There have been very few stabs at the car combat genre after Twisted Metal's 2012 relaunch. When even the former king of the mountain can crash and burn, what chance does a new contender have at breathing life into this old-school concept? Phantom Compass has put their foot on the gas and boosted ahead with Auto Age: Standoff, a car combat arena filled with reverence for Saturday morning cartoons and a rocking synth soundtrack. It's the perfect setting for the genre, but Auto Age doesn't do enough to take advantage of it, leading to a scattered game that feels like the foundations for something great rather than a complete package.
Loading into the tutorial will give players a crash course in the lore of Auto Age, introducing players to Val Vega and the evil Dark Jaw in quick succession. Between learning how to fire missiles and hitting big ramps, exposition is dumped surrounding the state of the world and the connection between these two faction leaders. It's a decent enough setup that could be home to some fun story beats, but the intro is basically all you get. The tutorial gives way to a slick intro video with a killer theme song that you've seen already in the game's trailers, and the story is gone after that outside of some disembodied voice clips after each match. I understand that indie games sometimes have to make compromises, but a Twisted Metal-esque game that sells its story as much as anything really should have an arcade ladder at the very least.
Outside of the tutorial, you'll find the meat of the game in its online multiplayer arena battles. At launch, you can compete in deathmatches of a free for all or team variety as well as a king of the hill-style Point Capture mode. There are bots that will fill empty matches, and you can practice against them if you host a private game online. The CPU opponents aren't bad for a laugh, but you'll really want to bring some friends along for the game's splitscreen mode or find a populated server online to get the most out of your time with the game.
Cars come in one of four paint schemes representing different factions. Each faction has an identical set of vehicles that follow the NES Hockey school of game design. Light vehicles are nimble but break easily, heavy tanks are slow but survivable, and medium cars are balanced with weaponry and design. Two factions also sport a unique mobile tower vehicle which acts as half support/medic and half moving missile turret. You can customize the weapons on each vehicle if you like, but your options are limited and I found myself gravitating back to the default setups that made the most sense in the long run.
Once you load into one of the four maps in the game (or one if you want to play Point Control), you'll see that driving and shooting both feel excellent. Controllers are supported in-game alongside your expected mouse and keyboard setup, but menus have to be navigated with a mouse, making Auto Age a poor choice for Steam Big Picture. Still, you'll be spending most of your time driving around, and getting up to speed with the vehicles felt like a time warp to the PS1 era.
I quickly got back into the old rhythms of driving in circles and cornering foes. Once I accomplished that, unloading my pea shooter and special weapons until they were vaporized was the order of the day. These specials include missiles with smoke trails and autofire cannons that were each on a brief cooldown to avoid spamming. I had the most fun with deployable weapons, as it's pretty easy to steal a few kills by dropping a turret into a chaotic fight before zooming away. Maps are designed well, serving as small arenas with plenty of choke points and hidden roadways filled with repair power-ups. Of course, you don't want to find yourself in those hidden paths as a tower since it's not too difficult to wedge this huge vehicle into spots where it can't escape. Other than that oddity, you'll have plenty of opportunities to use your boosting and jumping skills to outmaneuver your foes.
Even if the story of the game doesn't live up to its full potential, it is backed up by an appropriate presentation. Cars and environments are cel-shaded just as you'd expect from a game trying to be a Saturday morning cartoon, and that visual trick still works for me on an innate level. The soundtrack is comprised of tracks from several known synthwave artists, and I wish I could say that their work contributed more to the experience, but that's not the case by default. In theory, a song is loaded up during every match, but you can only just hear the music if you're sitting still in your vehicle. Move at all and the sound of your engine or a machine gun firing can easily overtake the retro beats. You can get a better mix if you go into the options and crank down the sound effects by 75%, but this leaves a bad first impression.
Overall, that's the takeaway from the entire Auto Age: Standoff experience. It has to live on its gameplay alone, which is on par with what you'd expect from the genre, but nothing worth writing home about. Coming into this game solo will give players an initial burst of excitement as they finish the tutorial followed by the sad realization that the rest of the game doesn't live up to its own hype. This package is limited in scope and really only shines if it builds a thriving online community. Time will tell if that develops here, but it's a big risk to take for any potential purchaser.
Our Auto Age Standoff review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.
If you're just looking for a car combat game to play with friends in 2017, Auto Age: Standoff won't let you down. If you're looking to play any other way, you'll probably be disappointed by the bare-bones feature set on offer.(Review Policy)
- Decent Gameplay
- Unique Tower Vehicle
- Saturday Morning Cel-Shading
- Bait and Switch Narrative
- Wonky Audio Mixing
- Heavily Reliant on Online Population