Monday, January 16, 2006

Byte: World of Wheelcraft

Crazy traffic this morning. So bad, in fact, I was having Auto Assault flashbacks and wishing I had a radioactive-goo-spraying turret mounted on my roof. The "Weekend in the Wastelands" didn't start out too promisingly: on Saturday, I couldn't log in at all, and on Sunday, when I could finally get on the Beta server, I was having horrible performance and instability problems, crashing regularly, every ten minutes or so.

After a quick read on the Crash Issues thread in the Auto Assault forums, I discovered that it was a problem with having High Quality sounds enabled. For some reason Audigy cards don't seem to like them, so they've got a bit of tweaking to do yet. Other than that, I didn't find any obvious bugs, barring one quest that simply didn't work for me, no matter how many bloody times I jumped my car over the crawler nests...

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. For those of you who don't know much about Auto Assault yet, here are the basics.

There are three opposing factions (it seems three is the new two in MMORPGs this year - RF Online also has three opposing factions instead of the traditional two), the Humans, Mutants and Biomeks. Each race has their own specific skillset, and you can also devote skill points to class skills. There are four character classes (these are the Biomek class names, but they're essentially the same thing, regardless of race): Terminator (Combat specialist), Constructor (Engineer/Tech specialist), Mastermind (wizard/spellcasting type) and Agent (Special Ops/sneaky type).

I tried out a Biomek Agent (called RogerRodger, in homage to the "Roger. Huh?" recurring joke in Airplane, so if you see me, be sure to say "Hi"), and got him up to Level 6 in about five or six hours play, which gave me a look-in on the skills/powers tree. Agents get small, light cars which are fast and maneouvrable, but can only carry small weapons, which don't do much outright damage, but do have fast re-fire rates, meaning that you can make like a Locust in Mechwarrior; circling quickly around enemies too close and too fast for them to get shots in at you, whilst nibbling away at them with your relatively puny weapons. Agents also have the Invisibility power (in which you need to invest skill points) that you can use to make hit-and-run attacks against more powerful enemies without getting your chassis shot off, or simply to help make a clean escape.

Combat's furious and involving: despite the statistical basis (all the weapons still have DPS - "Damage Per Second" - ratings), it genuinely feels like you're dishing out damage in real-time, as rather than just clicking an attack button WoW-style and letting the stats sort it out, you need to fire your weapons in the way you would in an offline action game. You have three weapon mounts: Fixed front and rear facing hardpoints, plus a roof-mounted turret, which you can rotate using the mouse, allowing you to drive independently of aiming, much like the tanks in UT2004. The turret can track onto targets if you click on an enemy, or you can just leave it in free-aim mode, so that you can hit targets on the fly without targetting them first, which is handy when you get into huge vehicle vs infantry melées.

You can pick up trophy parts to customise the look of your car; pipes, vents and tracks, for example; fitting them at a body shop in one of the towns. They don't do anything other than look cool, but you can pick up items than can be used to enhance your car. Other than weapons, the performance of cars can be altered by fitting them with new tyres (say if you want to maximise your grip on ice or sand), or a new power plant or armour plating. Parts are level-limited to ensure the game balance, so that you don't get Level 2 characters driving around with armour that gives them a +100 bonus to their defence.

The handling of the cars is good and appears to adhere to the known laws of Physics, but there are still a few clipping problems, meaning that you can occasionally get your car stuck. Thankfully, since most of the game environment is destructible, you can usually shoot your way out of trouble. Graphically, the game isn't the best looking MMORPG out there, but the weapon and power effects are pretty enough. Some of the car designs are quite cool as well. I reckon this one has quite a bit of staying power.

I'd like to find out how things evolve as you get up to a higher level, and I didn't get to do any PvP, but I'm guessing that it's going to be quite interesting. I'm going to play it more tonight, take some screenshots and do a full preview for Pro-G, so keep your eyes peeled this week for that.

I'm also going to be taking a look at War World this week, which, if it plays half as good as it looks, could be great.
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