Strategy & War
Taking friendly fireI didn’t come across any $600 toilet seats in this General’s army, but all is not perfect in this world, either. Pathfinding of units is generally pretty good — they’ll get out of each other’s way as they’re on the move — but the overall “intelligence” of the armies seems a little off. More than once I encountered units taking damage, but not returning fire. Similarly, I often had to redirect troops caught in “lost” loops, wandering aimlessly as they tried to make their way around an obstacle. Unit formations don’t seem to “hold” too well in the heat of battle — they’d sometimes drift away from each other, taking the focus off of an individual target and forcing you to have to regroup and retarget.
Over the last few years, I’ve become spoiled by the control mechanism introduced by Blizzard — that is, using different buttons on the mouse to trigger different actions on the units. Generals takes some influence from Blizzard — the control bar is now on the bottom of the screen instead of the side — but essentially sticks to dated conventions that C&C established “back when:” left button selects and directs, right button only deselects. I’m all for tradition, but I found this to be limiting. Yes, you can get used to it, but since the “newer” system works so well and has become a pretty accepted convention, what’s the harm in adopting it? It’s disappointing (and frustrating) that the game allows no remapping of mouse buttons or key commands.
I was also dissatisfied with the way Generals handles assigned groups. If you’ve got a set of tanks, for example, there’s no easy way to simply add one or more tanks to that established group. You have to reselect all the previous units, add in the new one(s) and then recreate the group. Again, something you can get used to, but it’s needlessly awkward given what’s shown to be possible in other games.
Fight clubAs with most RTS games, Generals features online play; but since this preview is pre-release of the actual game, there’s few other Mac players available to test direct combat. What I can tell you is that multiplayer can host 2 to 8 players on a local network or the Net with a cable, DSL or faster connection; or 2 to 4 players on a 56 kpbs connection. Connection will be via Gameranger, and Mac to Mac only. (Conspiracy theorists who want to boycott the game because it lacks Mac-PC connectivity should begin spiting themselves now.) Each player will need to have a game disc in his/her drive.
The beauty of multiplayer is that it should help keep the game fresh, even after you’ve gone through the single player levels. The ugliness is that you will be quickly humiliated by more experienced warriors with no patience for newbies
Multiplayer will apparently force a resolution of 800x600. This may be to give everyone playing an equal footing, and probably helps to balance out lag between players on different connections and different hardware.
Marching ordersForgive its few interface/control quirks (which, in utter fairness, are holdovers from the original PC development). Ignore its occasional, over-the-line political incorrectness when it comes to other cultures. Overlook the fact that there are no cut scenes featuring recognizable character actors giving hambone performances. (Sniff.)
Then prepare to go to battle with spectacular looking graphics and some quickly accessible, very refined gameplay. Technology-wise, this is a demanding game — maybe overly demanding, considering what other RTS titles are able to achieve. But there’s no question that when the final game ships there will be a lot to enjoy — if your Mac can handle the unforgiving resource drain the game’s engine is about to unleash on your hardware.
So when you’re ready soldier, saddle up and conquer the world three times over. Me, I’m sorting my change jar to see if I’ve got enough for a G5.