All Aspect Warfare – PC Game Review
All Aspect Warfare
Developer and Publisher: 3000AD. $39.99
Passed Inspection: Tremendous replay value; an open world where most missions have multiple possible approaches; rewards thoughtful play.
Failed Basic: Extremely difficult for all but the most dedicated players.
Unique and sometimes exasperating is a fantastic way to describe AAW as a whole.
All Aspect Warfare is a study in overcoming adversity. As its story opens, you and a team of soldiers are alone, on foot and unsupported on a hostile world. You are surrounded by adversaries, and charged with finding a nuclear device within the next 24 hours somewhere within a 400-square-kilometer area – and with no idea of where to begin.
The developer, 3000AD, refers to this as a "hardcore" game, and they are absolutely correct. The challenge of the situation is enhanced by barren, featureless terrain that must be crossed quickly or not at all, as well as a finite ammunition supply and an enemy who can and will engage you accurately from a prohibitive maximum range. It’s a game where there are no easy outs and a player’s experience level and brains are far more important than the weapon in his hands.
There is no limit to the tasks you’ll carry out: you’ll time your movements to avoid enemy patrols, infiltrate enemy bases in the dead of night, fly shuttles at breakneck speeds down canyons, and engage in brutal firefights whilst saving imprisoned comrades – all of your own volition, and all in an open world that rewards realistic thinking. It’s a welcome change from shooters-on-rails that feed you ammunition just before fights against improbable bosses, or military games where the biggest challenge comes from deciding whether or not to "game" the AI by picking it off from range.
The flip side of this welcome change is that the game can be exceptionally difficult, even unacceptably hard for some players, especially early on. While you’re doing all of the fun-sounding things just catalogued – flying shuttles, infiltrating, and shooting at people – you’ll be dying. Very, very frequently.
Flat terrain, long travel times, an enemy that engages from extreme ranges, and doing most of an entire war’s worth of fighting with one four-man team works out just as you’d expect it would: it’s exhausting, occasionally tedious, and utterly deadly. That breakneck shuttle-flying is fantastic the first time. It is remarkably less fun ten deaths later, when you discover that you need to turn on the jammers. Or five deaths after that, when you discover that jammers do not work very well against short-range missiles.
The same goes for infantry battles, which are notable for how suddenly you’ll die and for an incredible rate of enemy pop-in. You’ll be lying prone shooting at some distant enemies when new ones will magically appear ten meters behind you, and you will instantly die. Knowing that they’ll be there when you reload the saved game doesn’t help much – they’ll be appearing only ten meters away and will still kill you instantly, unless you are very lucky. Surviving such fights, which happen with surprising regularity, is a result of white-knuckled mouse-turning as you pray that the enemy’s armor will fail before yours does. If it weren’t so annoying, it would be exciting.
If this sounds like a bizarre potpourri of amazing and disappointing, it is, until you get the hang of things. In the absence of an in-game tutorial, it is these first few hours of deaths that will serve as your training ground. Documentation is voluminous and readily available via in-game menus and hotkeys, but experience is the best teacher here. You’ll learn to turn on your jammers early, fly low, and dodge missiles. You’ll learn to avoid likely enemy spawn zones and engage enemy marksmen first. Eventually you reach a point where the game starts to flow, and you begin to gain confidence and accomplish objectives, taking part in the sprawling campaign that covers nearly every corner of the planet. Missions usually take the form of a short message from your supreme command and waypoints marked on the massive world map. They’re very often incredibly open-ended; the aforementioned infiltration mission could be carried out in a dozen different ways. In a nice touch, the most direct methods will be pointed out by your teammates ("We could teleport to a nearby base" or "If we get close to the objective I can neutralize it without blowing it up"), which makes some less-than-obvious missions more accessible.
Unfortunately, the missions are saddled with an odd mechanic that makes them take considerably longer than they might otherwise. All missions have a pre-determined time in which they need to be completed, and the mission does not end until that time has elapsed. As your skills improve, the actual missions begin to take less and less time, and you soon find that you are waiting ten or fifteen minutes, doing nothing at all, until the next mission comes along. While "hurry up and wait" is certainly a maxim in most armies, its translation to game form is unique and sometimes exasperating.
"Unique and sometimes exasperating" as it happens, is a fantastic way to describe AAW as a whole. As a game it manages to properly convey the challenge and insanity of the situation you’ve been thrust into, but let’s make no bones: this is not a situation most of us would *want* to be in, and with AAW‘s fidelity it can be disagreeable even vicariously. There are moments of splendid beauty – such as the first time you fly over an enemy base at night and the sky is lighting up with tracers as you struggle to control your craft – and there are long stretches of tense and memorable fighting, but frequent death and the occasional spans of utter boredom will likely drive any but the most dedicated players away.
People who have enjoyed 3000AD games in the past will find the same challenges here, and AAW earns a recommendation for anyone for whom a sci-fi world with big guns and bigger ideas is enough to counter hours spent dying. I recommend, very strongly, that you play the demo first.
As a game that essentially creates its own niche – "cruelly intense games" would be a fitting category title – I found it not without its flaws, but it is a captivating play for any who can get past its rough edges.
Armchair General score: 80%
Links to the game and its "sister" game Angle of Attack, which focuses more on aerial combat, on Steam.