When a game series becomes popular it’s inevitable that several other companies will fall over themselves to flat out copy what has come before. In the world of videogames every single popular or successful idea has a thousand clones. It’s not something that has come about thanks to modern gamers attitudes of being scared to try new things, this is something that has been around since the dawn of the scene. From Space Invaders to Super Mario Bros and beyond every single moment of inspiration has been met by an army of slice grabbers… everyone wants a piece of the fame pie.
One such enormously famous and successful game series, Contra, has often broke the gaming mould in order to keep everything fresh and exciting and in doing so is one of the gaming industries most influential retro franchises. Known for it’s intense action and above all else hard as nails gameplay it’s a videogame franchise that more often than not has stood for quality and pure arcade style excitement. With that being said it was only a matter of time before it stopped being a side scrolling 2D series and went fully 3D and of course once that was done it was only a matter of time before someone else thought that was the way to go. Get ready for an attack of the clones moment…
Released in 1998 and published by Midway in North America and Telstar in Europe, Assault (or Assault Retribution as it was known in the USA) was a 3D scrolling shooter that was very much a complete and total copy of the concepts of Contra and especially the ones that had already appeared on consoles like the Playstation. Positioned as an action adventure with blasting enemies at it’s core and with a cover (PAL version) that certainly did peak one’s interest it would of course do very well based purely off of it’s inspiration and the fact that the PS1 was in just about every gamers home. The law of averages should easily make it a money maker. Funny how things turn out really…
The main camera, that was obviously designed by an evil person who wanted to make you lose your mind, is a constant source of frustration and makes an easy game hard and a hard game annoying. You will not ever die from conventional combat, if you do please hand your pad over to another person and take up board games, because quite frankly, you suck! Enemies although plentiful are weak and your gun selection is very powerful, in fact it just makes the games story (or serious lack of) seem silly. If just one marine can do all this then how on earth did humanity get in trouble in the first place? The only real challenge comes from the boss battles which occur at the end of every level and even those are easy once you work out exactly where to hit them to finish them off. Where you will almost always die however is from the quite atrocious level design that involves any jumping moments.
Your leaping ability is terrible and feels like gravity is in fact 50 times worse than real life. The collision detection is also terrible meaning that sometimes even doing everything right will sometimes result in a fall to your doom.
One of the best bits about the title in question also turns out to be another reason you will lose most of your lives and that’s in the sequences that were obviously placed in to stop repetition occurring from just walking and blasting. Your character sometimes jumps onto hovering vehicles or is placed in situations where the screen scrolls automatically forcing you to avoid things. Going forward on the vehicle is fine, it’s the running away from a disaster that’s the problem. Moving into the screen as if trying to run towards the player is a nightmare and where other games such as Disney’s The Lion King and the first Crash Bandicoot game sort of managed it ok this completely drops the ball. The camera is again way too close to the action and only through dying and repeating will you ever be able to get some sort of strategy in place.
The stand out high point of the game though is the weaponry in use. Your standard gun is pretty powerful on it’s own and can even be upgraded in specific power levels via the collection of objects in the game world however the other boom sticks you have available are devastating and can decimate bosses instantly. From spinning discs of doom to rocket type weapons the variety is both great and tons of fun to experiment with, essential for working out how to remove said bosses from your path to victory. Each of the weapons uses a regenerating energy gauge in order to stop you spamming the buttons which works well however for specific situations it then makes you run around in circles avoiding standard enemies whilst it gathers it’s bar back which is incredibly annoying and un-necessary. The very best bit of ‘Assault’ is again ruined by poor game design.
There is a story and it’s centred around two heroes who set off to wipe-out every single Alien that has infested human territories as mankind has spread out into space and colonised other worlds. It’s at this point where the first of the many failures of the game raises it’s head as the FMV sequence that begins the game tells you practically nothing, only the back of the games box sheds any real light into the events that have transpired to the point of galactic warfare. Choosing between one of two available marine type soldiers (one male, one female) you set off to bring about the end of this supposed threat. Neither of the lead characters have any real personality or detailed back story and with no real separation of abilities to distinguish between the two whichever character you select is going to yield you the exact same outcome. The only real difference is that the male character who has the classic beefcake look about him suddenly turns into Robocop the second you start playing. For some unexplained reason he puts on armour that makes him look like the iconic movie futuristic cop. Weird!
Beginning on what looks like a modern future looking cityscape location you exit your troop transport and immediately the action begins, and almost straight away the second and biggest problem with the game pops up to say hello. The aliens attack on mass almost constantly which of course is great, the problem however is that the camera is far too close to the action meaning that they are upon you before you have time to really formulate a strategy. With large sprites for everything there’s not that much room to move around and so everything becomes about holding down the fire button and often simply rotating in 360 degrees to kill the swarm around you. Whilst this happens the constant sound effect of taking damage pings out the speakers which is both badly recorded and ultra annoying after about the second minute mark.
