|iPanzer '44 By Neil Mouneimne|
Some time last year I reviewed iMagic's iM1A2 Abrams and I described it as a game with two personalities: "it bordered on utter greatness and utter disaster." iMagic's iPanzer '44 is very similar. It does some things amazingly well, and does other things very poorly. Like iM1A2 it can be very entertaining, but let's take a closer look at those strengths and weaknesses first.
The game employs a good selection of unit types that form a solid cross-section of those frequently encountered in battle. Worth special note are the representation of tank destroyers, field guns, and various infantry units. Each unit has separate armor protection for each side of the turret and hull. Each vehicle has its own gun elevation and traverse limitations (for field guns and tank destroyers) modeled.
Unfortunately, some of the more exotic tanks, like the Tiger, the Firefly, and the IS-III are not represented in the game. Also worth noting is the wide variety of infantry units available. They may be odd-looking polygon men, but the variety of infantry units is incredibly strong.
As far as the tank graphics go, the units look decent, although some of the 3d models seem a little out of proportion. The surface texturing seems to do a good job driving home how roughly constructed and painted the tanks of the era were as well. Unfortunately, the vehicles move in a very stiff fashion. Seeing them undulate on their suspension as we have been treated to in M1TP2 would be a nice touch to make the tanks feel more like real vehicles.
Also, a few tanks have their animated wheel textures turning the wrong way. One very nice touch is that the diesel engines can spew a lot of smoke when starting up, grinding up a hill, or struggling with a patch of rough terrain, and that runs the risk of giving away your position. It's an interesting twist, although it would seem that the American gasoline-powered units should put out less smoke than their foreign counterparts.
The graphics engine has been greatly improved since iM1A2. Terrain scaling and readability appear to be very good. You can really see the shape of terrain and get a sense of distance in the graphics engine. Many individual trees may litter the landscape if you turn that feature on. Also there are the typical "forest blocks" as in M1TP2 that prevent passage. While the distance you can view and its accuracy are not as good as M1TP2, it must be said that the terrain engine is still much better than other ground warfare simulations.
What's interesting about the forest blocks is that they are layered. In other words, there is an outside belt of trees in front of the actual block. This is interesting in two major ways. First, since you can see between the trees on the outside layer, you get at least a little sense of depth to the forest, which is a welcome change. Perhaps more interesting is that while vehicles cannot move on this "forest sidewalk", infantry can use it just fine. It provides excellent cover for infantry units that use it, although it's not clear how much of an effect this has on enemy AI. Hopefully it provides infantry with very good cover against enemy units, which can certainly make infantry play a larger role.
Click for 640x480
The terrain graphics are very good, but like iM1A2, the engine is terribly slow. To get a relatively smooth framerate on a Pentium without the benefit of a 3d accelerator, you will probably have to shut off all the terrain texture mapping, which will eliminate most of the benefit of the new graphics engine.
Graphics incidental effects are also weak in their execution. Explosions are very primitive and abstract. Explosive debris looks more like a stuttering fountain of particles than chunks of armor and parts being blown off. Deployed smoke is a translucent grey igloo. Smoke effects from fire are a series of semi-transparent circles. The way the smoke spews from a vehicle on fire is much more dynamic than the static smoke of M1TP2, but it hurts framerate a lot and so might be better left off.
3dfx is something of a struggle on iPanzer. It appears to be common for 3dfx owners who select D3D rendering to get refused because the game thinks the hardware doesn't support fogging and filtering. Naturally, this isn't true of the 3dfx cards. However, it is true for cards such as the Millenium and a few other 2d cards with primitive 3d abilities - so I suspect that perhaps the game is trying to access the wrong 3d card (but that's just a guess).
Most D3D games poll the system for a list of drivers that can be used and then allow the user to choose which one to actually use. Perhaps iPanzer doesn't check the capabilities of all the 3d-capable cards in the system, or there is some kind of capability-bits reporting problem between various versions. It was possible to get 3dfx D3D support to work on iPanzer by experimenting with some DirectX drivers, so it can be done. Naturally, this is something that should be left only to very experienced users. Most folks would be better served patiently waiting for a patch.
The gunnery view screen has a unique design that is both brilliant and flawed at the same time. The gunner's view is a bit of a "split-screen" that displays a panoramic cupola view. It might sound a little odd to do that at first, but it makes a lot of sense from a gameplay standpoint. The gunner's eyepiece in tank sims simply doesn't provide for any significant situational awareness.
That's realistic enough, until you consider the fact that since one player has to fulfill all the roles of the crew, a real five-man crew would have better awareness. Rather than having a "magic radar" or some other measure that goes too far, why not let you look through the commander's cupola while you're getting ready to line up on another target?
The catch is that this wide-angle view has a lot of polygons to calculate, so it creates a very substantial hit on the framerate. Losing framerate in the gunner's view is the worst possible place. You need to have the game running as smoothly as possible to work out the lead on moving vehicles and see where your shells are landing. This wouldn't have been a problem if it was possible to toggle off the cupola view to boost performance when you really need it, but there doesn't seem to be any way to do that.
This material is copyrighted and may not be reprinted in any form without permission of the publisher.
Last Updated May 18th, 1998