Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Panzer Corps (PC)

Panzer Corps is a big release for Matrix Games – with a longer development and marketing cycle, following its progress has been an interesting experience. The team behind it at Lordz Game Studios has endeavoured to recreate the hex-based light strategic experience found in the old turn-based SSI Panzer General games, and this loving devotion to the traditions that series set up is admirable.

Watch your flank!


For a turn-by-turn introduction to the first in-game mission, and to get a better idea on how the game's mechanics work: click here.

It’s not an entirely old school game – there’s 400 unit types, 19 unit classes, 17 terrain types and 26 scenarios with branching paths depending on the player's performance. As such, the variety and interplay between units can become quite complex, which is a nice, modern touch. With the ability to recruit new units to the army at times, as well as an experience system that goes beyond “survive one battle, level up,” there is some strategic complexity here, but one that doesn’t compromise the accessibility that this formula is famous for.

That accessibility is especially evident on the lower difficulty levels, where the AI is a cakewalk and you’ll still win, even if you make a few thousand strategic mistakes (I may or may not have exaggerated there). On the higher difficulty levels – and Matrix has been good enough to supply a lot of those – even small mistakes can cut the Achilles tendon from under your war machine.




It’s not the most balanced difficulty scale, however, as it would be unreasonable to suggest the AI gets ‘smarter’ on the higher difficulty levels. Tougher, yes, but not smarter. That’s part and parcel with the modern wargame though as they tend to be put together by small teams of developers and creating convincing AI for 400 units across 26 scenarios is a big ask, even for the major studios.

A robust play by email (PBEM) multiplayer option helps resolve the disappointment some might feel over the AI. After all, wargames are by nature designed for the multiplayer experience and given that scenarios can last for a while, a good PBEM game will have you planning strategy for weeks. If you are up for a game, do let us know on our forums - we're always up for some strategy.

To be honest. That's a bit excessive.


For the most part the scenarios are balanced enough in multiplayer that no side is at a decisive advantage, but at the same time I know some of the scenarios won’t be popular online, as the historical authenticity would challenge Napoleon Bonaparte to dream up a solution to.

Another positive step by Matrix in this game is a tutorial mode that doesn’t require flicking through a 100+ page manual to make sense of; a wargame finally does a good job of introducing the player to the game in the game itself. As much as I like manuals (thanks to the likes of Matrix and Battlefront.org, my iPad is filling quickly with the things), I do feel it’s important that games have a more effective way of getting new players in the thick of the action without confusing them. Panzer Corps does this, so for genre newbies, this is a great place to start.

The game looks and sounds good too, without being overly flashy. Colours are muted and gritty – Advance Wars this game is not, but the soundscape of explosions and bullets is appropriate and does grant the game a sense of scale.

Maps can get very busy with war in the sky, on land, and in the ocean


It's also worth noting just how well this game's interface works. Many other wargames get bogged down in archaic systems, with important statistics hidden deep within layers of menus, awkward camera controls and obscure rules/ restrictions that are not explained well in-game. Panzer Corps gets all of that right, and while the interface isn't as streamlined as a big budget game like R.U.S.E, it's also neither confusing nor frustrating to play with.

As a labour of love, it’s good to be able to say “Panzer General is back!” It might just be a spiritual sequel, but the developers have done a stellar job in retaining the hex-based strategic thrill of SSI’s legacy, while doing just enough to modernise it. Of all Matrix Games’ titles, this is the one with the broadest appeal and so, if you’re looking for a light strategy game, here’s a good place to start.




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