Strategy & War
“War! - huh - yeah. What is it good for?” A driving beat, a powerful song. You might think the only follow up is the singer’s declarative answer: “Absolutely nothing!” Then again, without war the programmers at Westwood Studios might have devoted their energies to a ballet simulation — and as gamers we’d be left without the vivid, explosive thrills incarnate in the Mac port of Command and Conquer: Generals.
Command & Conquer: Generals (or simply Generals for our time together here) is the latest real-time strategy blitzkrieg in the C&C series. In real-time strategy (RTS) games such as Generals, you command multiple military units — from individual soldiers to squadrons of attack helicopters — in mission-based objectives; at the same time, your opponent(s) unleash their war machines with the goal of wiping you off the virtual Earth. Blizzard has been phenomenally successful with raising the bar in this genre with their Starcraft and Warcraft series of games — but many will have ordered their first troop movements in the original C&C.
C&C has long been missing from the Mac scene, and those looking for a fix of the series’ trademark, over-the-top weaponry and military melodrama have had to resort to awkward Playstation ports or envious looks over the shoulder of our PC brethren. Aspyr is seeking to rectify all that with the fast approaching release of Generals on the Mac. I’ve been embedded with a beta preview of the title, and I’ve just returned from the front to tell you this is a game with serious firepower. But like in any war, there’s a price to pay for victory.
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfightHear this: Generals is not a title where you can say, “They’re overstating the requirements; I’ve had good luck with other games that say that need X, and I’ve only got Y, and I just turned off a few options and I’m having a grand time!”
Not on this battlefield, soldier. If you don’t have the minimum specs, don’t even look at the box. Better yet, for your safety, leave the room. This game is DEMANDING. Running the preview on a 1.25GHz Powerbook G4 was…languid. There were no obvious graphical stuttering or delays, but scrolling was slow-paced and tanks and planes arrived on the scene with more a sashay than a savage roar. And this with texture detail turned down and every one of many graphical enhancements turned off.
Note that this is a beta, and I’m told that subsequent builds have brought performance improvements. Even so, my e-mail conversation with Aspyr said it directly: if your system does not meet the minimum specs for this game, don’t even bother.
I love the sight of napalm in the morningIf you do make enlistment, you’re in for a treat. The visuals in this game are stunning. For an idea of how much is going on under the hood, consider what you can disable: 3D shadows, 2D shadows, cloud shadows, extra ground lighting, smooth water borders, behind building (which toggles silhouettes of units standing or moving behind structures), show props (which toggles the appearance of plants), extra animations (such as tree swaying), and dynamic auto-adjust of the detail level. But even at a minimum, Generals is phenomenal eye-candy.
This is a 3D world where smoke and other rich particle effects roil and drift over the world — a gorgeous, detailed terrain that also ravages beautifully when hammered by flame throwers and wayward missile systems. Tank treads leave marks. Soldiers limp when injured — and fly through the air like rag dolls when caught in an explosion, bouncing along the cratered ground when they finally come down. Buildings take cumulative damage, with fire eating away at a structure’s color and support until the battered wreck collapses into gray rubble. And nukes take over your screen with an amazing spectacle of fiery rage.
Because Generals is 3D, you can move in on the action and even rotate around it — although doing so is possible only via the numeric keypad or a mouse with a scroll wheel. (Unfortunately, these controls — or any others in the game — can not be remapped.)
Battles are punctuated by numerous, in-game cut scenes — a nicely animated air strike, for example. Unfortunately, these seem timed to come in just as you’re about to achieve a mission goal; at times, that made it seem as if the game was claiming the final victory for itself.
The graphic experience was less stellar on my desktop machine, where the game and my ATI Radeon 8500 agreed to disagree: opening animations were non-existent, and the main menu screen rendered as a mutant swamp of disconnected texture patterns, badly skewed vehicles, black skies and floating wireframes. Aspyr informs me that problems with ATI cards were the last of the graphical bugs to be squashed, and that these conflicts should not appear in the final release.