Friday, September 18, 2009

Mini-review: Machines at War

I'm not much of a gaming blogger, but there are incentives involved.

I'm also much of a gamer per se -- I generally put a few hours into a game, and then drop it unless it's something I can devote an enjoyable half-hour to now and again.

Machines at War from Isotope 244 fits the bill ... the average session fits into a 30-minute timeframe. It was also one of only a few real-time strategy games I could find that runs in Mac OS X on a PowerPC CPU.

For those of you nearly as backward as I am when it comes to games, "real-time strategy" or RTS is the kind of game where you gather and refine resources, use those resources to build military units, then use those military units to go kick someone else's ass. Blizzard's Warcraft and Starcraft are probably the best-known titles in the genre.

Machines at War is a "modern combat" version of this type of game. The player builds jeeps, tanks and airplanes and dukes it out with up to three other computer-controlled players.

This is where more avid gamers are probably going to balk: There's no multi-player, LAN play or Internet competition. It's a stand-alone game for one player versus the game's artificial intelligence. That doesn't bother me because, as I said, I'm looking for a 30-minute fix, not a time-consuming hobby. It may bother you. If it does, well, there are lots of other games out there.

MAW advertises "support for add on units and landscapes." That support, so far as I can tell, is embodied in instructions on how to hand-edit some of the game's files. There are no cool map editing programs or anything like that in the standard game package (at least for Mac). I haven't played with the idea yet, but may, on a strictly amateur level. I'm hoping to find a fan community out there on the Intarweb that produces, and offers downloads of, files to make the game experience different.

In principle I see no reason why there couldn't be fan-produced mods of the game that play out as "Old West cowboys and Indians," "medieval/feudal warfare," "feuding factions on Mars" or whatever. It's just a matter of creating different units and different landscapes. I also suspect that more varied scenarios could be implemented by swapping around "saved game" files.

In any case, that's my review. The game is available for Mac OS X, Windows XP and Vista, and Windows Mobile. And of course there's a free "try before you buy" demo version.

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