With so many games using World War II as a backdrop, it can be difficult to stand out. Searching Steam for the "World War II" tag returns 418 results. Granted, some of those are DLC and add-ons, but the second great war has no shortage of games done in its name. Bringing something new to the table while balancing sensitivities around the war is no doubt a struggle, and the team behind Final Assault aimed to do both.
Final Assault introduces players to a real-time strategy experience in virtual reality. It puts the player in a commander's shoes, handling waves of oncoming enemies from all directions by giving orders from above the battlefield. The virtual reality lends itself to the strategy aspect by giving players a full view of their troops and map, deploying new military aid where it's needed most. As if a god from above, players look down on their ground armies and point them where to go while fending off air assaults in the sky. Immersing players in an easy-to-learn and instantly recognizable part of history was key in the game's development, as Phaser Lock Interactive's Chief Creative Officer Michael Daubert discussed with me.
What started off as a Mad Max-style futuristic setting was abandoned in favor of the familiarity of our own world's history. The idea was to keep the game grounded in reality so players would know at a glance which units were more powerful than others and be able to identify them based on silhouettes alone. As Daubert put it, "...at the scale that our game is played at, you need to see the silhouettes of the vehicles and be able to identify them quickly. We were not looking to tell actual historical stories or events of World War II, but to give players a familiar world they knew and understood while letting them focus on the new play mechanics of Virtual Reality."
Maintaining historical accuracy for in-game units served as an important pillar of development. In Final Assault, the player can pick out differences between Panzers and Tiger tanks by their silhouettes. The research put into designing the units was thorough and included reading World War II manuals that helped soldiers tell apart different planes and tanks at a glance. This attention to detail became a bump in the road with the absence of traditional "hovering units" that many RTS games employ, such as helicopters.
"They were not introduced until the end of the war, and not effective at all in combat," Daubert said. "This is where our designers really shined with refining our air to ground combat with strafing and bombing runs that the players could use in different ways for air support."
World War II can be tough to navigate without telling historical stories. Final Assault aimed for a general feeling of an unidentified area in history, giving the team more creative freedom without the restrictions of specific time or place. The game doesn't glorify the war or any armies and avoids the use of any offensive imagery, symbols, or language, rather using the overall World War II theme and style to fit the game's feeling and approach. That said, every game needs a good guy and a bad guy. This element of Final Assault can be explored through the characters and story campaigns.
Along with combining VR with RTS, Final Assault incorporates elements of MOBA gameplay. There's a lot for new players to learn, and precautions were taken to ensure the game was easy to jump into and understand. That's where MOBAs helped.
"The creep lanes work to speed up the first combat interaction, while the battlefield grows with the players' decisions and strategy. And allowing direct movement with the lanes allows the player to have multiple ways to micromanage their units were needed or make large pushes when needed," said Daubert.
The speed at which new players can learn the game is something Daubert is proud of. What started as a complex UI system was simplified, allowing players to engage more with the VR environment instead. Final Assault made the learning curve fast to allow players to get into battle and up to speed faster, all while gaining an understanding of deeper game strategies. Daubert's favorite part of watching new players is seeing them experience air warfare for the first time.
"Watching them engage in dynamic dog fights all around their heads with strafing runs on enemy troops and enormous bombing runs is incredible to watch," Daubert explained, "but you can’t get the real experience unless you are in VR. The action and explosions in 360 degrees around you is something you just can't get on a flat screen."
With the base game earning Very Positive overall reviews on Steam, Final Assault is putting itself on the map in the VR RTS genre. New content and a big DLC are on the way from Phaser Lock Interactive, and there are plans to bring the game to PSVR and Oculus Quest. Since Final Assault lends itself well to PvP, Daubert wants to see players join matches cross-platform with all available HMDs. Final Assault will also be making its way to World Cyber Games in China this month.
"We feel we are just at the beginning of what an RTS can be in VR," said Daubert. "We feel very lucky to be at the beginning of the VR industry, helping define the VR landscape but also having the opportunity to create a new type of game genre such as a VR RTS."
Final Assault is currently available on PC for $29.99.
Update: Final Assault is having a free-to-play weekend on Steam from July 18 - 21, as well as a 35% off sale from July 18 - 26.