Codename: Panzers Preview
Imagine, riding in a tank headed into battle, helmet strapped tight to your head, ready to unleash hellfire on any metal clad bastard that happens to pass in front of your sights. Imagine listening to your prebattle briefing with a heavy stare, as this could be the last time you’re inside a 4 walled, roofed building for months. I was warmed with this experience first hand; to be surrounded by troops that are eager to get out in the battlefield and score some kills for good ole Uncle Sam is something most civilians never could think of, let alone be apart of! I was one of the few, the proud, and the extremely hung over and tired few that don the garbs of war and prepared for war games in actual US military surplus armored vehicles. There is nothing cooler than getting up at the crack of dawn to do video game style missions in real 20-ton mobile units of destruction.
The guys at Tactical Tanks did a hell of a job making us feel comfortable but at the same time adding that feel of duty most of us gamers never really get but all strive for, while immersing ourselves in war games of all genres. This was all part of a pre-release event that was to help promote the title I’m previewing, and also to help introduce fellow gamers into a brotherhood-forming atmosphere. Nothing made me jump up and down more when I found out I could drive the tank, then only hours later I found out since I had no license I would not be allowed to drive the tank. I felt sad to say the least, but felt even more upset when I found out I was a 4th man in a 3-man group. Pretty much all fun was taken away from me at that point, and to top it off I hurt my back while inside the hull of the steel beast while waiting for my turn to either navigate or command the tank. I still had a great time though, don’t get me wrong. I had the opportunity to learn many fundamentals in how to effectively run a tank column (I am more of a sideline commander anyway hence my obsession with RTS). I highly recommend Tactical tanks to anyone that can afford it, I mean come on… you get to drive freakin’ tanks around with basically no restrictions and learn how to use team work in ways never thought possible before.
The guys who brought you Blitzkrieg, you remember the kind of boring game, with units too small to see, and more complication than was needed? Yeah, that one. Well they are back with Codename: Panzers. Though this time around they made some fundamental changes that bring this latest title into a new light for the average gamer as well as hardcore player.
Codename: Panzers adds quicker gameplay to rid this title of the boredom plague, but it also adds larger units for easier recognition making gameplay seem much more solid than before. There are still some problems telling the difference between certain troop types, but it only takes an hour or so of play to be able to tell the difference at a glance. The learning curve is pretty tight, luckily they added a great tutorial to help you get on your feet. I can’t stress more to use the tutorial, I caught on to the game rather quickly without using the tutorial, but I missed out on many fundamental lessons like when unit’s crawl they get a bonus to defense; just some little things that cause you to lose the game 🙂 . Codename: Panzers goes a long way to make you feel like you’re part of the action and will not disappoint if you are into historical realism, and at the same time story generated fun.
Once you play Codename: Panzers, you will almost instantly see a resemblance to an old S.S.I. title called Panzer General II. Panzer General II was a turn based strategy game that made you keep your mind on effective strategy to reduce losses to your main force. The way it did this was to level up your forces as the game went along, the more your forces did the more experience they’d gain and the higher their rank would climb. Codename: Panzers does the same thing, gone are the mythological days of building a fully functioning base in enemy territory. Instead, you must requisition your forces before the game begins and then, once you deploy, use actual strategy to ensure your objectives are met, while sparing as many of your troops as possible. At the same time, you must cause as many losses to enemy forces as possible (the more you kill and less you lose, the better you do and more experience you gain) this ensures your experience will climb and eventually you will have super troops running on the battlefield spreading hot lead at any near by enemy that decides it wants to be social.
The game looks absolutely stunning; it is so detailed that it really makes you feel like you are in a passenger plane over the battlefields of WWII, instead of just a birds eye view of a beautiful video game engine. You can count the tracks on tanks, see every rivet and every weld in a tanks frame, you can see tire treads and historically accurate troop uniforms.
