Review: Assault Vector15 Aug 2014 0
Let's not mince words here in the cold vacuum of hex-based space. Assault Vector is a straightforward stab at a specific kind of turn-based strategy game, that stripped down sort so tightly focused on a handful of mechanics that it straddles the line between strategy and puzzle.
Hoplite (as if we haven't devoted enough time to that brilliant monster already) is an obvious comparison, and an illustrative one. Assault Vector has a nearly identical combat system prioritizing position first (and only), comparable levels which offer escape as an alternative to killing everything, and a similar allotment of simple, scarce, yet devastating abilities. As it happens, Assault Vector leverages these elements in a fashion just different enough to divorce the spacey game from its notable cousin on (or rather "under," like, in Hades) Earth.
Your race to the escape beacon, invariably opposite your ship in each of Assault Vector's stages, chugs along one hex at a time for the most part. Tap, move, other ships move, tap again until you reach the green cube or everything else is blown to slag. Those other ships are most cheaply destroyed by maneuvering next to them, whereupon your proud frigate will shoot the cutest widdle one-hit-kill laser ever (yes you are, yes you are) at each nearby foe--assuming you've parked in a safe spot. It's somewhat counterintuitive, but player attacks only resolve if no other enemy can possibly tag you back. There's no trading a pip of health for a downed enemy--you either attack successfully or get blasted.
The only two curves in your arsenal are a ranged beam attack and teleport/“warp jump”, each usable once per level. While theoretically different, in practice these two moves are best deployed for the same reason: to scrap yet more enemy ships. The beam is a risk-free way to trip up that keen AI pilot mirroring your every move and keeping you within its firing hexes. The warp jump, while good for making extra headway towards the exit (and actually too good, with enough upgrades), is basically wasted if you don't also use it to pop up next to an enemy ship like some low-rent Klingon Bird of Prey with it's wee little disruptor cannon piddling away.
You'll rarely need—or even want—to skip ahead to a level's exit anyway, as Assault Vector heavily incentivizes engaging enemies over avoiding them. Destroy every other ship on a stage and you get to pick from one of four upgrades: a health boost, repair, or an increase in range for your warp jump or beam weapon. Escape a stage simply by zipping around foes, which is far more difficult, and you get... nothing, except the nagging feeling that you're doing this wrong. Couldn't a successful escape open up an upgrades store as well? Possibly a different store, with upgrades which suit your space cowboy's newfound pacificism and love for the Steve Miller Band?
Here's Assault Vector's most obvious slip-up. Despite ostensibly presenting levels without obvious solutions, stages where combat or skillful avoidance should be equally viable, in truth there's no reason to “escape” a battle. Wiping out the enemy is optimal, always, and especially so because wiping out the enemy offers rewards which almost exclusively help you to better wipe out future enemies, at least until you upgrade the warp jump enough that you can teleport from the start of a level directly into the exit. Yes, that's all too possible, and unforgivable for a game which only asks you to weather 15 levels for a “win” (you can apparently keep playing after that for high score).
Which leads us to Assault Vector's second biggest issue: it's not hard, or even fleetingly challenging. Chalk it up to wide-open levels, without much in the way of obstacles or environmental hazards beyond a few odd scattered asteroids; or the slim assortment of enemy ships, including one that shoots a few hexes diagonally, one which shoots a few hexes horizontally, and one which shoots radially but not at close range. That's all of 'em. This enemy fleet should be a well-organized (though not necessarily perfect) force, working in concert to corral your ship into a crossfire—instead, what you get is an armada of unimaginative lone wolf pilots which occasionally seem like they're providing covering fire for one another, but more often seem all too willing to hurl themselves into your laser fire one at a time. These AI scrubs make your average Imperial TIE pilot look like leaf-in-the-wind “Wash” Washburne.
You can imagine another game with the same components Assault Vector somewhat mindlessly throws together—tactical, turn-based space combat with an extremely limited supply of ass-saving emergency powers—that succeeds in creating a kinetic, looping ballet of ill-advised barrel rolls and risky warp jumps, where every reward is counterbalanced with (wait for it... wait for it) a risk. Sadly, Assault Vector is easily bested through stubbornness alone. It's a game without hefty decisions, and one that fails to match each upgrade to the player's toolkit with a fitting challenge. In a word: weightless.
Assault Vector was played on a 3rd-gen iPad for this review.