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"They were the unwanted. Cults. Religious factions. Even entire governments. Through the intercession of alien rulers called the Concord, they had been taken off a hostile Earth, and given a new chance to gain a new world on which to prosper. Inside each alien-supplied ship lies a faction's entire population. Their alien sponsors promised them a new world on which they can thrive. All they have to do, is fight for it." - Opening Narration
M.A.X.: Mechanized Assault & Exploration is a Turn-Based Strategy game developed and published by Interplay Productions, released for MS-DOS in 1996. Since 2008, it has been available bundled with its sequel from Good Old Games.
It is The Future. A hundred small factions, exiled from earth, have been empowered by the Concord, a council of alien "Star Lords", to fight proxy wars for them, in exchange earning new worlds to colonize. The player assumes the role of a M.A.X. Commander, a human brain in a robotic shell designed to withstand the rigors of hyperspace and command mechanized shore parties to clear suitable areas for new settlements. Trouble is, other M.A.X. commanders have their eyes on these same areas, courtesy of alien meddling. A Robot War for control ensues.
The game itself was fairly complex. There were three different resources to manage, buildings had to be connected to one another to get power and resources, and units needed to be resupplied or be unable to build or shoot. Though predominantly turn-based, the game could be played in "simultaneous mode", which was not true Real Time Strategy but rather every player taking their turns at once. As the various units and structures were still limited in what they could do in a turn, this made for rather different game flow then the regular system.
M.A.X. provides examples of:
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: The Concord picked someone from a race that looked somewhat like us to be their ambassador to Earth.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Justfied here by the Concord selecting worlds that could be inhabited by humans with minimal terraforming effort.
- All There in the Manual: Much more of the Backstory, including information about the forming of the Concord and about the eight clans, as well as in-depth descriptions of units and structures.
- Amphibious Automobile: Certain vehicles, such as builders, Surveyors, APCs and Scout bikes can cross water. The former can build pontoon bridges for everything else to cross.
- Awesome Personnel Carrier: The APC is ripped right out of Aliens and can transport Infantry and Infiltrators.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The "Von Griffin" clan is made up of neo-fascists and other foreign-hating groups from old Earth, united in their hatred of everybody else and their skill at stealth and espionage.
- Blue Blood: The "Seven Knights" and the "Musashi" (more on them below under Samurai) clans. Unlike the latter, the former was more obsessed with the power and position of nobility then adhering to codes of honor, and this developed into a specialization in defense and fortification.
- Brain In a Jar: The M.A.X. Commanders. The Opening Narration states that only the "hardiest and most selfless" of candidates could tolerate the procedure. These commanders often ended up being separated from their parent clans, and assigned to other forces. The Commanders formed their own group, The Circuit, for the purposes of disseminating information about each clan to each commander.
- City in a Bottle: The Eco-Spheres, built by Constructors and filled with colonists from your Habitats. These are your ultimate goal- building a certain number of these is an Instant Win Condition.
- The Clan: Over the centuries the exiles fought for the Concord, old hatreds and creeds from Earth were forgotten, and new ones engendered by their battles against one other meant that the little factions merged into eight great clans, each with a battlefield specialty.
- Combat by Champion: The Concord ruled that resources disputes would be settled via Trial by Combat. Trouble is, these trials would have to be fought for with ground forces, face-to-face. None of their lazy populace wanted to fight these wars, so they had to find someone else to do it. At first they used Mecha-Mooks, but they needed someone with strategic chops and willingness to fight to guide the machines. Enter humanity.
- Construct Additional Pylons: Justified here. Your force is an advance team with the threefold purpose of gathering resources, militarily evicting rival groups and building colony domes for your colonists to live in.
- Deal with the Devil: Only after leaving Earth did the exiles discover the true extent of their arrangement with the Concord. All of them (not just soldiers) would have to fight for their sponsors against the other groups, and the winning faction would then pay a tax on resources and goods culled from the planet they had won. When one colony ship called foul on this, that ship blew up in full view of the others. There were no further objections.
- Easy Logistics: Largely averted, to varying degrees of annoyance. All your buildings must be connected to one another (either by being adjacent to one other or by building connectors) to facilitate transfer of power and resources. Power Generators need to be connected to the "power-ee" and a supply of fuel. You need storage buildings to house the resources you mine, and you must move vehicles next to or into docks/hangars/depots to resupply and upgrade them. At the very least, you don't have to move them next to the exact building to resupply- as long as it's ultimately connected to one through other buildings, you can refill them. You can even build roads- and should, as units move faster over them.
- Enemy Detecting Radar: Radar towers, ground-based Scanner units and AWAC aircraft enable this. Corvettes, Submarines and Ground Attack aircraft pack Sonar to spot and attack other submarines and ocean-going APCs.
- Enemy Exchange Program: Infiltrators can capture enemy vehicles
- Fragile Speedster: Air units, and the Scout bikes. They have the advantage of always being able to move and fire in the same turn, even if they've used up their movement points.
- Gatling Good: The anti-air Escort gunboats use twin Gatling guns, while the land-going equivalent makes due with one.
- Glass Cannon: Assault Guns are this, being quad-barreled long-range cannons on a lightly armored chassis. Goes Up to Eleven with the Area of Effect Rocket Launchers and long-range, high-damage Missile Crawlers.
- Higher-Tech Species: The Concord races as compared to us. They're still bickering over worlds and resources, but have grown soft and decadent over the ages and now need a strong proxy race to fight for them.
- Home, Sweet Home: The ultimate goal of the exiled clans. It's the Concord's fault they have to fight for it.
- I Just Want to Be Free: All the clans at some level, but especially the "Sacred Eight", who are made up of religious minorities persecuted by the stronger faiths, often those who now make up "The Chosen". One of their founding groups was a Cargo Cult that worshiped V-8 cars, lending them an expertise in fast vehicles to outrun their foes and their hate.
- Infinite Supplies: Averted extremely hard. Every unit needs frequent resupplying. Even Worker Units, which need to get raw materials from the base in order to build anything.
- Involuntary Battle to the Death: Between entire clans, in this case.
- Jack of All Stats: The Tanks.
- Join or Die: In essence. A hidden rule of the Concord meant that any member race could do anything they wanted to worlds belonging to non-member races, and no other member race could say or do anything about it. On top of that, the Concord could not interfere in the affairs of other races unless it was a matter of war.
- Kill Sat: These and any other kind of space-to-surface attack were outlawed by the Concord as being overkill.
- Land Mine Goes Click: Minelayer vehicles drop these. They can be spotted by certain units, and your Minelayers can defuse enemy mines and convert them into raw materials.
- Mecha-Mooks: Every in-game unit except Infantry and Infiltrators.
- Mega Corp: The "Axis" clan is made up of businesses and autocratic governments that believed Status Quo Is God, and don't much like the communistic "Crimson Path." They are nonetheless pragmatists who believe in assimilation rather then conquest. To that end, they specialize in construction and repair.
- No Blood for Phlebotinum: The Star Lords and their empires exhausted entire planets' worth of resources, and when they ran out of their own, they started wanting everyone else's. Three entire races were wiped out in the ensuing conflicts, leading to a Peace Conference and the formation of the Concord.
- No Recycling: Averted. Structures leave behind rubble when destroyed, which Bulldozers can scavenge some resources from as they clear it.
- Nuclear Weapons Taboo: In-universe. Nuclear and biological weapons are banned by the Concord due to their obvious devastating effects. Justifiable, given that they want to control and populate these worlds.
- Path of Inspiration: "The Chosen" clan follow one of these, being an amalgamation of various dominant religious groups from old Earth. They have a lot of Ace Pilots, making them M.A.X.'s air-oriented faction.
- Puny Earthlings: An odd case. The Concord's writings refer to us as "primitive", yet we were willing to fight for and colonize the disputed worlds when none of their decadent populace would.
- Samurai: The "Musashi" clan, though their members come from every country that had or wished it had a chivalric tradition. They are displaced Blue Blood, unwanted because of shifts toward democracy or socialism on old Earth. Their love for the Knight in Shining Armor bit translated into a focus on armored vehicles of all kinds.
- Sea Mine: Used by sea-going Minelayers, which function much like their land counterparts.
- Single Biome Planet: All the planets in the game fall into one of four types: tropical worlds, ice worlds, desert worlds, and rocky "crater worlds".
- Small Secluded World: The "Ayer's Hand" clan is made up largely of wealthy landowners who felt dispossessed by the intrusion of foreigners. They are united in an intense desire to keep everyone else at arm's length, leading to a specialization in missiles and things that fire them.
- The Remnant: The "Crimson Path" clan is this, with some Former Regime Personnel. They are what remains of various communist insurgencies. They had some pirates and other "watery desperadoes" join up early on, leading to naval warfare as their Hat.
- Tank Goodness: Of various types.
- Tech Tree: Mostly confined to research centers for upgrading your units. The construction tree isn't too complicated.
- Travel Cool: Of a robotic variety, anyway.
- World War III: Earth was in the midst of this when the Concord's ambassador arrived. Many chose to stay on Earth, while hundreds of minor factions left. The major powers were only too happy to see them off.
- Worker Unit: Many. Engineers build small buildings, Constructors make big ones, and Surveyors scan for resource deposits underground. Then there is a type of cargo truck (and one cargo ship) for each resource (which can resupply units in the field if returning them to base wouldn't be convenient), and Bulldozers to demolish buildings.
- You Require More Vespene Gas: Three kinds, all found through mining. Raw materials are needed to manufacture structures, units and supplies. Fuel is needed to run the power generators, and gold is refined into credits and then used for research and upgrades. None of it is found on the surface either, so you need to send out Surveyors to find deposits and then build mining stations over them.