The resource managem ent-cum-strategy wargame parade continues apace this month, and I seem to be reviewing the lot of them. Blood & Magic, Fragile Allegiance and now the most Command & Conquery of them all - M.A.X, or Mechanized Assault & Exploration to its friends (and yes, I know that means it should by rights be called MAAE but you know these Americans and their love of the acronym).
It's hard to fully describe MA.X in such a small number of pages and to be fair the game's manual and tutorial missions do a far better job than I ever could. So instead I'll concentrate on describing what it's like to play.
The easiest way to describe it is to say that it's CCommand & Conquer Plus'. But like Pamela Anderson, it does have a couple of features that make it stand out, notably the combination of realtime action with turn-based strategy. While the fundamental features of the game (mining, construction work, movement and firing factors and the like) are dictated by the unswerving tyrant that is turn-based gameplay, each player (computerised, humanised or pluralised) takes his, her or its go at ONE AND THE SAME TIME! Thus you still have to have the reactions of a nine-year-old Chinese Tekken addict, but they have to be married to the delectable bride known as Strategic Foresight).
Get stuck in, lad
Generally, MA.X looks like a top-notch game. Stunning graphics, enhanced C&C-style gameplay and plenty of innovative ideas. However, it's not for everyone. Whereas C&C has a very immediate, in-your-face action element, M.A.X definitely takes the route marked CStrategic'. The use of turn-based strategy (even with its simultaneous nature) steers the game well away from the realms of the arcade and means that you have to spend a lot more time thinking about what you're doing, what your opponent(s) are doing and what you should be doing next.
As your troops increase in number and consequently your horizons expand both mentally and physically, it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of everything. Certainly each unit has a built-in Creaction-fire' element that makes sure it opens fire if anything gets close, but this isn't really enough. What is needed is the option to issue limited commands to different troops - have a platoon of tanks constantly patrol a set area, for example, or have a missile unit make a sneak attack, then a hurried retreat (while you're taking care of things elsewhere). You need some kind of limited intelligence routines for the units, at least more so than the simple Creact and fire' option available now. It's not so bad if you're playing in turnbased mode, but when everything's happening in real-time it's hard to react to different events while you're trying to initiate other plans.
Now you'll note that the score awarded to MAX is somewhat below that awarded to both Command & Conquer and Z and is also a little below that given to Close Combat not 30 days ago. Be that as it may, there is a reason and it is one that I'm sure, once you've come to understand, accept, fall passionately in love with and father a child by, you'll be fully able to bear it in mind when Mr Shopkeeper is asking you for your money.
I would not have given Command & Conquer a mark of 95. Neither would I have bestowed a 92 score upon Z's shoulders. And to say that Close Combat wouldn't have amassed anything close to 84 would be something of an understatement. Respectively, I personally would have marked the three games thus: 87, 82 and 78. C&C is certainly playable but is little more than an advanced Dune II with elements borrowed from Civilization. Z is more basic than that, as well as being a damn sight tougher and Close Combat is more strategic but lacks the immediate appeal of the others. I, however, was not reviewing those games. I am, however, reviewing MAX and, as such, can only mark it using my own guidelines. Thus it gets 83, an 83 that puts it more or less head-to-head with Z and allows it to snap playfully at the heels of C&C, a score that to me says a jolly super game, to you says a definite entry on your CPossible To Buy' list, but for reasons best known to Buddha, says to marketing people CA Bad Review' (it seems that anything under 85 in a magazine such as this spells trouble for software houses - what utterly foolish people they are).
Fortunately, you and I possess brains with more than one cell and know otherwise.
Re: Blood & Magic
No doubt you've already read my little soliloquy on the dearth of original thought in today's computer games (it's in the Blood & Magic review,), so I suppose a little back-covering is in order regarding my praiseful commentary of M.A.X. Why, you are no doubt asking with the kind of furtive inquisitiveness that has made you so dear to my heart, does Blood & Magic get berated for being too similar to Warcraft 2, while MAX is lavished upon despite being not wholly untrue to the nature of Command & Conquer? Well, peach blossom, it is like this.
Blood & Magic took the Warcraft 2 concept and did very little to change it. In fact, it just seemed to strip it down for parts, drape it in an official Dungeons & Dragons cloak and turn it back at us. Playing the game gave you the impressionybe not conceptually, but with immense gusto regarding actual implementation that no one had really cared about it during its development. With M.A.X, however, we have get a different impression. The designers appear to have taken the basic Command & Conquer concept and then expanded on it a hundredfold.
The whole real-time/turn-based structure lends such an air to things that it almost seems like a completely different game. The variety in gameplay options means that the player always has something new to try. It also means that it isn't as instantly enjoyable as C&C but that's another matter covered with equally beautiful prose elsewhere on these pages. What we are concerning ourselves with here is originality of thought. And that's what M.A.X possesses. Maybe not conceptually, but with immense gusto regarding actual implementation.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode