The player is in command of a futuristic host station with plasma energy technology, allowing the player to create units and buildings, as long as the blueprints and sufficient energy are available. In the single-player campaign, the objective of each mission is to capture each key sector on the map, allowing use of the beam gate to transport the host station to the next field of battle. However, destroying enemy host stations imparts a bonus to the player's maximum energy reserves. Combined with the fact that many key sectors are located deep in enemy territory or even right below an enemy faction's host station, the unstated goal of each game is to eliminate all enemy host stations. In multiplayer, beam gates are not present on the map and the only objective is to destroy opponents.
Like most strategy games, the game is centered on resources. The sole resource in Urban Assault is energy, which is required to build units and buildings used to conquer other factions. Energy is gained through controlling power stations. Each power station emits energy relative to the number of white boxes attached to it on the map screen; each box represents more power output. Power stations are also limited in power output by the number of adjacent sectors controlled by the player, referred to in-game as efficiency, forcing the player to increase control of the map in order to create more powerful armies. Powerful units and buildings require significant amounts of energy to build.
The plot of Urban Assault is set in the future, where ozone depletion, termed The Big Mistake, results in destruction of the ocean's phytoplankton, causing the Earth's food chain to collapse. Scarce food supplies results in a resource war, and plasma formation technology — the ability to form solid constructions using only energy — allows military commanders to create entire armies to subjugate their foes. The technology was leaked to enemy factions, destroying fragile political alliances and launching the planet into a third world war. Citizens are forced into domed communities, which shield them from dangerous levels of UV radiation (to an extent) and filters the toxic air. However, most of the adult population had already consumed contaminated food, and most died within five years - regardless of location, domed or not.
A group of alien invaders, the Mykonians, view humans as being unworthy of such a resource-rich planet, and implant their Parasite Machine into the crust of the planet to draw energy directly from the Earth's core. The Parasite Machine is causing the Earth's core to cool, weakening its magnetic field. This will eventually cause solar radiation levels to rise and obliterate all of the planet's biomass, making it suitable for Mykonian colonization. In the campaign, Mykonian forces are usually present in northern Europe, where the cool temperatures allow for more efficient data transfer.
A second group of alien invaders, the plant-like Sulgogars, have invaded northern Africa, where the warm climate creates a suitable spawning ground. Only seen in mid-to-late-game missions in northern Africa, the Sulgogars are one of the most challenging faction to defeat.
Three human factions exist as well; these include the Ghorkovs, Taerkastens, and the Black Sect.
In addition to the in-game mission briefing texts, a significant portion of comprehensive, in-depth background lore of the game are scattered and hidden deep inside the game's Help files. One could access these fragmented storyline materials by clicking the special glowing button that appears on numerous help pages.
The Resistance represents the last traces of democracy and freedom to survive global chaos. The Resistance was months away from destruction when a coalition of engineers and hackers wired together the free world's computers to create seven host stations. The host stations, however, had a caveat: no one would entrust the task of defending democracy and freedom to machines, so each host station was piloted by a Synaptic Donor Unit, abbreviated SDU. These SDUs were regarded as heroes, who, according to the game's help files, "sacrificed their humanity for the continual humanity of others."
In the single-player campaign, the player role is that of the last SDU champion to be deployed into battle, SDU 7. The player can read the diary entries of the fallen SDUs on the briefing for each game.
Their Resistance's HQ and training grounds are located in Britain.
The Resistance has a variety of war machines, notably the rapid-fire Dragonfly heavy assault helicopter gunship, the sub-nuclear missile launching Rhino, and the effective anti-air tank Fox. It is based around 90's era "modern" designs and weapons consist primary of machine guns, artillery shells, and rockets and missiles. The faction's strengths in general are mainly its versatility and cost-effectiveness, while its weaknesses are relatively weak firepower of individual units.
The Ghorkovs are the faction most similar to The Resistance in terms of the vehicles and technology they use. Although their vehicle designs are more futuristic and their nuclear-based energy weaponry is far more advanced. The Ghorkovs begin as the first enemy the player encounters in the game, and frequently reappear in later missions. According to one of the game's pre-mission briefings, the Ghorkovs were originally allies of the Resistance, but later turned against them when the Resistance attempted to sell the Ghorkovs out to the Mykonians.
The Ghorkov host station icon is a red star, representing communism and totalitarianism. The faction is emerged from eastern Europe after The Big Mistake.
In the single-player campaign, the Ghorkovs tend to be one of the easier faction to defeat, and are usually saved for last in multi-faction missions.
Ghorkov units generally possess higher speed and agility than the most other factions' counterparts. Notable vehicles in the Ghorkovian arsenal include the Tekh-Trak, a ground assault vehicle; the Speedy, an anti-air hovercraft tank; and the Gigant, a saucer-shaped aircraft that specializes in destroying host stations. Their Ghargoil series of aircraft are also a staple of Ghorkov commanders. While the Ghorkovs are similar to the Resistance in terms of gameplay, it lacks the latter's versatility, given that its strengths lie mainly on air units.
The Taerkasts represent a fundamentalist, neo-Luddite society, abhorrent of technology. Hypocritically, they embrace plasma formation technology, regarding it as a necessary evil. The Taerkastens blame technological factions like The Resistance and Ghorkovs for destroying the Earth's ozone layer. Whilst possessing their own versions of "technologically" advanced armaments and equipment.