It’s important to note that none of this makes you die, because your energy bar is very large and even the bigger boss enemies fail to take that much off you, it’s like being stung by the worlds crappiest wasp hundreds of times. With all that being said the action essentially becomes more about trying to stop being constantly hit by inching forward by tiny movements in order to at least have a small chance of predicting enemy movement. This massively diminishes any fun element and turns it all into some form of paint by numbers effect for every single level. As you venture forth (slowly) you will receive ammo replenishments for your massive arsenal of weapons from dead creatures and crates and also numerous life energy refills and even multiple extra lives. Assault is not a hard game by any stretch of the imagination, well… apart from the gameplay flaws that will combine to both annoy and finish you off.
Graphically it’s a superb example of how the PS1 console very much relied on pretty looking triangles. Everything looks like a launch game flat mess that has the cracks covered over by explosions of colour. Every selection of the rainbow is massively highlighted here, red’s are very red, greens are over the top bright etc etc. That may be fine for some genres but a 3D isometric shooter with flat backgrounds moving via that wobbly effect tons of play station games suffer from makes it look a complete mess. The aliens themselves are inconsistent in look with some of them obviously trying to be a little Starship Troopers mixed with the original Alien from the smash hit film franchise. Put simply it looks like none of the graphic artists worked with each other and just whacked together a mish mash of rubbish. It’s not good at all. The FMV cut sequences are exceptionally bad and do nothing to help describe the story at all. Small pop up windows where your boss (or whoever he is) tries to detail story and your character talks back are ok however you don’t get time to read it because of the constant need to focus on the swarms around you.
From a sound point of view it’s horrid. The music is a weird mix of heavy electro synth with slight guitar overtures and it’s like listening to someone run their fingernails down a chalk board. It will annoy you immensely and the speed of it all that was clearly designed to make you feel more pumped up simply adds to the sense of having to always move fast and be at mach 4 from start to finish. This just plays into the rubbish camera aspect and makes the whole thing more of a mess. Sound is supposed to add to the gameplay experience, this highlights everything wrong with said experience so in this sense it’s a complete and utter fail. The sound effects for guns are ok, however all the rest just stab at your ears making you reach for the volume button on your remote fast.
With a bad / lack of story, ropey graphics, terrible sound and way below average fun factor Assault has very little to add to the positive column. A two player mode is welcome and absolutely adds to the ease of completion and also genuinely helps to stop everything being all about spinning in 360 degrees so that’s at least one good solid reason to give it a go. Share the pain with a friend and let them be as miserable as you. It also has a very nice box cover on the PAL version that superbly fit’s the era it was released, it looks like a PS1 game if that makes sense? Problem is, when you have to look at packaging for a plus that really highlights the quality of the actual game.
Verdict:- Some games will forever live in the hearts and minds of the original generation that grew up with them and for all subsequent generations of gaming fans that discovered them and loved them just as much.
Assault is a game that sits on the opposite of that fence, it’s almost entirely forgettable outside a great example of how NOT to make a videogame. Whatever small amount of plusses exist are crushed under the weight of mediocrity, terrible camera mechanic and repetitive frustration at it’s failures. This is bad, real bad. Still give it a go though because ultimately it helps you appreciate the great stuff. With that in mind it at least has one purpose to it’s existence.
Second Opinion:- What a mess this is! I have to wonder if the designers were not high as a kite when doing this because nothing seems to fit. The foreground looks like a different game to the background half the time and the music makes me want to listen to steps or S-Club 7.
Even in two-player mode it’s so dull and annoying at the same time and why does the male character look like Robocop??? Seriously why is that happening? Avoid
Transbot Scores:- 3 out of 10
Assault is playable, it’s definitely something to complete if that’s your thing and beneath the mess of the final product you can definitely see what they were trying to achieve. It’s fast, there’s no slowdown and a two player co-op mode is always something to appreciate. It’s way below average for the genre though and no matter of times it tries to copy it’s inspiration it falls flat on it’s face 9/10 times. It’s not a good game, it’s a terrible Contra/Gauntlet clone and it’s primary problem was that it took as it’s lead inspiration the two worst games in the series to copy. The Contra games on the PS1 are pretty dire in themselves so a clone of these just has no hope at all. When gaming started to shift from 2D sprites to 3D experiences a lot of the established gaming genres suffered, it took a long time for some companies to get the classics working on a new model of gameplay mechanic.
The playstation 1 console is often regarded as a primary console to highlight stuff people refer to as ‘shovelware’ and where Assault is concerned it’s a good call. Sure it’s not some rubbish merchandise game like Spice World or something that features a cartoon character aimed at 6 year olds but it is a clone or something than in itself was a clone of something else. And it shows… Boy does it show!