You know the Apocalypse is just around the corner when the Boss asks the tabletop guy to look at some gaming software because he has the only rig powerful enough to do it. In this case the culprit is a Dutch design for a World War II operational to RTS tactical level game called Military Operations Benchmark (or MOB). The last word refers to the fact that this free download is actually not a playable game, but a demo that puts your graphics processing unit (GPU) through some very heavy paces to see if it will run the thing, adding your score to a Steam leaderboard. (I checked, Bill ranks #157 -ED)
Then the software does a short video culminating in allowing you to zoom around the battlefield on 17 May 1940 as the Germans face off against the French and Belgians (the BEF being on the way) in the battle for France.
The entire concept for this game seems to be the eventual mapping of the planet during World War II for play. Participants become army and corps commanders and manage their forces from that level, concerning themselves with things like planning and logistics. However, the game then allows you to zoom down to the tread level to directly supervise, say, a company of Pzkw III’s as they saunter through the Ardennes. Control at this level is somewhat limited, but every vehicle (and yes, with infantry this time) is represented on a one to one scale. Here we are talking about tanks, Zundap motorcycles with side cars, artillery pieces with limbers and ammo trains, even staff limos for the generals.
Well my rig will run the game, scoring around 3200 points the first time I ran it, then around 2600 the second time. It’s a hog, so here is how much digital horse power you’ll need.
From the start MOB impressed me as being unique (I was going to use the word “quirky”), but it is after all somewhat of a beta minus right now. Downloading from Steam is very slooooooow, in part because the game sizes out at 25 gigs. For comparison, a Hollywood History game like the recent Total War tome Thrones of Britannia weighs in at 30 gigs, and a more serious wargame like Matrix’ Pike & Shot Campaigns a mere 500 megabytes. Oh, and BTW, because this is more a non-playable demo, you will have to hunt to find it in your online library, because the Valve folks lists it under ‘Other Software’ and not ‘Games.’
The actual specs for this game are pretty impressive. Minimum requirements are Windows 7 + 64 bit (Windows 10 64 bit here), an Intel or AMD Quad processor (AMD Quad Core 3.5 HHZ to 4.2 MHZ in Turbo), 8 gigabytes RAM (my hardware has 32) and 25 gigs of hard drive space as noted before. The big thing, however, seems to be the video card which demand three gigs of video RAM, and a graphics processor that will support two TFLOPS (as in two trillion floating point operations per second), Open GL 4.3 and Open CL 1.2. My video card is an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (EVGA), specs Base Clock: 1354 MHz / Boost Clock: 1468 MHz; Memory Detail: 4096MB GDDR5. With a designation that long, it had better support these specs, and seems to.
So ready to go right? Not so much. As much as I tried, I could not get the game to run directly off Steam without getting a critical error message that stopped loading. Yet, on the Military Operations HQ Website, there is a small frame announcing the availability of MOB and a button to click on to download from Steam. Click on it, and it will immediately start the game you’ve already installed from Steam and does so effortlessly, without any issues and as smooth as silk. Like I almost said, “quirky,” but off we go.
Into the Breach
Before you ever see the battlefield, the METIS simulation technology setup routine will take you through a number of steps to initialize the game, test your video hardware, render and process graphics and so on. All of this is quite slow, and if my smart watch is correct, we’re talking about a good five minutes each. At the end of the process you will be presented with a screen display of six charts showing how well or bad your graphics card did in the intense testing phase. A final score is also given and posted to the Leader’s Battle Board on Steam. Then the game starts in earnest with a splash screen and four buttons at the bottom. It seems if you don’t do anything within a certain time the game takes you on a whirlwind tour of Europe at the beginning of the 1940 campaign in France, starting from a global view down to a continental and national view where icons for various Allied and German headquarters begin to float above the landscape. The tour continues down to the individual tank level where trees, wheat fields, individual buildings and long convoys of troops moving into position become visible. You really don’t have to do anything but sit back and enjoy the show.
However, if you had clicked on the ROAM button back on the splash page, you could then conduct the tour yourself, going to different portions of the campaign area and so on. Control for doing so is a combination of mouse and keyboard, with arrow keys moving things left and right, the mouse scroll button for zooming and the right mouse button for tilting and spinning the screen. As you move from operational down to the low tactical level, mouse-controlled speed becomes slower and slower. Clicking on a headquarters activates it and then you can see all sorts of things such as area of deployment while several common military map symbols delineate lines of contact and axis of advance. There are only four buttons at the bottom of the screen, and they allow you to change icon appearance, etc., while the question mark button at the lower left brings up the command hierarchy of whatever unit you activated. This says to me that while you can control a company of French Char B-1 bis and chunk a round down range, the game is mostly played by issuing orders to subordinate commands, only intervening when absolutely necessary.
The graphics are a mixed bag. As far as terrain is concerned, the images are very geometric and angular, with many forests looking similar to the design style I’ve seen in games like Matrix Field of Glory 2. They are also non-descript. A town for example, has buildings with the correct outline, but no detail. In other words, there is no siding, no windows or doors and no shingles on the roof. From a distance this actually eyeballs pretty well as small towns and villages look the way they should and often displayed top down on military maps.
Vehicles are quite nice, however, and very accurately rendered both in composition and paint scheme. French tanks, for example are all properly camouflaged in the wavy tan/green/chocolate brown pattern that has captivated the miniature wargaming set. Troop transports (in other words, trucks) are also quite nicely done as opposed to the after thought appearance found in many computer games. MOB also includes a full complement of not only artillery pieces, but their limbers as well and I just love the Mercedes and Renault staff limos. Yet even here, the graphics fall short of the very high quality you might find in a Steel Division 44, as the images too rely on harsh edged geometry that has little to no anti-aliasing. Thus, the main drive wheel on a Pzkw IV is not really circular, but actually a pentacontagon (50 sided, but I bet you knew that, right?).
Overall the thing to remember here is that you are allowed to explore and look around, but not really play anything. While that concept might not appeal to some, I will admit I took away at least one thing positive from my experience. I was dumbfounded as to how hard it was to locate military units on the battlefield when displayed one to one, in scale and properly portioned on a battlefield as vast as it was in 1940. While most gamers are used to seeing a counter or highlighted marker that easily identifies whomever, this software plays it like it really was and really is today. The military units are so small as to look like ants from above, and easily missed if you don’t keep a good eye out. The space between fighting formations is wide, deep and thoroughly vacant. As a retired colonel, I know because I’ve been there, so to speak.
End of Day Retreat
It’s a bit early to be talking about recommendations; MilOps is, after all, a work in progress so one has no way of knowing what will change between now and release. There is also no way of knowing what the final hardware requirements will be (there was talk of optimising for 2GB Gfx cards though) or how much the game will eventually cost. For now, the best thing to say is that the benchmark tool hints at a diamond in the rough, albeit a very promising one. I declare it promising because I’ve rarely seen a game so ambitious in its scope and depth as this one, something the proverbial uber-Grog will unquestionably love. So, if the designers pull off what they intend, the drinks are on me.
Military Operations: Benchmark is available now on Steam for free. The final game currently has no release date.