Strategy & War
Across the board of Macintosh gaming, there are winners and losers; there are games that hold one’s attention for mere hours and games that can entertain for a year or more. Then there are legends — these are the games you end up dreaming about, after you have come home from work and wasted the evening playing it until you finally gathered the sense to drag yourself into bed. These games start to eat up your day until there isn't much else you can think about. Your life, for a time, seems to revolve around the game.
World War II Online has everything it needs to become a legend — the only question is how gamers from every corner of the Macintosh community will receive this versatile game. There is a lot to love in WWII Online: the game has something for everyone, from the gun-toting commando to the deliberate and thoughtful strategist.
World War II Online takes place in Great Britain, allowing players to ally with the French and English or the German forces. The premise of WWII Online is simple enough: create an environment where an entire war can be staged. Allow players to participate in every aspect of that war, from sniping to tank driving to bomber flying to mission planning to campaign coordinating. This thought, as simple as it is, called for a game with demands that were, until today, prohibitively huge.
The first problem is that of detail. Flight simulators, allowing players to fly their aircraft from country to country, typically model the ground very sparsely. Cities are often flat and texture-mapped onto the terrain with resolutions no greater than three or four meters per pixel. On the other hand, first-person shooters, although taking place on scales of a city block, offer unprecedented fidelity compared to flight sims: with door handles, stairs, rocks, and other things even the most demanding flyboy wouldn’t expect to see in a sim. World War II Online must provide a fusion of both of these gameplay types, and it accomplishes it wonderfully. The first trick up the Rats’ sleeves is scaling: they have modeled the world at one-half its normal scale. Vehicles have been modified to ensure they maintain historical performance data. The end result is transparent: the terrain looks as real as if it were modeled at a 1:1 scale.
The Rats also found a great tradeoff between these two extremes of detail levels that has, for the most part, pleased all the gamers. This also has the side effect of making WWII Online a fantastically detailed flight sim and a terrifically large FPS. The game’s performance under this graphical load, furthermore, took me by surprise. When presented with rolling terrain extending for miles, speckled by cities, trees, and tall grass, one would expect plummeting frame rates, especially on older G4’s like mine. Such was not the case: with some notable exceptions, frame rates were very playable, although this changed wildly throughout development. The developers at Cornered Rat Software have long-term plans to further improve the performance of the graphical engine.
Load presents another obstacle. An entire war takes a lot of people, which requires ridiculously powerful central servers. The Rats use a proprietary distributed-server model that allows for very scalable amounts of data transfer. In an intense battle, surrounded by friendly and enemy forces, the player is much more likely to plagued by unusually low frame rates than by server lag. I never had a problem with dropped connections, and I hope future buyers can expect similar service.
Participation stands as the final setback. Without enough people, a war will fizzle up. A true war is multifaceted, requiring offense, defense, support, supply, intelligence, and strategy, and all of it needs to happen on the ground, in the air, and on the seas. While hundreds of people can be playing WWII Online at a given time, that still would not be enough for a war that spans from Ramsgate to Metz. The game alleviates participants of some of the more mundane tasks; for instance, the strategy engine automatically manages supply chains. Players can’t strafe lines of supply trucks, but sufficiently damaging a choke point can break a link in an enemy’s supply net. Each CP is afforded a minimal amount of AI support, but to effectively stop an ambush, plenty of human effort will be required.