But even with knobby tires and napalm throwers, make no mistake: This is still a role-playing game. The computer still rolls virtual dice to decide whether your rocket launcher finds its target or goes screaming off into a rusty pile of debris. The cool vehicle physics (courtesy of the latest Havok engine, as seen in Age of Empires III and Half-Life 2), fiery explosions, and splattery clouds of blood are just a fancy way of saying "you rolled a 20." And like so many other online RPGs, you'll gain new abilities by spending points in a skill tree, boosting accuracy, damage, and other standard elements. Then there's player-vs.-player combat in balanced combat arenas, item crafting (and reverse engineering), in-game housing ...Auto Assault doesn't look like it will change the nature of online role-playing so much as cover it in a layer of rust and oil.
There's one more thing that sets Auto Assault apart, but it leaves us scratching our collective head. In an effort to get players to take risks, there's no penalty for dying. If your car blows up, just call for a lift to the nearest repair station and you're good as new in a few seconds. So if you know that any mission is just a matter of grinding the gears until you hit the goal, where's the motivation to keep playing? That old "risk and reward" formula suddenly doesn't apply, and the hands-on preview version we played felt somewhat lacking; although the game was still being tested, it felt just fun enough to keep playing. Will it be fun enough to keep paying? After all, speed's just a question of money. How fast can Auto Assault go?