| World War II tank simmers have
waited a long time for a realistic and fun simulation of armored combat during The Big
One. Though last year brought two offerings--SSIs Panzer Commander and Interactive
Magics iPanzer 44both had serious shortcomings, and didnt capture
the imagination of either casual gamers or the hardcore. This was especially rankling to
tank simmers when they considered the numerous quality World War II air combat sims that
appeared last year. Stuck without a decent game of their own, gamers could only look to
one slim remaining hopePsygnosis and Wings Simulations long-delayed Panzer
Elite. Well, treadheads, look no furtherPanzer
Elite is by far the best World War II tank sim everits realistic, its
fun, and it absolutely captures the feel of tank combat. Thats not to
say it doesnt have some problemsits a little buggy out of the box, the
manual is inexcusably insufficient, the AI can be less than intelligent, and the graphics
are a mixed bag. But overall this is a superior game engine and a terrific game.
Panzer Elite allows you to play either the German or the American side in three different, somewhat limited campaignsone focusing on the battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, one made up of a collection of battles from the Sicilian and Italian campaigns, and one covering the Normandy battles from the St. Lo breakout. You can also play the 39 campaign scenarios individually, and fight in instant action mode as well. In most scenarios, youll find yourself in the command tank of a tank platoon of 3-4 tanks, and your choice of tanks is also somewhat limited. As the American, youll be able to command most of the Sherman variants; as the German, youll pilot Panzer IVs, Panthers, and Tiger Is. Youll see plenty of other tanks in the game, from Hetzers to M-10s--just dont expect to drive them.
But Panzer Elite is an very realistic game, and the tanks you do get are exquisitely modeled. Though you can play the game at beginner level and still get a good feel for armored warfare, cranking the game up to full realism and taking control of the various crew positions is an immensely educational and immersive experience. As a gunner, youll find out just how difficult it is too pick out targets while mastering the games spot-on gunnery optics; as the tank commander, youll understand why such commanders preferred to fight without buttoning up, and why its important to do so with enemy infantry around. As driver youll learn to avoid steep inclines and to shift gears; as loader youll learn to use the right ammo in the right situation and handle the machine gun; as radio operator you can call in arty strikes. But the game is very customizable, and you can choose the level of difficulty at which you wish to play. I imagine most will play from the tank commanders position, leaving the loader and gunner to aim and fire and the driver to shift gears.
And the games scenarios are realistic and carefully-crafted as well. In most of them, your platoon will be given a mission consisting of primary and secondary goalsusually something along the lines of holding a town or turning back an enemy incursion. Youll be supported by other units, and while you have no control over them, they will keep you apprised of their situation over the radio, and if youre good and lucky, you can often coordinate attacks with them. The missions take place over sprawling landscapes, and can take quite a while to complete. This is no arcadey drop-you-right-into-the-action simyoull usually have to move to contact, which allows you a lot of freedom in the approaches and positions you take.
The games graphics have their ups and downs. While the terrain is excellent, with plenty of little depressions that offer opportunities to go hull-down and individual trees that offer cover, it also shows a lot a seams. Likewise, tanks are very realistically modeled, but also flash lots of seamage and can have clipping problems. Smoke and explosions are very nicely done, and tanks even kick up dust as they negotiate dirt roads. Weather effects are pretty portrayed as well; cloud effects are especially atmospheric, and while raindrops are fairly rudimentary, they do the job of cutting down your sighting range. On the other hand, infantry (which at least appears in the game, vice Panzer Commander) looks downright goofy. Overall, the graphics are a bit dated, but more than sufficient. Sound is very good, though Ive had some problems with voiceovers cutting our during mission briefings.
But Panzer Elite also has some
problemsthe biggest one being its needlessly steep learning curve. Surprisingly for a game of this complexity, there
is no tutorial. Youre just kind of thrown to the wolves here. That might be
excusable if the manual was top-notch, but Panzer Elites instruction manual is just
terrible (though oddly the game does come with a pretty good World War II History
and Unit Data book). Its baffling to me that a company would spend as much
time and care in making a game this good, and then utterly blow the documentation. Examples? Well, try putting your tank in reverseits
not listed in the manual, so youll probably find out how to do it like I didby
mashing a lot of buttons. (Try the down arrow key). Theres also supposed to be a
time compression mode for scenarios, but I have no idea how to access it. Finally, the
game contains the most realistic sighting and gunnery system for World War II tanks ever,
but gives no clue as to how to use them.
But even though flawed, Panzer Elite is still an excellent game. If the manual had even been halfway decent, Id have given this game five stars. Its deep, its realistic, and its fun. The graphics arent stellar, but theyre good enough, and the campaigns and scenarios reward smart gameplay. Im looking forward to a East Front installmentthis time with a tutorial and a manual worth the paper its printed on.