Wingtips and Bullets
I’ve been on something of a wargame-and-flight-sim kick lately. It began with Field of Glory, the computer version of the (frankly brilliant) tabletop wargame of the same name. Those rules are a little more complex than my beloved De Bellis Antiquitatis, and the computer version translates them perfectly. Graphically it’s nothing to write home about but at least the units look like what they’re supposed to be (they’re images of actual miniatures, no less) rather than being obscure square icons as is typical of all too many computer wargame sims.
Play-wise it’s flawless and immediately accessible with great tactics being rewarded and foolish assaults capitalized upon by the computer AI. My boys took to it quickly and were soon pounding a slave rebellion into the dust. All of the supplied scenarios have terrific replay value and the included scenario builder opens up the whole game so you can recreate pretty much any battle you can imagine – provided it fits into the early Roman time period. I’ve yet to pick up the Rise of Rome supplement but it’s firmly on my wishlist.
As I’m using my little netbook (A Packard Bell DotS – highly recommended) exclusively I’ve found that in the main it plays new games surprisingly well, and older ones brilliantly. Given that it’s spec is typical of most netbooks (1.6Ghz processor, 1Gb RAM, 250Gb HD, Intel graphics @ 1024×600) I didn’t hold out much hope for its gaming performance, and so far I’ve been very impressed. Sometimes it takes a little tweaking of a config file to get the unusual display resolution to play nicely but other than that I have few problems to report (with one notable exception – see below). Given the choice, I’d rather play an oldie-but-goodie than the newer games anyhow. They’ve stood the test of time, and by now patches will have ironed out any bugs or gameplay issues.
With that in mind, my wanderings took me onto Medieval Total War. This is the wargame opposite to Field of Glory – it’s full-on camera-panning 3D in high resolution with each little member of your army animated as he stabs and slashes his way across the battlefield. It’s a much more in-depth and detailed game than Field of Glory – it covers a much larger time period, features siege warfare and has an over-arching Risk-style political campaign mode – and in some ways that means it’s less fun to play than Field of Glory. While I can fire up that game for a quick 20 minute skirmish, Medieval Total War demands far more of your time in order to get the most out of it. And for all it’s 3D magic, I’d kill for a decent top-down view of the battlefield. That aside, if you’ve a few hours spare it’s a great immersive experience.
Moving forward a few hundred years, and on to Battlefield 1942. It’s no wargame but arguably the best 1st person perspective shooter ever made. It plays flawlessly on my little netbook and deserves pride of place in any gamer’s collection. ‘Nuff said!
It’s just me versus them. And they’ve got tanks.
After experiencing the planes in Battlefield 1942 my eldest son wanted to try out a full-blown flight simulator. I installed Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004:A Century of Flight and hit the first problem I’d had with any game so far: terrible frame rates. Not just bad, really bad. No matter what graphics settings I select the frame rate barely gets above 6fps with the ground visible and no more than 13fps if I see only sky. I’ve gone all the way from Minimal settings to Medium High and there’s little change in frame rate no matter what I do, including dropping the resolution from 1024×600 to 800×600. I’ve installed the 9.1 patch too, and that’s made no difference at all. Any suggestions welcome. Help!
In comparison, IL-2 Sturmovik 1946 ($9.95! Cheap!) stands head and shoulders above it. It’s graphically stunning, and is easily one of the best (if not THE best) combat flight sims ever made. It’s a compilation of all the previous IL-2 Sturmovik games and add-ons with two more thrown in for good measure. The number of planes, maps and missions is firmly in the “too many to count” territory and it’ll keep you coming back time and again. With plenty of single player scenarios, missions, campaigns and a mission builder there’s more than enough to keep you busy here. Add in rock solid multi-player support and you’re a dogfighter’s dream of a game. Just like Battlefield 1942, this should be in any gamer’s library.
In order to get the game running at 1024×600 I had to edit conf.ini as follows. This gives full screen, flawlessly gorgeous graphics in-game while the (ugly as sin) menus remain 800×600 with black bars down the side. That’s a small price to pay.
Seriously, IL-2’s graphics performance completely puts Microsoft Flight Simulator’s to shame. This is a game every bit as large and complex yet it’s streets ahead in terms of looks, smoothness and frame rate on exactly the same hardware – and that translates to playability. Microsoft, you suck. Again.1
Overall, I’m a happy netbook gaming bunny. As well as the games above my netbook handles Unreal Tournament 2004, Torchlight, Freedom Force and even SPORE without fault. Not bad for a teeny tiny little computer, eh? If you can suggest any more netbook-worthy games, I’ll be happy to hear ’em.
Till next time!
- Ok. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but when you see pretty much the same type of game running four to five times better on the same piece of kit, you’ve got to wonder whether some coders at Microsoft have been pulling their weight. ↩