will there be?

  9. -Spooky- says:

    I miss World in Conflict gameplay. No bases n stuff, grab your points, throw units in .. done.

    • Rich says:

      No reason you can’t go back to World in Conflict. It still looks lovely.

  10. Hensler says:

    I’ve played nearly every RTS ever and the two Act of War games remain some of my favorites – not because they were perfect games, but because they were so much damn fun. I’ve liked RUSE and WarGame – but I’ve been hoping for a true Act of War sequel for a long time – and this looks like it will be it.

  11. MikhailG says:

    Command! Conquer! Calculate… wait?

    That headline, it made me think EA decided to revive C&C from the dead and this was news about, how foolish I was. That was really mean. Ohwell, a new RTS is very welcome tho.

  12. El Loco says:

    This game looks pretty good. I’ve had tons of funs with cnc generals.

    Anyway my rts desires are already furfilled with Forged Alliance Forever. Actually all my gaming desires are forfilled by it.

    I’ve been with supcom since the first e3 trailer and seen it grown into the game it is today. I think rps has made an article about faf the other day. But in case you missed that I can say I highly recommend it.

    Nowadays the game isn’t run by a company anymore but it’s community driven. Luckily the game and the lobby only become better and better (and still is probably getting better in the future). The lobby has features that the original lobby didn’t have. Features like auto map/mod downloads, galactic war. The balance is good, not a single unit is extremly powerfull. Since the game is community driven you can make your voice heard if you disagree.

    Some features of the game/lobby
    – Strategic zoom, zoom out as far as you want
    – Lots and lots of untits.
    – Massive untis
    – Not a single build order is gonna win you the game, there are many differnent maps. Strategic decisions win you the game.
    – Massive units
    – Land, Air and Navy (!)
    – Flux income and expense. Not as hard to master as people tell you.
    – Friendly community (general speaking)
    – Players from all skill classes
    – Extremly cheap
    – Mod with enhanced explossions
    – Casters on youtube
    – 4 factions (they share the basic unit roles though)
    – 5th balanced faction available as a mod
    – short or long games possible (average 25 minutes)

    I could go on.

    Here are some trailers:

    link to youtube.com
    And a cast:

    Sorry for hijacking the topic, but maybe faf can keep you buys while you wait for AoA.

  13. Woohoo says:

    I find it very sad that Adam Smith is referring to C&C: Generals to describe Act of Aggression instead of Act of War series, which are probably much, much closer to this new game. I understand why he’s doing it: upon release, no gaming site showed interest in AoW, but that was a crime to begin with! Act of War is even today highly playable, all-you-could-ask-for RTS title and spiritual successor to C&C from it’s good days, especially AoW:High Treason. With Jagged Alliance 2 and Alpha Protocol, it’s one of the games that I haven’t uninstalled and have been playing at least once a year for almost 10 years by now.

    Of course, Atari/Eugen made horrible grave mistake in not including Windows 7 (and other) fixes when re-releasing AoW games on Steam (might be fixed today, don’t know) thus those brilliant games still couldn’t get past being diamonds in the rough years later. (A bit of Google will make them playable even on Windows 8 though, if anyone’s interested).

    But overall, this just isn’t right. A game with 2 extremely strong prequels will be introduced referring to title from entirely different company and franchise that basically killed itself (C&C).

    Perhaps it’s time for RPS and other similar sites to correct mistakes of the past (of gaming journalism in general) and revisit Act of War?

  14. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Even though it was a thoroughly busted game, Act of War’s military porn was wildly entertaining, and the low-rent Jack Bauer story told in hilariously cheap live-action FMV gave the CnC series a run for its money. If it becomes an actual competent game this time around, it’s destined for greatness.