Just how far can you go in the world of real-time build 'em up and blow 'em up games? You want cool 3D terrain? Try Dark Reign. You want different races or clans? Get Tribal Rage. You want more weapon and unit types? Then go for Total Annihilation. You want the lot? Then read on...
MAX - short for Mechanised Assault and Xploration - lets you play one of nine races, each with slightly different unit characteristics. The original MAX was turn-based with an option for simultaneous movement, but MAX 2 adds a third option: real-time play. And with at least 90 different structures, plus sea, land and air units in the game - as well as researched upgrades - you've really got to think on your feet.
In single-player mode, you can play any one of the 24 standalone missions, or there are four campaigns with nine missions in each, or a DIY scenario using one of the 27 supplied maps. In multiplayer mode - Internet, modem, network or serial cable -up to six players can battle it out. Just select a race, buy units or upgrades, and decide where you want to land and start building.
MAX 2 is easily the most complex of all the real-time strategy games I've played. The command interface can turn your brain to mush just thinking about it. Each unit or group can be given hold, advance or retreat orders, three levels of autofire, and unlimited waypoints into the bargain. You can even choose specific squares on the terrain grid for the final destination of a group of units. What is more, there are 50 zoom levels available and a variable perspective from directly overhead to 60 degrees, although the unit detail is poor even at full magnification.
Tell It Like It Is
Newly-built units can be given assembly areas to move to and there are unlimited building queues for unit-manufacturing buildings. The unique Cadaptive unit speech' is really cool - for example, voice messages from a unit are pitched to reflect the morale level of that unit. A spectacularly ingenious if useless feature.
MAX 2S spy cameras are a nice touch. You can switch between eight different cameras on the fly - one focusing on the enemy base, for example, one on your own, one following your assault group, one on your scouts, and so on. It's handy to be able to keep one focused on any weak points in your defence, too.
The terrain is nicely handled, with 3D-rendered planet surfaces that range from water to mountains, cliffs and molten lava, with a realistic line-of-sight option that allows sneak attacks. Terrain can be flat, rough, hill/mountain, shore, water and downright impassable, and this directly affects movement. Fog of war is also an option.
There are six difficulty levels for computer opponents as well as variable victory conditions, and the 'non-scripted' Al means you can replay missions over and over without being able to predict enemy response. Unfortunately, the movement Al is just as naff as in other games of the genre, with group movement particularly badly affected.
MAX 2 has a few other faults, too. The interface has a rather clunky feel and can be too much like hard work when you're in real-time play and under pressure. Worse still is the restrictive 640x480 screen resolution. Combined with overlarge menus and windows, you get to see far too little of what's happening on the ground, despite the sophisticated zoom control.
MAX 2 is a big step forward in a genre dominated by StarCraft and Total Annihilation. The range of units is a big plus point, and the command system gives you immense flexibility over your troops. The graphics are glorious but the cluttered screen - coupled with a clumsy interface, mediocre Al, boring sprites and a toothless scenario editor - just keeps it out of the recommended category.
Download M.A.X. 2
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode