Tanks a lot: Panzer power returns in 1998
May 20, 1998
Web posted at 2 p.m. EDT
| Looking through the gun sight of "M1 Tank Platoon II"
By Marc Saltzman
(CNN) -- Perusing through your local computer game retailer will undoubtedly
confirm there's been a considerable expansion in the military simulation
genre these days. Take a closer peek and you'll notice many of these
products are tank games. A relatively quiet subcategory just a few months
ago has now been populated by a half-dozen or so titles. Examples include
Interactive Magic's "iM1A2," Activision's "Battlezone" and NovaLogic's
"Armored Fist II," to name a few -- each quite different than the next.
What's particularly interesting is three of the latest batch of games
represent the past, present, and possible future fare of tanks -- Interactive
Magic's "iPanzer '44," Microprose's "M1 Tank Platoon II" and Sony Interactive's
"Tanarus," respectively. Let's strap in, take each new sim for a test
drive and engage in some heated tactical ground warfare.
Interactive Magic's "iPanzer '44"
| "iPanzer '44"
Desktop wargamers who prefer to move away from the sleek and computerized
tanks of today will relish the brute force of the classic World
War II beasts in Interactive Magic's "iPanzer '44." Choose between the American M4A3 "Sherman" 76, the German
PzKw V G "Panther" or the Russian T-34/85. That's right - no laser
sighting, no thermal imaging, and no advanced weaponry... Charybdis
Enterprises, the developers of "iPanzer '44," modified the game engine
from their "iM1A2" title but authentically recreated all the tank interiors,
weapons, environments and situations. In fact, there are multiple views
in the game, including driver, commander, gunner, external and a top-down
Newcomers to the genre can hop in and take command of a single tank
on the Eastern or Western fronts (as either the aggressor or defender),
or for a greater challenge, players can command a platoon or an entire
company team, including air strikes, infantry, towed cannons, and more.
A fold-out four-sided keyboard card, a 160+ page manual and an online
manual will serve as helpful reference material for novice players.
The two climactic campaigns are "Operation Bagration," the destruction
of Army Group Center in the Summer of '44 (Russia's 5th Guards Tank
Army against Germany's 5th Panzer Division) and of course, the famous
"Battle of the Bulge" later that year (Germany's 116th Panzer Division
against the United States' 2nd Armored Division). There are over 80
battle areas, a random map generator and multiplayer support for added
replayability. Gamers can compete head-to-head or play cooperatively
over a LAN, modem or the Internet.
The terrain and in-tank graphics in "iPanzer '44" are quite good, with
support for 16-bit color and Direct3D accelerator graphic cards, although
the explosions could look much better by today's standards. Sound effects
are also crisp and realistic - an important feature considering these
skirmishes are up close and personal. If recreating - or rewriting -
the historic battles of Ardennes or Belorussia is up your alley, then
"iPanzer '44" should be the next tank simulation for you.
Microprose's M1 Tank Platoon II
| "M1 Tank Platoon II" features full-motion video cut-scenes
Nearly ten years ago, the original "M1 Tank Platoon" debuted on the
PC and has been cited ever since as one of the most competent and enjoyable
Cold War tank simulations to date. Scott Spanburg, conceiver and creator
of the original game, is back again with this sequel that focuses on
the M1A2 Abrams battle tank. Microprose allows sim enthusiasts to climb
into this 61-metric ton behemoth, capable of reaching an incredible
67 kilometers per hour.
In terms of gameplay, "M1 Tank Platoon 2" (M1TP2) is similar to its
predecessor, with its four-tank platoon management and strategic overhead
map view, but has added 3Dfx graphics support, more cockpit visuals
and functionality, full-motion video cut-scenes, a mission generator,
multiplayer support, and authentic Desert Storm missions. One of the
Gulf War scenarios includes the celebrated 6-minute 73 Easting Encounter,
in which the Iraqis lost over 50 tanks without causing one U.S. casualty.
Other campaigns will pit the player in the middle of North Africa, Russian
Far East, the Balkans and Central Europe, with a number of fictional
In "M1TP2," players command a platoon from either the gunner or tank
commander position, plus gamers must call in A-10 Warthog aircraft,
Apache helicopters, artillery and infantry to successfully carry out
numerous missions. It sounds overwhelming, and it can be, but there's
a two-tiered training program designed for use with the massive manual
and handy hot-key reference card.
The graphics are indeed impressive enough and there are many trees,
landscapes and enemy tanks to gawk at. Although there have been a number
of complaints on various sim newsgroups regarding the artificial intelligence
of your teammates and opponents, I didn't notice any abnormally mute
behavior myself. Another apparent beef is in the accuracy of the tank's
handling but I haven't had the fortuity to control a real M1A2 Abrams
in real life, so I can't comment on it's true authenticity. There is
one major downfall to M1TP2, though. Even when installing the first
patch released from Microprose, the game still locked up and crashed
a few times at random points in the game.
Needless-to-say, this proved to be an annoying and unnecessary fault
that should be investigated and fixed with a new patch. All in all,
fans of the first game will certainly enjoy Microprose's sequel, but
remember to repair the game first, and make sure to have a pretty solid
PC and a 3Dfx accelerator card for maximum performance.
Sony Interactive's Tanarus
| "Tanarus" takes tank warfare into cyberspace
Fast-forward to the late 21st century, where tank warfare on Earth
has become an unfortunate but necessary way of life. Sony Interactive has created
an Internet-only multiplayer tank game that is a combination of action,
sim and strategy all rolled into one.
The player must customize one of five futuristic tanks, each with
its own unique traits, assets and deficiencies, then jump into a game
arena with other players on the Internet and play in real-time. Therefore,
there is no artificial intelligence whatsoever -- we're talking real,
spontaneous human opposition.
Loading each tank with varied arsenal and special power-ups is key
for survival. The player has a long list of add-ons to choose from --
lasers, proximity mines and missiles, plus stealth, extra shields, and
much more. Every tank has a pre-set number of open bays, and one to three
configurations may be saved per tank.
"Tanarus" has over a hundred arenas (cityscapes) to fight over, some
for novice players and others with higher "ranks," each housing two
to four teams per map. Choose the team color to play on (with up to
five tanks per team) and get ready to chat and attack. Although annihilation
is encouraged, the overall goal is to capture the other team's flag
and bring it back to your command center. There are also special arenas
for shareware games, custom-made levels, 10-on-10 tank battles and
team play for registered leagues. All levels contain large 3D buildings
and multiple ramps to use offensively or defensively. Hide behind walls,
take advantage of elevation, or plan an aggressive assault by cornering
enemy tanks in a dead-end city block.
The graphics are quite impressive, supporting all major 3D accelerator
cards, with colored lighting, lens flares, animated skies and the occasional
translucency effects. Considering this is an Internet game, latency
should be a logical issue, but I'm pleased to assure weary gamers the
game ran very fluid, even with a half-dozen tanks in view. The game
is sold for roughly $20 in stores, but I'd recommend downloading the
software from the Tanarus Web site for free instead since there is no
real benefit of purchasing the CD-ROM version. Once successfully installed,
the cost to play the full version is $9.95 a month, but gamers
can test-drive the limited shareware version at no charge.
Looking over the horizon, tank sims are showing no signs of deceleration,
either. Virtual Reality's "Spearhead," SSI's "Panzer Commander," and KAON
Interactive's "Terra: Battle for the Outland" are all scheduled to roll
out by mid-year.