Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Panzer Command Ostfront (PC)

If you’re patient, Panzer Command Ostfront is a game that will reward you – giving you granular level of control over reasonably sized armies and recreating some of the more intense battles between Germany and Russia during World War 2.

But you’re going to need to be patient, because this game plays out at a glacial pace. It’s a necessary side effect of having so much control over what’s going on, but it’s going to relegate this game to appealing to only a special kind of strategy gamer.

I think I'd rather be in the tank


The game plays out in a simultaneous turn based fashion – you and your opponent assign commands to your respective units, and then those commands are played out in a simultaneous fashion on the battlefield. It creates an interesting dynamic that we don’t often see in more mainstream strategy games, where you have to balance proactive aggression with reaction to the opponent’s movements,  and aiming to guess a couple of steps ahead what strategies are being planned. Rather than a chess-like style of parry and thrust, Panzer Command does a good job of recreating the style of strategy that a real battlefield commander would face.

And to further that impression of realism; the depth and historical accuracy of this game is impressive – the developers clearly did their research to assign realistic statistics to each and every unit’s individual firepower and armour ratings. Both the Germans and Russians have tactical options available to them unique to the nation at the time; historically the Germans had superior training, and this plays out in the scenarios with more complex manoeuvres and better radio contact available to them to better plan complex strategies such as airstrikes.

In this game you get to watch a lot of tanks roll slowly over the landscape


That’s not to say the Russians are ‘weaker’ (after all, sheer numbers and determination saw them effectively win their part of the war), but be warned going in – because the game does model itself on realism, reversing the course of history can take some work. It’s not impossible, but there are scenarios that are stacked right up against one side or the other.

In Panzer Command, the level of control you have over your forces scales right down to individual tanks. They’re grouped together into small units, and though the ‘leader’ unit has the lion’s share of commands available, sub units have a degree of autonomy.


Sorry for the colours in the video, our recording software didn't much get along with this game. Still, the video gives you an idea of the game's pacing.

And it’s just as well you have that level of control, because in this game, a unit’s line of sight is absolutely critical, and the game encourages you to zoom right down to a soldier’s view to properly observe their lines of sight. The terrain across the game’s many environments is varied, and there’s plenty of room to manoeuvre around. Without that near first person point of view it would be very difficult to properly assess enemy positioning and the broader environment the unit is fighting in.

It helps that the game looks good zoomed so far in, of course. Though Panzer Command is visually basic, it does look a lot like a table top wargame, and though unit’s animation is basic, they too look a little like the plastic or metal miniatures that people collect, paint, and recreate battles with at home.

The visual style of this game is simple, but really effective


The downside to this granular control is that Panzer Command is a very slow game to play, and is made even slower by the waiting times for battle simulation and AI (see video, above). The bigger scenarios take literally weekends to complete, and the sense of slowness is not helped by the lack of fireworks. Units can be killed, but explosions are small and unspectacular – this is one area the game didn’t need to shoot for realism.

It also doesn’t help that the AI isn’t the brightest in the world – but this is at least offset by online play and the ability to create your own scenarios.

Ok, not so good to be in the tank now


In Matrix style, there’s a mass of content in the game, with dozens of scenarios and some extensive campaign options. So if you get into this game, it’s going to last you a good while.

It’s just getting into it that’s the problem. As someone who enjoys wargames (see my reviews of Advanced Tactics, TacOps4 and Combat Command), I found this a little plodding. I loved its depth and detail; I don’t like committing hours to watch slowly moving tanks shoot tiny explosions at one another.

It’s far from a bad game, but beware that this is a game that needs commitment. Find the time and patience, and you should love recreating some of the greatest tank battles in history.

If you are a fan of strategy games, please come say hi in our forums - we're always up for a game or three.

Reactions:

 
Live Support