Nothing gives me such a smirk as to roll over an entire forest with my panzer column. Ahh, to see the look on a tree hugger’s face, as half the woodlands in France become nothing more than sawdust under my panzer’s treads. Then to smash the other half as the Americans! But in all actuality the game engine is a stunning build that utilizes hills and even fences to hide troops behind. Think about it in terms of real life: if you are crawling on the ground on one side of a concrete fence, you won’t see someone crawling on the other side of the same fence, will you? The short answer is no, you can’t see them, but you’d hear them! That logic was implemented flawlessly into the game by showing an icon of what your troops can hear, even though you can’t see what you know is there. Let’s say, a tank is coming towards your forces, but it is still hidden in the fog of war, your troops will hear it coming and instead of showing you the vehicle it will show you an icon representing a tank. Logical, to say the least, and in game when artillery is clobbering you from god knows where it’s great to be able to get a general idea of where it’s coming from, unlike other games that display the whole unit through the fog of war when it fires creating an unrealistic line of sight. Codename: Panzers lets you get a general impression of where said unit is, because that’s where you’re troops heard the shot come from. Then, you simply go there and attack it, or use your tactical options to finish it off fast.
The interface is smooth for the most part, nothing that shouldn’t go there is put there and nothing that should go there was left out. At the top of your interface you are given options to use at your disposal, but use them wisely or you’ll find yourself up a creek without a Fighter Bomber and we all know how bad that’d be… you are given options such as Fighter Bomber, if you have a hard target that needs quick disposal you click on the interface tab and then click on the target… seconds later, KABOOM! Bye bye target! Since you aren’t allowed to build an air force, you have to conserve the few you do have, only using them to decimate enemy armor and artillery (Fighter Bomber), cripple infantry columns (Bomber, Artillery Barrage), scout the enemy (Scout Planes) or reinforce your position (Paratroopers), all these options add so much to overall tactics and strategy that it makes the game seem more like real warfare than a simple game.
The game goes an extra step into realistic fun by adding armor levels to tanks and other units. As we all know, tanks have armor, what some don’t know is that a tanks frontal armor is stronger than it’s flank or rear armor. If you maneuver your tanks to the side of enemy tanks while still having your frontal armor facing them then you successfully implemented a flank maneuver, and if your tank has a comparable attack to your enemy, you will win the battle. Same goes for troops, except not the same, well let me tell you. Troops have 3 positions standing, kneeling, and crawling. Standing will give you maximum speed/line of sight but you will also take maximum damage, Kneeling will give you less speed/line of sight but more protection, and Crawling will give you slowest speeds and smallest line of sight but afford you maximum protection. You’ll need to know this because if you are being shelled and standing you will literally disappear from the battlefield only leaving a bloody dot where you once stood. Can you say ouch? Another great feature of the game is whenever a tank is heated enough (either from flamethrowers or Molotov cocktails) the tank crew will eject from the tank and engage the enemy with light arms. That really adds to tactics when you worry not only about being blown up, but also being simply made useless.
Everything has been done to ensure a level of realism, but to also maintain fun. The 3 story-driven campaigns offer some great level design and awesome scenarios, while still keeping the game as real as it could have been (if you were an officer in the German army, Russian army, or Allied forces (no America or Britain, just Allied forces). One scenario had me taking a Polish train station and as a side objective I had to rescue a downed German scout pilot from a small island in a lake. How do you swim across the lake you ask? Well that’s simple, whenever you are requisitioning your troops there will be options underneath the unit stats. The options are to add as a secondary weapon things like grenades, Molotov cocktails, mines, minesweepers, and lifeboat. You can order your troops to use their secondary items at will by pressing the button with the item’s picture on it or press it’s hotkey respectively. Almost every mission has at least one side objective, which adds to replayability, this also adds emphasis on strategic planning, if you plan on completing your main objective and have enough time and/or ammo to complete any side objectives.
The game has one down side, and only one from what I can see, though this may change before release, the voice acting in some instances is atrocious. In fact the best voice over acting is done by the characters with German accents but not all Germans have German accents! Hearing Rommel sound like Donald Sutherland is not my idea of realism, but it isn’t bad enough to take away from the actual gameplay experience. Besides the voiceovers, the game’s sounds make you feel like you’re in a Hollywood movie sound room and are being serenaded with hundreds of choreographed sounds of destruction. You hear the screams of dive bombers and witness marvelous explosions, each of which adds to the montage of metal bending, high explosive action that makes this game feel like an RTS version of Call of Duty or the Medal of Honor series!
To tell you the truth, I have been playing my preview copy of Codename: Panzers every night since I got it. There is absolutely nothing that would make me turn anyone away from this game, unless you only care for empire building RTS’s. In which case, this game is not for you, but if you love tactical action and epic strategy this title is for you. I myself am eagerly awaiting the release of Codename: Panzers so I can dust off the strategy section of my mind and play one of the best Real Time Strategy games of 2004.