Billed as the spiritual successor to 2005’s Act of War: Direct Action, Act of Aggression is a very promising addition to Eugen Systems’ quietly successful line up of real-time strategy titles. Set in the near future, it's a back to basics, meat and potatoes RTS aimed at gamers who want exactly that.
After China’s stock market crashes in 2019, the world is plunged into chaos, and three distinct factions armed with modern and prototyped military weaponry wage war for planetary supremacy. The US Army excels on the ground and in the air, while United Nations member-state coalition Chimera is more of a jack-of-all-trades army that will be the focus of the game’s campaign. A not-yet-playable third faction, The Cartel, is a shadowy international organisation of influent politicians, high ranking officers, and industry and media magnates.
Upgradability is a big part of gameplay here. Tanks and other units can be customised with particular specialties in a similar way to units in Command & Conquer: Generals. Infantry units can capture opposing infantry as prisoners of war, who can then be housed in a prison to generate income.
Resources must be gathered and, importantly, stored. Macro management in this game is much more of an art than other titles, and if you spend too much time micromanaging attack units, you risk economic breakdown on the home front. The in-game economy relies on two main resources, and a third tear nuclear resource.
Oil and aluminum can be gathered from the outset, and upgradeable trucks deliver to central base-building or resource storage buildings. ‘Rare Earth’ can only be gathered during late play, and is used for super-weapons and top tier units. Superweapons also have their part to play here, but notably there is also an anti-super weapon counter for each. Nukes can be shot down, but at a comparable cost.
Base building is also more of an art here than usual, with careful, neat placement resulting in more efficient supply lines. Each faction has different building restrictions, with the Chimera having to very tightly lock buildings together. This can be frustrating at first, but as you gain familiarity with a Chimera build, it becomes second nature.
The Chimera headquarters acts as a power reserve, and power is a very important resource. That makes the age-old tactic of getting a chopper into an unguarded section of a base and taking out an enemy's entire defence a viable one. Tactically, Act of Aggression will be a low learning curve for most players familiar with classic warfare titles like Command & Conquer and Act of War.
The current release doesn’t include any missions from the single player campaign, but it can be hoped that a crafted and refined campaign like those found in Starcraft will influence what can often be the worst part of an RTS title. There is a promising thriller story at least, and the Cartel’s cyberpunk hackers look likely to be great villains in a campaign largely focused around Chimera activities.
In multiplayer, The Cartel looks to be a much more stealth-focused side, which presumably will require a lot more balance testing. Perhaps the most exciting element yet to be added to the game is the Cartel’s hacking focus, and if well balanced and thought-out, it will make for some riveting gameplay.
The game engine itself is very solid for an early beta, and there are some nice touches. The final stage of zoom out is a radar-heat map, which allows you to follow the action much more clearly. It also adds a nice military feel to the action.
Available right now in the beta is two faction multiplayer, skirmish mode, and a co-op 'comp-stomp' mode, but access is currently only available to pre-order customers. Even so, Act of Aggression is shaping up to be a must have for fans of classic real-time strategy, so you might want to think about diving straight in and getting your build order sorted for release day.