Overall Score 64%
Billed as an Action/RTS, Titan Assault feels like the bastard child of Dune 2 and any one of a million scrolling shoot-em-ups, with just a pinch of a linear puzzle game in there just in case it wasn't all confusing enough already. Let's get this straight, this isn't your average Command-and-Conquer clone, and unfortunately in this case that's not such a good thing.
It's not that Titan Assault is a bad game exactly, it's simply that it seems like it's attempting to be all things to all people and ends up feeling rather empty. For the RTS crowd, the strategic depth simply isn't there, with only very straightforward, linear ways available to complete each mission. The action gamers, however, are hardly going to be satisfied with the sluggishness of their units.
For a start, there's no base-building involved. None, nada, zilch. All units are ordered - and delivered - from offscreen, bought with points earned from blowing up the bad guys and carried over from mission to mission. Technology upgrades for your units are bought from the same pool, which tends to leave the player in the difficult position of not wanting to buy any units at all, and get by with those provided by default at the beginning of a level. This leads to the aforementioned linearity of play and is unfortunately coupled with some woefully bad design choices. For example, restarting a level costs money that you could otherwise use to buy units or upgrades, but if most players are simply going to learn to save at the beginning of each level, why bother including such a feature at all?
Unit control can be accomplished by the standard point-and-click interface common to pretty much every RTS since the dawn of time, or - with a deft right-click - the player can assume direct control of one or more of his units, moving them around via the cursor keys or the traditional FPS WASD combination. This is often the best option, because left to their own devices the player's units have all the pathfinding skills of a lobotomized goldfish. Poor pathfinding algorithms have killed better strategy games than this, and considering the flat, featureless nature of Titan Assault's terrain it boggles the mind as to how units can get lost, or stuck, or just start going backwards for no good reason.
Direct control of units in an RTS is an interesting concept, possibly a first for the indie scene, and it works quite well here. Choppers controlled by the player are capable of jinking around enemy fire, and will merrily return fire without prompting or - if the player prefers - the mouse can be used to specify a target.
Using the system with - for example - a tank though is an exercise in futility. Many of the land units move at a snail's pace and turn like a cow, couple this with the fact that they generally fail to hit a moving target and it's often easier to simply park them in front of the enemy and let them slug it out. There's a certain visceral thrill in watching your units descend en masse on the enemy, but it's not strategy.
Whatever flaws Titan Assault possesses in terms of gameplay mechanics it manages to partway compensate for with some extremely professional presentation. The interface itself screams 'retro' (in the good sense), and the in-game graphics are well-drawn and rather cute - in a militaristic kind of way. Everything from shield effects to the perennial alien green blobs of death are as good as anything else on the independent scene right now, and the sound effects range from merely appropriate to thoroughly meaty and satisfying. The only place Titan Assault falls down is in the variety, for as good-looking as everything is it's all very, very samey and rather bland, with some levels composed of nothing more than a near-featureless square of desert. I also encountered a pretty major graphical bug playing the game on my Radeon 9800 Pro with the game textures set to the highest detail settings wherein some textures would not display, so take heed.
With 60 levels to play with, there's no shortage of longevity, but those 60 levels vary so slightly from each other there's no real hook to keep you playing. Unlocking new unit types is equally uninspiring, with some of the 14 units being taken up by 'upgraded' (read 'tougher, and a different colour') versions. The game balance feels all off as well, ranging from the cripplingly difficult on the early missions to the laughably easy once the player has a few technology upgrades under his belt. It's disappointing, because there's a solid engine here, full of pretty explosions, chattering machine guns and impressive unit design. If a bit more time had been spent on the actual gameplay mechanics, this could have been a gem of an offering. As things stand, however, it's merely a very average, distinctly un-strategic RTS coupled with an equally mediocre shooter devoid of any real action. Worth a try, but not worth the price.
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