PROS: Three styles of play; a wide variety of options; scenario editor; rewards combined-arms tactics.
CONS: Frequent game crashes; poor multiplayer support; weak Al.
I’ll never forget my first 10-speed bicycle—a sporty, golden-yellow Italian model. I liked the bike so much that I started adding improvements. First, there was a water bottle, then a tire pump, a rack, a speedometer, a light, and a saddle pack filled with tools and emergency gear. Before long, I had transformed my lightweight speed bike into a weighted-down, run-of-the-mill hardware-store special.
With MAX 2, Interplay has succeeded in doing to MAX (MECHANIZED ASSAULT AND EXPLORATION) what I did to my bike—and giving the sequel a flat tire to boot. MAX 2 tries too hard to be all things to all gamers, and it also suffers greatly from rushed-out-the-door syndrome.
The original MAX was notable for avoiding the typical real-time strategy game formula employed by many COMMAND & CONQUER clones. MAX had a good concept, a decent storyline, nice graphics, depth, and interesting gameplay. It also offered the option of traditional turn-based play or play using simultaneous turns. Unfortunately, the game’s multiplayer problems were never completely remedied, leaving some gamers feeling cheated.
Based on that experience, you might think that Interplay would be sure to deliver a complete product the second time around. But that’s not the case: MAX 2 has a disturbing tendency to crash, displays annoying graphical glitches, and its multiplay features are almost nonfunctional. Interplay quickly issued not one, but two patches within two weeks of the game’s release. These didn’t solve all the problems, however. A third patch was in the works as this review was being written.
Not So Timely
The most significant new feature in MAX 2 is the inclusion of realtime mode, in addition to the turn-based and simultaneous-turn modes. The downside of adding this feature is that some of the depth and complexity of the original game has been sacrificed.
Specialized surveying units are no longer needed because all units are capable of spotting material and gold resources. Fuel resources, ammunition resupply, and the need to maintain connections between facilities are also gone.
On the plus side, the rendered, 16-bit color maps are a big improvement over the mostly flat, relatively featureless terrain of the original game. It’s too bad that this graphic improvement doesn’t extend to the game’s units and buildings, which, even in the enhanced graphics mode requiring 32MB of memory, are less detailed and more difficult to identify than the 256-color versions in MAX.
Other significant improvements to MAX 2 include a spy camera that enables you to quickly view the action from up to eight units or locations using a display window. Unlimited movement waypoints, building queues for engineer and constructor units, the ability to issue orders while the game is paused, indigenous alien life-forms, and a scenario editor are also new features in MAX 2.
Options Not Optional
One of MAX 2’s strong points is that the game provides players with a wealth of options. There are 23 stand-alone scenarios and four linear campaigns, each with nine missions. Also included is a custom scenario creator that enables you to engage in skirmish games against multiple opponents on any of the game’s 27 maps The multiplayer options include hotseat, serial, Modem, LAN, and Internet capability for up to 6 players in network games. All of these options would be great, if only they worked.
The game’s two resources are raw materials, which are mined to provide power and materials so you can manufacture units and construct buildings; and gold, which is used to purchase unit upgrades. The more than 50 air, naval, and land units are rated for armor strength, hits to destroy, attack capability, sighting and weapon range, speed, shots fired per turn, and the power needed to operate. These capabilities can be upgraded through research and then bought with gold credits.
Constructors exist to build mines, research centers, repair facilities and factories that produce heavy and light ground units, air units, and sea units. Engineers build power plants, storage units, radar lowers, bridges, roads, sea platforms, and static defensive structures such as gun, missile, and antiaircraft turrets. Bulldozers and mine layers are also part of the game.
The Big MAX Combo
MAX 2 rewards players who employ combined arms tactics. On land, an effective mix of units would be scouts for reconnaissance, tanks for their ability to take punishment, and missile crawlers for long-range firepower. At sea, a group of antisubmarine corvettes, antiaircraft escorts, long-range missile cruisers, and rugged gunboats provides a nearly unbeatable combination. In the air, several fighters backed by a couple of ground attack aircraft and AWACs can cut a wide swath of destruction.
Like most games in its crowded genre, MAX 2’s artificial intelligence is adequate, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Al tends to be timid and often refuses to attack, even when the odds are clearly in its favor. In the scripted campaign missions and single scenarios, the Al can be challenging at the higher levels of difficulty. It is weakest in skirmish games, just as it was in the original MAX.
As a single-player game, MAX 2 is capable of providing hours of entertainment value. As long as you remember to save often, you can play through most of the scenarios and campaign missions. However, for those gamers who are looking for something new and different in the realm of real-time strategy gaming, MAX 2 comes with so few innovations and has so many problems that it almost seems superfluous.
Pentium 133. Windows 95.16MB RAM. 80MB hard-drive space, 2x CD-ROM drive, DirectX-compatible sound and video.
3D SUPPORT: None.