Act of Aggression
Do not approach Act of Aggression lightly. Like the old jaded teacher in school who has grown to despise his pupils rather than care for them, this game has more interest in punishing you than it has educating you. The early missions in the campaign offer little in the way of a tutorial and in that sense it’s helpful that Act of Aggression brings little innovation to the real time strategy genre, as any radical new concepts combined with this brutal learning curve would surely leave most players deeply frustrated.
There is of course nothing inherently wrong with making a game that is challenging, but in order for the player to have a rewarding experience while taking on that challenge they must feel like they have the adequate tools to do so. While it’s not impossible to get to that point in Act of Aggression, the game itself will not help you much in getting there. The campaign’s failure to educate the player on the nuances of the game is further compounded by a shoddy story. Each mission is preceded by a cutscene featuring either an American style news report, or an eavesdrop on the sinister machinations of the games antagonists. In short, these sections are poorly written, poorly voiced, and poorly animated.
The framing of the story in the early cut scenes is an immediate warning that we might not be getting any kind of quality storytelling, setting up a tale of a generic foreign menace threatening the righteous U.S.A. However the forces you take control of in many of these campaign missions are actually U.N squaddies leading to some very poor attempts at a variety of accents. The heavy sniper's mockney incantation of “he met a sticky end” is particularly irritating.
However, the actual maps and units are impressively detailed, with urban landscapes creating a sort of toy-town aesthetic that stands in sharp contrast to the destruction dealt out by your units while also providing tactical options in terms of cover and routes to your objectives. This gives the game its one saving grace - online play. While the campaigns are almost entirely devoid of merit, those willing to fight through the early tedium and become fully versed in the different factions will find a solid strategy game online.
Act of Aggression proudly describes itself as an “old-school RTS” and in that sense it’s a success on its own terms. The tech trees are spralling, the factions are varied and the music has that insipid techno quality that was a hallmark of the nineties strategy game. However there have been many games released since Comand and Conquer that will offer fans of the genre equal depth and variety without the weak solo campaign or tediously unforgiving learning curve. There is a solid RTS somewhere in AoA, but you'll have to be willing to forgive numerous failings in order to enjoy it.
While drawing inspiration from what has gone before is to be expected in any creative endeavour, failing to put your own mark on your source material can leave the finished product feeling like little more than nostalgic indulgence. It’s a trap that Act of Aggression has thrown itself into willingly.