By now the Pocket PC has seen a fair number of attempts at RTS games, but I don't think the release of a handful will stop developers from attempting to transport one of the most popular genres on the PC platform onto the handheld format. Arguably, recent RTS titles on the Pocket PC have been a bit bland and not too creative in their own right. Perhaps this is related to the maturity of the market as a whole or the technical limitations of the PDA form. Strategic Assault takes a level-headed approach to the RTS genre. It does not pretend to incorporate fantastical settings nor does it want to introduce any significantly innovative concepts.
All the trappings the RTS is famous for, numbered groups, building bases and collecting resources are translated into the game, albeit, collecting resources has been simplified to the capture and hold of certain resource-generating structures. Strategic Assault is a modern RTS game featuring an assortment of tanks and jeeps. The buildings and unit names seem directly inspired from Command and Conquer. The terrain, though a bit bland, aims for realism and I'm sure you will think from the screenshots, this looks more like a wargame than a manic RTS clickfest. One thing that Strategic Assault lacks and I am not always comfortable with is the lack of panning. In PC strategy titles, you can pan across a map by moving the mouse to the screen edge. Here, perhaps because of the lack of a persistent pointer, the only way to move the top-down view is through the mini-map.
Each mission in Strategic Assault comes with an overhead briefing of the playing map. The map is marked with friendly structures, possible points like resource-generating structures and the enemy encampment. While other Pocket PC games have shown that you can have fog of war and hidden maps, Strategic Assault does away with all that. If you think about it, it seems a bit logical. I am not really sure why modern, much less space age strategy titles, continue to have blacked-out maps. If people can wield satellites or airplanes, I'm sure someone has to have produced some initial reconnaissance even if they are tourist maps, like what Mussolini's Italian troops used to 'invade' France.
The piece de resistance of Strategic Assault is clearly the artificial intelligence. Once you get past the first mission, Strategic Assault does not give you pause in the game. You will be fighting a losing battle if you elect to build your army slowly in a defensive posture as the enemy is aggressive in its seizures of resource points. It is also no sloth in attacks. A resource-laden enemy AI will not amass a number of troops so you can slowly lure them away and pick them off. It will regularly issue attacks and not always one by one either. It is also capable of sorties to recapture resource points, as well as put
up token defense units around those important areas. In this demonstration, it reminds me of the more involving RTS games like Total Annihilation. If you play defensively, as you can in say the easier settings of Age of Empires, you'll face an uphill battle. This game is definitely not for those who amass a million troops on their side hoping to apply the coup d'etat in one fell swoop.
Individual AI, however, is a bit questionable. There are some funny pathfinding algorithms. Often when a group of units is tasked to go to a certain location, one unit might stray from the group's path and go an alternate (longer) route. The most problematic seems to be the incorporation of walls. Walls do an admirable job of stopping the defense simply because both friendly and enemy AI appear to have no
concept in flanking a well-built wall. If a friendly unit spots an enemy unit on the other side of the wall, both units will fire at the wall until the wall is destroyed. Why the friendly unit does this is beyond me and at least for the enemy, it can be rationalized that it wants to level the fortifications. Although for them as well: It is usually simpler and quicker to go around a wall rather than forcibly bringing one down.
The visuals may be a bit bland but I thought they were true to the theme of the game. Strategic Assault is almost devoid of sound effects. The only significant audio heard is from the various weapons of the units. The weapon fire is well done and they sound like something that would come from Command and Conquer. Whereas Command and Conquer popularized the techno and rock style musical soundtrack, Strategic Assault lacks this and ambient environmental effects. Moreover, the effects do not waver in volume or are location-aware. If you are centered on a map location far away from the battle, the sounds are just as loud as you are on top of the battle. I recall this was a feature in Starcraft and I had originally thought that this sounded very trivial but now I
recognize how important it is.
Overall, Strategic Assault definitely owns up to its namesake. Its main emphasis is without a doubt on strategy. Its lack of story is compensated by the strong AI components. The artificial intelligence keeps you on our toes and is active enough in the game that you will have a more engaging role than shepherding troops from your home base to the enemy's headquarters. The audio-visual components, although good, could be much better, in light of the fact that the title shows a polished sense of professionalism. It is seemingly inspired from Command and Conquer. The light/heavy factories, light tanks, jeeps that look like Command and Conquer humvees, should make any Westwood fan feel at home.
[09/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer