The engine screamed in protest as my L-Type car skidded around a blind corner. Flames trailed from the back of my vehicle as my auto-gun turret plinked away at my pursuer. If I could make it to the repair pickup, I’d be able to turn the tables on my opponents. It wasn’t meant to be. A massive T-Type mobile turret lumbered out from behind an arch and unleashed a volley of gunfire that obliterated my little car. This is Auto Age: Standoff, a new multiplayer vehicular combat game from indie developer Phantom Compass.
Auto Age: Standoff draws inspiration from classic automotive combat games such as Twisted Metal, while infusing the art with a heavy dash of 1980’s Saturday morning cartoon, neon nostalgia. Players take control of one of four general classes of vehicles and battle it out across a variety of maps and game modes. All the while a retro, 80’s inspired soundtrack blasts away.
An all too short, story-centric tutorial introduces players to the background of the game. In it we meet Val Vega, a courier in the desert wastelands, making a hotly contested delivery to SAIGE, the only thing still keeping the lights on in the Western Wastes. Of course, things don’t go exactly according to Val’s, or even SAIGE’s plan. An attack by wasteland warlord Dark Jaw forces Val into combat to defend SAIGE and the research facility against the Jawlings.
Then just like that, the story is over. That’s probably my biggest issue with Auto Age: Standoff – it’s essentially multiplayer only. The great art and setting would be perfect for at least a 2-3 hour campaign using the same style choices as the tutorial, but it’s an undelivered promise. After the big reveal about Val’s and Dark Jaw’s shared past, all further action is multiplayer only.
Fortunately, the variety of multiplayer options take a lot of the sting away from the lack of a proper campaign. At launch, the game features three different multiplayer modes: Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch will be instantly familiar, and Point Capture is essentially another name for a King of the Hill mode. Four maps, each with their own quirks, add flavor. A maximum of twelve players can be in any given game, and there’s an option to autofill games with bots. Hosting a private game and filling it with bot enemies can be remarkably satisfying from time to time.
Another extremely clever game aspect is the support for split-screen play. With its controller friendly design, Auto Age is an excellent candidate for playing in Steam’s Big Picture mode, and it’s easy to imagine split-screen matches being popular at LAN parties. Developer Phantom Compass smartly extended this feature to work with online multiplayer as well. A local split-screen group may join online games. I’m not sure what kind of chaos could be had by three groups of four split-screen players going after each other in a single match, but I know that’s a Twitch broadcast I’d happily watch!
Game controls are optimized for twin stick gamepads. Mouse and keyboard are workable options for car control, but the binary nature of WASD control makes subtler movements more difficult. However, mouse and keyboard do make for a better navigation experience in the front-end menus, something to keep in mind for players intending to game from the couch in Big Picture Mode. The Steam Controller also works perfectly in game, however, the right thumb mouse pad is not recognized in the menus.
Once players have settled in with their favorite controller and selected a match, the real fun begins. There are four basic vehicle arch-types to choose from, each with at least one pre-defined build. Custom loadouts can also be created, with each vehicle adhering to a point system that varies according to its class. L-Types (as in “Light”) cars are the fastest, and by default, carry a rapid-fire gatling gun, an auto-tracking cannon turret, and a small droppable sentry gun. They also have the least hit points. M-Type cars feature a good general blend of strength and speed. Not as fast or nimble as an L-Type, but they have more hitpoints, a cluster missile, and a self-heal.
H-Type cars are built on a heavy six-wheeled chassis and optimized for durability. Though vulnerable to flanking attacks by L-Types, they can do massive damage to anything that comes into their cone of fire. While all cars can be equipped with battering rams, H-Types have the right combination of speed and build points to equip a heavy ram that does significant damage to enemies unlucky enough to get in the way.
Finally there are the T-Type mobile turrets. Normally equipped with a pair of gatlings guns, massive missile turrets, and fore and aft battering rams, these battlefield terrors are the perfect choice for defending a position, but absolutely terrible for playing offense. They’re a lot of fun to play, especially in those beautiful moments of wholesale chaos that come during a Point Capture game where two teams are squabbling over a single point.
The thumping soundtrack provides a perfect compliment to the on-screen action. Among the highlights are tracks by 20SIX Hundred, Skull Fist, Stilz, and TWRP; and a themesong by Matthew Reid. For people who remember the original 80’s Transformers: The Movie soundtrack as one of the greatest of all time, this soundtrack selection will be a real treat.
Auto Age: Standoff does an excellent job of fusing retro art and music with a modern take on the vehicle brawler game. While a lacking single-player element limits its appeal, the inclusion of bots and local split-screen help ensure that the game has legs beyond the risk of empty online servers. Gamers looking for a combat-oriented break from Rocket League, or looking for something along the same lines as the Twisted Metal series will have a lot of fun here.
Auto Age: Standoff is available on PC via Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.