Everything but the Midichlorians
When I first heard that Aspyr would be porting Star Wars: Empire at War to the Mac, this reminded me as to why I like the company; they may not bring a ton of original content to the Mac, but the stuff you drool over at a friendis house usually sees the light of day under OS X. That being said, Iive wanted a good Star Wars real time strategy game on the Mac since Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds. That and having camped out for all three Star Wars prequels proved that I was not only a fan, but was slow to learn my lesson.
For the most part, Aspyr (www.aspyr.com) has delivered. Empire at War, which combines the basic storyline of "A New Hope" through "Return of the Jedi" (episodes four through six or "the original trilogy"), gathers the entire Star Wars universe including locales mentioned in the novels and comic books. Players can choose between the Empire and Rebellion campaigns as well as skirmish battles and multiplayer and then begin to conquer the galaxy on their own terms.
Empire at War features two central types of combat that must be mastered in order to stand a chance against your opponent. Players must build both space and ground forces, first clearing out a planetis space defenses (typically taking on a small to large space station), then landing ground forces to wipe out everything that stands in their way on the planetis surface.
Conquered planets will not only add to the playeris cash input once structures such as mines have been built on them, but will grant universal bonuses to the player such as a speed boost for a certain type of unit or cost reduction for a given type of ship. This is pure strategic gaming at its best and itis fun to go from struggling to make ends meet to a force that can not only make ends meet, but can begin building in advance of larger campaigns.
Knowing Your Enemy
A provided tutorial does an outstanding job of laying the basics out for the player and showing them how to assemble both space and ground-based forces as well as taking advantage of special units throughout the game. While standard forces such as tanks, speeders, space ships and anti-vehicle units can help win a battle, itis the clever of use of specialized units such as spies, bounty hunters, smugglers and spy droids that can make all the difference.
Want to steal as much Imperial technology as you can get your hands on? Simply send R2D2 and C3PO to an enemy planet, then choose which technology youid like to pay to steal. Bounty hunters can easily assassinate higher end units on enemy planets for the right price and dirt-cheap probe droids can be deployed to report back on enemy forces occupying the next planet on your list to conquer.
"Not in it for your revolution."
Of course, a Star Wars game is nothing without its central characters. To this end, Petroglyph (www.petroglyphgames.com) did a job that was second to none. The voice acting is second to none and thereis a genuine, immersive feeling that comes from this. More to the point, it becomes incredibly fun and addictive to take a heroic character such as Darth Vader, Han Solo, Chewbacca or the Emperor down to a planet and use that herois abilities to help conquer it (Chewbacca can easily commandeer enemy vehicles, the droids can repair units and the Emperor can both brainwash enemy units into fighting for him as well as fry dozens of Ewoks, Gungans and assorted other alien races at a go with lightning from his fingertips - complete with digital yowls of pain). Itis this that keeps the game fun, albeit land and space battles can become somewhat repetitive if the battle isnit close.
One feature I found interesting for the battle sequences as an auto-resolve feature, which almost functions like rolling the dice and letting the computer decide which side will win. Oddly enough, this can sometimes turn a situation you feel would otherwise be a loss into a complete victory.
A strategy title only engages your attention if you feel thereis an element of danger, as if the computer could turn the tables on you at any given moment unless you figure out the best way to fight and use your units. Empire at War does this well, even in its easiest game mode. During the beginning of the Rebellion campaign, the Empire was able to keep me on my toes, fighting for every planet I could capture and losing almost as many. When the Empire had pushed me back to a couple core planets, the only way to expand my forces into something that could defend themselves was to find ways to reduce my production costs, then send exploratory forces to chip away at the Empireis ranks while a larger main force was created. Itis this kind of gameplay that keeps things fun and the player coming back.
Graphics and Sound
Empire at War isnit the most eye-catching title in its genre, but looks good where it needs to (especially with space battles and component movement such as lasers, missiles and explosions). Players can zoom in for a better view of the action and a cinematic view adds dramatic effect. Acoustically, the game sounds terrific and outstanding effects paired with John Williamsi classic music keep the title fun.
Fixing the Hyperdrive
Unfortunately, thereis plenty of room for improvement. The game takes a long time to load levels and save games even when running on a Mac Pro with more than enough RAM, crashes occasionally and slows down to a point where one wonders if the machine has crashed before perking up again. Worse, somewhere down the line, bugs were left in the game that will allow a player to become trapped in a story arc.
For example, a mission to escort rebel pilots to steal prototype x-wing fighters ran well, but if the player failed a certain number of times, the game would cease to offer the mission, which was crucial to the overall campaign. Even after the planet had been conquered, the technology could not be acquired and the entire Rebellion campaign had to be started over again in order to gain this technology and play the story as intended. Itis bugs like this that need to be looked into and patched and I hope Aspyr can pin this down for future versions.
"Good against remotes, thatis one thing..."
While multiplayer gameplay is fun, this is essentially limited to LAN-based gaming, as entering the "Internet" mode shows a complete dearth of Mac clients to play against. Still, the game runs well against friends and itis worth investing a few hours to work to crush your opponents and dominate the galaxy. Like single player gameplay, the goal is to raid your opponent, whittle down their forces and try to back them into a corner. Not a bad thing, this would just be a better situation if licensing issues permitted combat against Windows-based opponents in the short term.
The Bottom Line
Despite its rough edges, Empire at War is a genuinely fun strategy-based Star Wars title with enough of George Lucasi vision in place to keep fans of both the game genre and film saga happy. Few things are more fun than creating a force that can hold its own and defend a border while a larger assault force is created in the background. And, of course, nothing beats pulling the Death Star along and using it to settle those pesky land battles by pulling the lever and outright destroying a planet. Both Petroglyph and Aspyr have done a good job, but the version needs work and there are definite bugs that need fixing. The fun is still there, but an update resolving the gameis issues would move the game into the must-buy category as opposed players might feel hesitant about plucking off the shelf at the Apple Store.
That being said, I have an Imperial base to infiltrate and a space station to raid with my new Mon Calamari frigates, so may the Force be with you.
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:
- Operating System: Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later
- CPU Processor: Intel Chipset
- CPU Speed: 1.83 GHz
- Memory: 512 MB or higher
- Hard Disk Space: 3.5 GB Hard Drive Space
- Video Card (ATI): Radeon X1600
- Video Card (NVidia): Geforce 7300
- Video Chipset (Intel): GMA 950
- Video Memory (VRam): 64 MB
- Media Required: DVD Drive
RECOMMENDED SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:
- CPU Speed: 2.0 GHz
- Operating System: Mac OS X 10.4.8
- Memory: 1 GB
- Video Memory (VRam): 256
- Internet(TCP/IP) or LAN play supported
- Internet play requires broadband connection
- Cross platform play not supported.
- NVIDIA GeForce 7300
- NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500
- ATI Radeon X1600, X1900
- INTEL Graphics Media Accelerator 950