|M1 Tank Platoon II Part I By Neil Mouneimne|
Anyone who’s been playing sims since "the old days" has heard about the original M1 Tank Platoon. It was released almost simultaneously with two other tank simulations: "Tank" by Spectrum Holobyte, and another – possibly by Activision. Out of these three games, M1TP earned a remarkable degree of respect from armor fans around the world, while the others faded into obscurity.
The namesake was SO well done, that it became the "gold standard" for all tank games up until fairly recently. Following up on a success like that is no easy task, but the pieces of a remarkable follow up are all in place in M1 Tank Platoon II.
This sequel is the proverbial "diamond in the rough" – it has quite a few significant bugs and flaws out of the box, but it shows remarkable potential. We’ll cover the game’s ups and downs, but before we go any further let’s preface the discussion with the awareness that Microprose has jumped straight to work to correct outstanding issues. We will soon benefit from that commitment in the form of a downloadable patch that will fix a number of things, add some requested enhancements, and add Direct 3D support.
Let’s talk for a bit about the graphics engine. M1TP2 has the best graphics engine ever put into a tank simulation – period. Looking at some static screenshots may not impress the socks off you, and the claim may seem exaggerated. However, watch the game in motion and you’ll see that not only does it LOOk great, it also does several things amazingly well.
First, it gives you eight kilometers of viewable terrain out to any direction. This distance is not arbitrarily assigned based on the designers whims. It is – amazingly enough – done to scale.
Second, is the readability of the terrain. It is very easy and intuitive to see where the slopes and crests of the terrain are. You can easily tell when you’re about to reach the top of the next rise – all the better to help you establish a hull-down position manually, or anticipate the next time you may be exposed to enemy fire. So perhaps you can spot a good avenue of retreat, or conversely, a nice little "wadi" that you can use to sneak your platoon undetected into the enemy’s rear.
Third is the sense of depth that you get in the graphics engine. This aspect is much easier to demonstrate than it is to explain. Suffice it to say that between the properly scaled distances, the particular way perspective projection is done, and the seamless way close terrain blends into distant terrain, one gets a real feeling of expansiveness. On a side note, it’s also worth mentioning that you do get quite an effective sense of speed when you’re blazing over the terrain at full power.
Overall the closest competitor to M1TP2 in the graphics engine department would be iM1A2 because of the 4km to-scale viewable maximum distance. But iM1A2 has clipping errors in the rendering engine, a mediocre sense of depth, and no terrain readability whatsoever. Armored Fist 2 has very good looking tanks, but the voxelspace terrain engine doesn’t seem suited for this kind of extreme-accuracy extreme-range rendering. M1TP2 beats both of them in functional looks and generally in frame rate.
The vehicles themselves are exquisitely detailed. For example, the M1 sports not only a visible CITV, but also the guns for the TC and loader, twin radio antennas, wind reference sensor, vision blocks, even a spare road wheel hanging from the rear of the turret. The track and road wheels are also very well animated, with the road wheel textures getting "dusty" as speed increases, tracks whose gaps seem to increase as they flip over the drive wheel.
As the vehicles drive over terrain, they undulate in a very realistic fashion, but the stabilized guns stay steady – only moving to face a target or recoil sharply back from firing a round. Bradley APC’s can even rotate their TOW launchers into firing positions and lower their ramps to deploy sprite-rendered infantry. All turreted vehicles have properly articulated models – even the mobile SAM and AAA units. Again, it’s all about a thoughtful attention to detail.
3dfx versions and software versions of the game look basically the same. The 3dfx version adds a solid framerate boost. While the game is meant to run well on a P133, I would still strongly recommend a P200 with a Voodoo1 card. Gamers used to the flight-sim business for a while know that you will struggle to score a "guns" kill without a glassy-smooth framerate, and with M1TP2 you will be on the gun exclusively – unless of course, you leave the actual shooting to your AI gunner and play the game from the TC position.
The graphics do have some anomalies and less-than-perfect implementations. Explosion artwork is extremely pixellated up close. The smoke artwork looks a little plain. Trees in the game are normally done as "tree-fences" which can normally be driven through – or "tree-boxes" which cannot. When using the "chase view", the frame rate drops drastically when large numbers of enemy vehicles – even if they are very far away.
Furthermore, the Low/High detail selection in the options screen is a little misleading. This does not change object detail, the viewable distance, or even the granularity of the terrain (which actually would be a very bad thing to change in a tank sim – see our "1998 Armor Survey" article for more details). Anyhow, what it changes is the total number of vehicles in a particular battle. Turn it down, and the game will scale back both your forces and the enemy forces to reduce CPU consumption. An unusual, if interesting, tradeoff.
The sound in the game is extremely impressive when considered properly. To ears perhaps too accustomed to THX movie theaters, battlefield sounds may seem kind of hollow and muffled – perhaps even distorted. However, the sounds are a remarkable reproduction of how the sound of weapons fire drift and echo across the battlefield.
Someone with a hunting or firearms background will quickly recognize that the battlefield sound effects either didn’t come from a sound stage and were recorded "on-site" or at least they were processed by a very talented sound engineer. Perhaps the biggest fault among the sound effects are in the engine sounds of the aircraft. The continuous sound is obviously looping and is a bit of a distraction.
Internal sounds are also good. Crewmen will call out targets and make several different status announcements in a terse, but effective, manner. It just seems odd that hearing "Direct hit!" might be the way your crew lets you know that they all just died. In fact, you can be commanding a completely dead tank for a little while before you realize any better. Perhaps having the sim switch to an exterior view of your "dead" tank might be a better – and clearer – disruption once you get nailed.
As for other internal sounds, the turbines have a nice – if perhaps a little weak sounding – whine to them. There are many incidental sounds that add nicely to atmosphere: loading the gun, clearing the breach, and hitting the switch to open the ammo blast doors. These particular sounds tend to have a bit of a "foley" feel to them, but overall it’s fair to say that suspension of disbelief is very good in the sound department.
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Last Updated April 3rd, 1998