While traditional action games may have taken a back seat to first-person shooters like Quake and erm, Quake II, it’s nice to see there are still a few games out there that can deliver mindless, violent fun, from a different perspective. Much like Electronic Arts’ popular Strike series (Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, etc.), Mass Destruction is a three-quarter overhead shooter whose claim to fame is screen-filling explosions and constant mayhem. In a near-future war zone, some wussie third-world country is slowly stockpiling biological weapons and other naughty destructive devices, so it’s your God-given American duty to hop into a super-tank and start kicking ass. At the start of the game, you choose one of five scenarios, and select one of three tanks (with balanced trade-offs made in the areas of speed and armor) to bring these deadly despots to their knees.
On the battlefield, your objectives are simple: when you see enemy tanks, shoot them; when you see a building, blow it up; when you see enemy troopers running about on foot, kick your tank into high gear and run ‘em down. There are assigned objectives at the beginning of each stage, but you can feel free to ignore them -- as long as you total everything in a given level, you’ll be set.
Luckily, you’ll have no shortage of things to destroy. Just about everything in this game can be reduced to smoldering wreckage, from skyscrapers to palm trees -- and they realistically sustain damage if you keep pounding at them. Since the game is presented from a tilted, top-down perspective, buildings may threaten to block the view of your tank -- but they courteously become transparent as you drive behind them.
The age-old practice of blowing the hell out of your enemies is enhanced by the ability to rotate your tank’s turret independent of your tank’s movement. Once you get the hang of it, you can drive circles around your enemies while constantly pelting them with shell fire. However, don’t let your abilities become your downfall -- there are some hazards you can’t escape so easily. You’ll have to be on the lookout for plane-shaped shadows moving along the ground as the bad guys will drop napalm on you in the later missions.
The action gets heavier once you start picking up some of the wacky power-ups left on the ground. You can unleash a swarm of mini-bombs with the swarmer weapon, lob explosives into the air with the mortar, or unleash a big-ass column of fire with the flamethrower -- a toy that features the best flame effects I’ve seen in a long time. If you get the feeling that there might be infantry hiding in nearby trees for an ambush, just blast a fireball into the foliage. If your hunch was right, you’ll get to see swarms of little flaming soldiers running for their lives.
Fortunately, the frame rate is extremely smooth on the base spec system, but the trade-off is that it looks pretty chunky. Low-res VGA is the only way to play Mass Destruction, and since this is a plain-vanilla DOS game, it doesn’t offer 3D acceleration, and the multi-player is weak. IPX network play is included, but a TCP/IP tank Deathmatch would have been really cool, as would a split-screen mode for those of us without access to LANs.
Overall, this fast-paced and quirky little shooter is surprisingly fun. Compared to other games on the market the graphics could be more polished and the options more robust, but if you like your action with an explosive flair, Mass Destruction more than lives up to its title.