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Massive Assault Network

The retail version of Massive Assault debuted towards the end of 2003 to much critical praise. Many people loved the easy to learn turn-based gameplay and the fantastic graphics. Now, about half a year later, Massive Assault Network has been released. The best way to classify Massive Assault Network is as a stand-alone expansion, though that term doesnít describe it perfectly. The new emphasis is a greatly revamped multiplayer experience with an optional monthly subscription that adds lots of new features and content. Is the $6.95 monthly fee worth it? You can keep on reading, or you can just look at the score on the right and then hit the back button. But donít hit the back button yet; it makes me sad!

Massive Assault Network is played on maps similar to those seen in the board game Risk. There are various countries that need to be defended or conquered, and itís up to you to decide on what to do. The beauty of it all is that the gameplay is so easy to get accustomed to that even rookies to the turn-based can easily figure out whatís going on. There is only one resource to worry about and there are only thirteen units (nine if youíre playing the trial version) to master.

Despite the lack of extraneous units and resources, Massive Assault Network is definitely one of those ìminute to learn, lifetime to masterî kind of games. While the lifetime is an exaggeration, there are certainly plenty of different strategies you can become accustomed to. The creators market this game as being similar to chess, and that couldnít be further from the truth. Well, except that Massive Assault Network has big-assed explosions and chess doesnít. Like in chess you have to wait for the right moment to attack, defend more powerful units and makes scarifies in the name of victory.

Each turn follows the same set of phases. First off is the guerilla phase, which only appears when an enemy has invaded a new territory. Once this happens youíre given the opportunity to recruit some units to fend off the invasion. After that is the attack phase, which is the most exciting. Different units have varied fire and movement ranges, so properly positioning your troops is essential. When youíve done all the damage you wanted to dish out, youíre hopefully able to recruit some new units depending on your revenue from conquered territories.

And finally thereís the disclose phase. At the start of the map each player is randomly assigned some territories. The territory looks like a neutral one to your enemy, but during the disclose phase you can recruit an assortment of units to ambush the enemy. The satisfaction you get when an enemy tries invading a seemingly neutral territory, only to have his squadron decimated by your secret ally is a great feeling. What makes it better is sending your opponent a message saying ìYOU GOT SERVED!î

As Iíve previously mentioned, the main emphasis of Massive Assault Network is multiplayer, so the singleplayer offerings are scant. There are eight helpful tutorials, three brief scenarios and one world war map, which is essentially a multiplayer map against a bot. The one map is great practice that can be played again and again due to the depth of the game, but sooner or later youíll want to venture online for a human opponent.

Finding someone to battle is incredibly easy thanks to the excellent interface. All you have to is pick the skill level of the opponent you want, the turn limit, and then youíll have an opponent in a short amount of time. Or, if youíd like, you can just browse through the people who are looking for an opponent, or you can simply find someone in the chatroom.

Playing against another person can be difficult since some gamers just arenít good at turn-based games (like me). To help the handicapped gamers (like me), there are people named ìmentorsî that you can challenge at any time and theyíll provide you with an educational match that helps develop your skills. The rest of the community is also incredibly helpful and most will do what they can to help out newbies without making them feel bad. Too bad the Counter-Strike community isnít half as friendly or helpful.

So far everything I discussed is available in the free trial version of the game, so what does paying $6.95 a month actually do? First of all, it removes some of the limitations that were present in the trial version. Initially you could only play one map online, but now you have a choice of eight maps, with a new one being added each month. There were also limitations on how high of a rank you can get, so with a subscription you wonít have to worry about that glass ceiling you always hear women complain about. The full version also adds naval units to the fray, which were previously locked. These five additional naval units add a whole layer of strategy.

The other features are something hardcore strategy nuts should be most pleased about. Paying the subscription grants you access to ladder matches and clan support, so if youíre actually good at this game you can let everyone know it. And best of all is the in-depth stats page. This page describes just about everything you need to want to know about your military record, and itís certainly interesting to see how youíre progressing.

The gameplay and features arenít the only strong aspects of the game; just take a look at the graphics. Turn-based strategy games arenít particularly known for their looks, but Massive Assault Network is definitely one of the best looking games in the genre. Just crank up all the graphical settings and be admire all the cool special effects. Those with crappy computers donít have to worry because Massive Assault Network can run on relatively low-end machines. While graphics are surprisingly good, the sound doesnít fare quite as well. The music can be dramatic and rousing at times, though the tunes can become repetitive after playing just a few few macthes. The Russian announcer is a bit on the bland side, but you can turn her off if she gets on your nerves.

If youíre new to turn-based games then Massive Assault Network is a decent game to start off with. The graphics are appealing, the community is helpful and the game doesnít bog you down with superfluous gameplay mechanics. If youíre a fan of playing turn-based games against other people, then this is one title worthy of your attention. The $6.95 subscription fee is an excellent deal, especially since most subscription-based games are at least $9.95. Massive Assault Network can be downloaded here. Now if only I could find a copy of the retail version.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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