M.A.X.: Mechanized Assault & Exploration

[ All ] [ DOS ] [ Windows ]

Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 85% (based on 19 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.6 out of 5 (based on 28 ratings with 3 reviews)

A true underdog. One of the all-time greats.

The Good
Next to the original System Shock, M.A.X. has to be one of the most underappreciated gems in all of computer gaming. First off, it is a masterpiece of design. Every budding strategy game designer should have a look at this game to see how to do it right. There is quite literally nothing to complain about in either the interface or the game mechanics. They're spot on. Secondly, M.A.X. is just a great game. It's a top-down RTS that can be played as a turn-based game if you wish, or as a combination of turn-based and RT. Personally, I prefer the turn-based mode, but it works just as well the other way. Yes, folks, it's two (click), two (click), two games in one.

Basically (typically corny plotline aside), the idea is that you have to build a science-fiction type base, crank out science-fiction type military units, and devise a strategy to take out your opponent who is trying to do the same. Sounds like many another RTS game, right? Well, the significant difference with M.A.X. is that all your units have definite stats which are actually known to you, and they all always do a predictable amount of damage when they attack. In other words, there's no randomness involved. Thus, the game is much more like a huge game of chess than what we normally think of when we think RTS. This makes it much more interesting, much more exciting, and, in my view, much more deserving of the title "strategy game," than any other game of its type out there.

All sides are equally matched in terms of units--that is to say, the unit pool is the same for everyone--but each side represents a unique clan (there are eight possible) and has a corresponding specialty. For instance, one clan specializes in air units, and gets bonuses in that area, while another specializes in sea units, and so on. Moreover, you can build upgrade buildings which allow you to improve any stat of any unit you wish, so if your strategy requires stronger than normal tanks, you can build them, even if you're not the clan that gets uber-tanks to start with. Here again, though, the key is that no matter how you alter your units, you'll always know exactly where you stand. There's no guessing whether your tank will hit in battle or how much actual damage it will do. It will always hit and it will always do full point damage to its target.

The game ships with a ton of scenarios to play, with all kinds of different victory conditions (a couple of them are puzzle missions; there's one I never did figure out how to beat), but for random games you can set the victory conditions yourself. I almost always play for "ecospheres," which is the special building type included in the game as the carrot for players to chase. Build the prescribed number of them and you win. Let an opponent do it instead and he wins. Pretty simple stuff, but it provides the motivation for you to pay attention to both offense and defense, instead of just one or the other, as they're both equally important.

There are no random maps, but there are enough different maps included to keep the game fresh, and, just as with the selectable victory conditions, there are enough user adjustable options to satisfy just about everyone. Also, the game offers a multiplayer mode, but as I haven't ever tried it I can't say how well it works. The manual is long on background fluff but relatively close-lipped when it comes to gameplay. However, as the game is so well designed and easy to pick up, that doesn't really hurt it a lot in the long run. Most players will be able to make a good start of things without even glancing at the manual.

The Bad
The only part that is anything less than incredible about M.A.X. is its AI. The problem isn't that the AI is bad--in fact, short of the point I'm about to touch on, the AI is quite deadly and frustrating. It's just that it's too darned timid when it encounters fixed defenses--particularly air defenses.

Let's say I have a mobile anti-aircraft gun stationed somewhere with an attack radius of X. Now, normally, if it hasn't been upgraded, that gun is good for one attack per turn on a flying unit that wanders into its airspace, and, depending on the unit, that attack may well destroy it. Well, given that, and assuming for the moment that a ground-based attack against the anti-aircraft gun isn't feasible, a human player will simply bring enough planes to allow him to take out the gun by sacrificing one to it first, thereby exhausting its attack, and then moving in with the rest. That's a reasonable strategy to follow in M.A.X., since taking out air defenses is pretty key to getting into enemy territory, and air power itself is pretty potent. The AI however, will never, or rarely, do this. It won't sacrifice its units in order to achieve some greater good. It will simply concede well-defended territory to the enemy and instead look around for chinks in his armor--chinks which may not be there and may never be there. While this doesn't exactly render the AI harmless, it does take some of the unpredictability and uncertainty away that should be there--and that would be there if you were playing against a human opponent. That's my only beef with the game.

The Bottom Line
M.A.X. is one huge, intricate sci-fi chess match, and it's a hell of a blast to play. It requires brains, it requires brawn, and it requires planning in order to win. While the AI isn't perfect, it's certainly good enough to offer any player a good time, and multiplayer M.A.X. holds out the promise of an almost perfect gameplay experience. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It's easily one of the best games of the '90's.

DOS · by Jim Newland (56) · 2001

Unlike its sequel, a classic that brought some new ideas to the party when RTS clones were dominating everything

The Good
At the beginning of the era when "RTS" games have nearly driven the planning and thinking out of "strategy" games, this was a game with real depth that encouraged thoughtful play over the rush to the Tank Rush, while catering to some of the visceral feel of RTS games. It even offered a second play mode that hybridized realtime and turn-based play in an innovative way. Base building took much more thought than the norm of the time, let alone the modern one. Your base layout needed to account for the maintenance of the conduit system between buildings, and for not covering up the best mining areas before you discovered them, as well as defensibility and capacity. Yes - mineral resources were mineral resources which you had to survey for with a specialized unit, not icons on which you raced to build a building. Although the terrain was visually simple, and consisted only of water, land, and impassable rocky areas, it was sufficient to allow interesting tactical considerations. The unit mix was interesting and balanced, with units' strengths and weaknesses tweaked to make a mixed force stronger than a similar-cost homogeneous one. There was no "uber-unit", though for specific situations and tactics there was generally a best unit or group composition.

The Bad
Sadly, while the AI was enough to force the player to think rather than react, it was not strong enough to challenge a skilled player without outright massive cheating. And while the maps were excellent for only three terrain types, the game was visually pretty boring.

The Bottom Line
If you have a DOS retro machine to play it on, this is a game you should check out. It has some unique ideas that haven't caught on, and despite the eventually disappointing AI is one of my fondest-remembered strategy games, almost in the realm of XCOM and Civ2.

DOS · by weregamer (155) · 2004

This game requires superior strategy and skill, but is easy to learn.

The Good
Absolutely everything: The machines, The look of the buildings, The Animations, The upgrades, The way things went throughout the game, If you played with other people, you tend to have much more fun, but it takes much, MUCH longer

The Bad
It took an extremely long time, 4-5 hrs. to finish a game, unless all players were in close proximity Even on the easiest level for computers, it was still hard No cheats

The Bottom Line
I may seem incompetent but, you have to play the game to know. It's more of an "experience" kind of game.

Windows · by Mattz1010 (14) · 2004

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Alsy, Jeanne, Patrick Bregger, Tim Janssen, Cantillon, Belboz, Havoc Crow (formerly JudgeDeadd), Virgil, Wizo, Apogee IV, PCGamer77, Cavalary, Parf.