Auto Assault

Although an unsavoury element has been combining cars and guns with living fast and dying young, the rest of us have been sadly deprived of depraved vehicular mayhem. Whilst Grand Theft Auto has captured the visceral nature of the chase, the game isn't without its downsides - it has no multiplayer and the less said about the graphics the better. But when you get into the thick of it, leaving burnt rubber and shell casings in your wake is a compulsive experience.

Auto Assault takes a different line. For a start, it's an MMORPG, so it's designed from the ground up to encourage interaction between players. Gone are the cities bustling with foul-mouthed pedestrians; instead, the population has been splattered and mutated by an alien comet. This unfortunate event leaves three races of nutter alive on the planet: Humans - with a penchant for dreadlocks; Mutants who drive VW Camper vans (well it looks like they do); and the Bio-Mechs who are part man, part toaster. Whilst the game takes a different line, the appeal is undoubtedly the same: cars, guns and destruction.

Although each race has its own backstory, skills and equipment there is no significant reason to pick one race over another. Each has a slightly different properties (Humans have extra shielding, Bio-Mechs have more hitpoints, and Mutants have mild regeneration), yet they play similarly. The only significant choice when starting the game is selecting your class.

You versus the world

Auto Assault has four player classes. There's a tank, to stand toe-to-toe with your enemies; a healer to keep your party alive; an assassin to reconnoitre your enemy and make surprise attacks; and a jack-of-all-trades if you just can't decide.

The Player versus Environment (PvE) section of the game works in the usual MMO style. You wander about the world in search of NPCs who will dish out missions. Generally the missions are tortuously standard affairs, sending you out to kill a mob of beasties, deliver a package, or collect a certain kind of loot.

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Completing a mission results in rewards of Exprience Points (XP), cash, loot, and possibly a new challenge to guide you into hitherto unexplored regions, unlocking (then blowing to smithereens) new areas of the game. The initial levels are well paced, and it's an easy and enjoyable grind to Level 20, after which the growth slows and the rewards increase.

Each race has its own third of the world, the aim being to grind up the levels and through the maps until you reach a the centre of the world, where the three races can meet in a huge central Player versus Player (PvP) area.

You'll need to reach Level 80 before you can enter the real PvP area, but you can also play PvP in towns. Most towns have an OCD terminal that allows you to join or create a match of 1 to 32 players a side. There are two game types available: Deathmatch and Capture 'N Hold, but you can't player match with people of different levels. This makes it absurdly difficult to get a match; most people seem to prefer playing PvE, either on their own or in a convoy.

Ten Four Rubber Duck

Convoys are Auto Assault's take on player grouping; up to eight players can join together to share XP and loot. While this is great for running from one town to another - farming the lands - it's not very good for completing missions, because the convoy cannot share them; making it absurdly difficult to create and maintain a group in PvE.

Most members of the convoy will be following their own missions, so when you move from one area to the next players stay in their mission area - often quitting the convoy. It's annoying, because it's so close to working properly. When someone in your convoy kills something that's on your mission list it does count towards your mission total; a well-organised convoy can churn through missions at a staggering rate.

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You have half a chance to do this, because Auto Assault integrates quality voice communications into convoys. If you had a task to share it would be easy to co-ordinate the troops. Unfortunately the main use of VoIP is to keep your group together, instead of coordinating troops when you're hunting a particularly elusive or powerful boss.

Bosses, enemies and even buildings and rubble all drop items, known as loot. This comes in the form of different bits of scrap, items, and the loot dropped depends on the creature's type and your current mission. Eventually you'll accumulate vast stores of salvaged duct tape and other useful goodies, which you can then use to craft new items with.

Cottage industry

You can't buy the best weapons and gadgetry in shops - if you want something really special you must make it yourself by crafting it from your horde of loot. Irritatingly, crafting is very difficult to start with, and although there are many instructions it's difficult to work out what you need to unlock, how to use your tools, and where in the world you've got to stand to craft the items you want.

Crafted items are made by either re-engineering components you pick up (like engines and guns) or by combining loot. Each piece of loot can be combined - turning the loot from salvaged scrap, to patched materials, and then into functioning components. What you can make is dependant on your crafting discipline, which you selectively refine as you progress through the game. Since you can only learn seven of the seventeen crafts available at one time, you'll need to trade items with other craftsmen.

You can buy, make or collect a staggering array of different armaments, and you can further tinker with them to buff attributes. If you're sufficiently skilled you can customise bespoke systems and commit them to memory, so you can invent the best weapon or armour available and sell it on the open market.

However, there are issues with this, too. For example, there's no way to set up a stall to display your wares, and other players can only admire your car as is streaks past them on the battlefield, so there's little need to trick out your ride with details.

Fun with a Gun?

Auto Assault has flaws, the biggest of which is the lack of mission sharing in the convoys, which may mean that many people never make it past the initial 'free' month's play. That's a pity, because the PvP area and combined questing there is much better organised, although right now that's even less populated than the deserted PvP consoles in town.

That's because most people are out PvE grinding. Grinding is, perhaps, an unfair term, though - how could laying waste to massive mobs of enemies in a souped up tank be considered a grind? Even blasting hordes of pointlessly weak mutated nutters is surprisingly good fun - even if you're only collecting loot and not XP. It's almost disappointing that the single player PvE is so good, because it makes playing in a convoy a chore for many people.

Overall, Auto Assault can be a riot, and incredibly good fun - there is something very appealing about cars and guns. We sincerely hope that the developers fix a few of the niggles that we have with the game, otherwise we fear the majority of people won't make it past the first month.

Josh Blodwell