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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Preview: Matrix Games' Panzer Corps

Matrix Games is back with Panzer Corps, and it’s set to be a very accessible, easy to play retro-style strategy game. Where some of the other Matrix games; like Advanced Tactics: Gold or Combat Command aim at the more hardcore strategists, Panzer Corps as a modern imagining of the old SSI Panzer General formula is easy to get into.

Looks familiar? Most strategy fans will know what this game means

Not that there isn’t plenty of meat to the game – Advance Wars this is not. There’s a huge variety of units to command (400+, Matrix claims), and a massive number of missions: the preview build we played had 30 scenarios of various sizes to play through. In addition, there’s a handful of campaigns, which are a series of linked scenarios. Considering some of those battles can last for a few hours, that’s a lot of content.

Battles play out over a hexagonal grid, and units have a health rating out of 10. As the unit takes damage, this number drops, and its overall combat effectiveness drops. This is the traditional format that has been adopted since the Panzer General games, and indeed, Panzer Corps is a very familiar experience. As a fan of the old SSI games, I felt immediately at home, and it took just a few clicks to be comfortable with the interface.

Oh how we love hexes

The developers, The Lordz Game Studios, have worked hard to make this an easy game to get into, and on the lower difficulty levels, the little number out of 10 on the bottom of each unit will be enough information to assess tactics. In other words, although there will be the occasional strange result when the modifiers are really stacked up one way or another, a tank unit with a health of eight will reliably beat an infantry unit with a health of six. This means that even the most casual of strategy fans will be able to click their way through a game while watching the TV.

On the higher difficulty levels though the nature of the game changes dramatically. Though Panzer Corps never quite makes you feel like a genius for pulling off successful ploys (and indeed the AI is never so intelligent to make intricate strategies necessary), it does require an understanding of terrain and carefully balancing attacks between navies, the airforce, infantry, tanks and artillery. You’ll also have a limited number of reinforcements available, depending on the scenario, meaning you’ll need to be careful in picking the right units for the situation.

There are a tonne of different statistics to track - these are important when playing on 'hard' 

There’s also a neat approach to healing and improving the experience of units. By taking some down time, a unit can replenish its strength, or by paying some “reputation points” (built from being successful on the battlefield), add greater combat effectiveness to it.

So there is some strategy involved – not enough to challenge the really hardcore (though things might change by the time the game is released), but it seems to be very well-balanced. Of course there’s also Matrix Games’ typical play by email mode, and human intelligence always wins out over AI, but we have been unable to test this as yet. We expect the game game plays snappily enough (games rarely last more than 20 turns) that play by email could be quite an addictive experience.

As the weeks lead up to the launch of this game we’ll keep you posted with info on the game, and go into more depth with how some of the features work. It’s great to see Panzer General’s spirit lives on, and Matrix Games seems to have the style down pat with this release. In true Matrix style, the game looks simple but clean and is already fairly bug free, so the release can't be too far away now. 
Preview: Matrix Games' Panzer Corps
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