They have a cult like formation and are situated in much of Southern Europe and Africa. Despite their geographical location the faction is originated in Europe (supposedly central/northern Europe). They are infamous for getting into conflict with the Ghorkovs and have higher hatred for the Ghorkov's due to their radiation-based weaponry.
Taerkast units are typically heavily armored and have strong attacks, but are much slower and vulnerable to hit and run tactics. A majority of their technology design is based around the First/Second World War with some exceptions. The backbone of conventional Taerkast assault usually involves massed Leonid tank units, with Hetzel fighter plane support. Their units are also designed to be more AI-friendly out of all the factions.
The invader Mykonians disdain humanity for wasting a precious birthright like the Earth. They see Earth as nothing more than a battery and use the Parasite Machine to drain the power from the Earth's core. Destruction of the Parasite Machine is the focus of the single-player campaign, and, in the final mission, the player must destroy it before a long in-game timer runs out.
Mykonian units are geometric shapes, with evocative names like "Air Prism" and "Ground Cube." The Mykonians are typically located in biovein-infested environments, where their vehicles blend in with the surroundings better. Mykonian units have weak shielding, but have some of the strongest attacks in the game. All Mykonian weaponry is classified as Ion Cannon. The faction is specifically designed to excel when controlled by human players instead AI.
The off-world Sulgogars view humanity as fertilizer for their spawning grounds. Rarely encountered, the Sulgogars are one of two most formidable factions that players often seek to eliminate first, because they have the strongest attacks (mostly precision-guided Particle Beam) in the single player game (surpassing even the Mykonians). All Sulgogar units are airborne, and are supposedly sentient. Sulgogar host stations are unique in that they are unable to terraform buildings, and must rely on conquest to power their broods. In gameplay, to balance out its powerful units, the Sulgogars trade-off with its crucial lack of versatility (it has very little variety of units and all are airborne) and its inability to create its own power source.
One cannot play as the Sulgogars in Multiplayer as they are designed to be Singleplayer-only enemy faction, but the well known "jump gun" cheat allows one to play as the Sulgogars in the single player campaigns without directly modifying game data. Moreover, a fair amount of "mods" (essentially hacks) have been released to allow their play.
The Black Sect
The Black Sect is a mysterious splinter faction composed of pirates, scavengers, and mercenaries who have decided to enter the war for personal profit and gain. Black Sect units have a special stealth projection, rendering them invisible to the player's radar. They are arguably the most difficult faction to defeat in the original campaign, which often makes them the top priority to be eliminated. One cannot play as the Black Sect in Multiplayer.
Having no original units of their own, the Black Sect relies on stealing technology from other factions, including the Resistance Anvil-class host station (the prototype model that SDU7 was meant to use) and the Taerkasten Bronsteijn flying ion cannon. The Black Sect also have the ability to create some Mykonian and Sulgogar units, which hints that even the aliens have a history with the Sect. This is backed up with the constant communication with the terran forces and Mykonians.
For every mission that the Black Sect appears in, they possess the capability to create a portion of units from all factions that made an appearance in the battlefield. Together with its stealth projection capability, this means the player cannot easily exploit any weaknesses like he/she can do for the other factions.
According to the game's credits, Urban Assault is officially translated and released with full audio support in the following 4 languages: English, French, German, and Japanese.
The game received mixed reviews from critics and greatly suffered from poor sales followed by lack of advertisements. Common criticisms included complex interface, primitive controls, lack of variety and monotony in game modes, steep difficulty and learning curves. Praise included innovative gameplay, immersive 3D battlefield experience consisting fully destructive environments, tactical and strategic depth involving diverse range of ground/air vehicles, excellent joystick support and the introductory video with music by Mark Snow.
According to the developer until 1999 the game sold 400,000 units.
In spite of its mediocre reception from various press reviews, the game is usually scored very high on user/customer scores at numerous game review websites. As of 2012, the game retains an active fan community that releases game modifications and other content. For instance in 2016, the community released a game engine recreation on GitHub.
An expansion pack for the game was originally planned under the title "Metropolis Dawn", however it was never officially released due to poor sales of the base game. The expansion allowed the player to play as the Taerkasten or Ghorkov factions, as well as adding new vehicles and maps. Although never released for sale, a near-complete copy was uploaded to the internet before TerraTools became RadonLabs, and is completely freeware.
- "Urban Assault (Tech Info)". GameSpot. Archived from the original on 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
- Harris, Craig (1998-08-13). "Urban Assault Review". IGN. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- Chin, Elliot (1998-09-03). "Urban Assault for PC Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- "Urban Assault Reviews". GameRankings. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- "Radon Labs Game Development". Radon Labs. 2007. Archived from the original on December 18, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- URBAN ASSAULT - over 400.000... on terratools.de "The smash hit title URBAN ASSAULT sells over 400.000 units world wide."(March 17, 1999, archived)
- UA_source "Opensource reimplementation of UrbanAssault engine. You needed copy of original game files for play." on github.com (2016)
- UA:Source on metropolisdawn.com by Zidane (Jun 23, 2016)
- MISSION CD "Metropolis Dawn" on terratools.de "Watch out for the URBAN ASSAULT Add-On "Metropolis Dawn" coming this summer! Our mission CD will feature new levels and vehicles and will be sold around the world. Bonus: This time you will be able to play all enemy races!" (1999-05-03, archived)