The very first time I came into contact with a real time strategy (RTS) game was on my dad’s lap, where he often sat me down as he played Starcraft on his PowerMac G3. I obsessed over this magical game on his computer, not knowing much about what it was — beyond the joy of building structures and raising different kinds of units at my leisure. That magic continued as my childhood became marked by memories of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, Warcraft 2, and eventually Starcraft itself, all of which I played well past my bedtime on the giant cube monitor that lived in my mom’s office.
Later, when I was gifted my first Gameboy Advance, I found something very special in the more streamlined, more thoughtful mechanics introduced to me by the turn-based strategy game Advance Wars. I spent hours marching artillery units against tanks, something I distinctly remember experiencing in the backseat of the cars that my parents rented when we travelled to Hawaii and Las Vegas, back in a time when I was small and family vacations were still a thing. In real life, we were zooming up and down narrow roadways, swerving around steep canyons with the awe of the outside world just out of reach. But in my imagination, planes and infantrymen fought valiantly for control and glory.
After over nine hours of gameplay, I can say that Final Assault makes good on the original promise of Advance Wars and games similar to it, gleefully brandishing its roomscale rendition of all-out war under a delightfully stylized layer of WW2 paint.
In it, you play as one of two commanders vying to win an epic game of tug-of-war across 12 different possible maps. Much like in a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), your goal is to push all the way past your opponent’s defenses and reduce their base’s health bar to zero. But that’s really where the MOBA comparisons end and the game’s hidden strategic depth begins.
I really enjoyed going through each of Final Assault’s six playable factions, called ‘divisions’, and studying how they all differ. And they truly do differ in practice. For example, Simmons’ division offers advanced troop carriers that periodically spawn swarms of mortar-wielding infantrymen wherever you plant them. Beaumont’s division, in contrast, offers portable guns that snipe tanks at long range. The flows between divisions vary noticeably, and there’s an immense amount of depth that comes from devising counter-strategies against every possible collection of units you might face up against.
Unfortunately, if you’re not paying attention, each unit and each faction can begin to appear quite samey. Just as well, each of the modes (including the campaign) relies on random variations of the same 12 maps, making the entire game feel aesthetically boxed in. Of course, while the campaign offers different tactical modifiers that change the flow of each battle, and while you can even earn new skins and outfit pieces for completing different challenges, the story in each campaign leads to procedurally generated standoffs with no unique story pieces or units, meaning that what you see in any old multiplayer match is exactly what you get in the campaign.
But, I’d argue, aesthetic variation and inclusion of a narrative campaign really aren’t the point. What the developer has created here with Final Assault is what should become the basic framework for RTS-style games in VR; the love and care that went into the game’s holistic design, use of VR immersion, and sense of purpose for each unit truly shines through as you dive into its toy soldier-riddled battlegrounds.
Unit balancing and map balancing are two of the most important parts of all RTS design, and Final Assault truly nails them out of the park by keeping things mostly simple, rhythmic, and fun. Units cost money, which fills up over time without any economy nonsense to peel your eyes away from the action. Additionally, each and every unit has a perfect counter.
If you want a fiscal advantage over your opponent, you can grab random loot crates that drop every so often at checkmarked points across each map. Unexpectedly, two players struggling over a checkpoint can create more dynamism and fun tactical play than a more sophisticated economic system would provide in VR at the moment. And that’s because it’s all happening in front of the action.
In fact, the whole thing feels like a wonderland of destruction. If you play against a particularly smart opponent, whether online or via one of the single player modes, you’ll quickly find how addictive it is to watch your own choices play out in real time. When you set the graphic scale to ‘Medium’ or ‘Large’, you’ll find yourself treated to dogfights where the planes skirt past one another and zip over your shoulders, intense armor battles that shake the ground around you, and a complete 360-degree view over the entire horizon. Of course, you can always scale down to the ‘Small’ graphics mode, which gives you a top-down look over the entire battlefield, allowing you to make precise strategic decisions like establishing artillery in a remote location or moving troop transports up the lanes.
Technically speaking, I ran into absolutely no bugs that hurt my experience or dragged me out of my immersive space. I found that the comfort options offered here were pretty basic, with a grab-and-pull style of locomotion that befits what users should expect from any top-down VR game at the moment. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. However, in order to achieve a passable framerate, I did need to turn the graphics settings to ‘Low’ on my rig — which boasts a GTX1070 graphics card, an i7 6700K processor, and 16 gigs of DDR4 RAM.
But I feel that those are small nitpicks, given that traditional RTS games are famously difficult to optimize.
At the end of the day, can you play Final Assault for over 100 hours and still have a great time? Absolutely. Underneath the hood are a set of bulletproof RTS mechanics that fit perfectly in VR, and I hope that Final Assault continues to receive both community and developer support for the foreseeable future.
If you’re a long-time strategy fan, you’ll absolutely find something to love here. And, if you’re a newcomer, you’ll have no trouble dropping in at any point. Final Assault is not nearly as elaborate or detailed a game as the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was for its time, and it probably won’t make the same waves in VR that the former made for the traditional RTS genre. However, it’s safe to say that what we’ve reached is something akin to the Advance Wars of VR; Final Assault successfully establishes a powerful set of VR strategy mechanics that are instantly enjoyable, delivering equivocal depth and a permeating sense of awe.