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Panzer General III: Scorched Earth
by Steve MacGregor
Can you remember the pleasure of watching your battalions of tiny die-cast tanks sweep majestically over the rolling hills of a bunched up carpet? Did you enjoy twanging matchsticks out of model cannons to decimate serried ranks of plastic soldiers? Ah, the simple joys of tabletop wargaming. For those of us who remember such things fondly (but whose knees now object to spending long periods shuffling around on the floor) help is at hand in the form of the latest offering in the Panzer General series. The snappily titled Panzer General 3D: Scorched Earth expands upon Panzer General 3D Assault with some new features, and provides the Eastern Front during World War Two as our battleground.
This latest strategy game from SSI is a logical step on from the previous Panzer General games, with improved graphics and new features such as weather effects and a strategic map. For those who have spent the last few years in a coma or on planet Zog, I will recap on the previous games. The Panzer General series began in 1994 with the original release, and has progressed through Panzer General 2 and Panzer General 3D Assault, by way of such diversions as Allied General, Fantasy General and People's General. The series has always featured simple, accessible, turn-based gameplay with an absence of up-front heavy-duty stats. Some people have dismissed the series as lightweight newbie fodder, but I felt that the brash front end in the original game hid a subtlety of gameplay that equalled many ostensibly more complex wargames.
The main strength of the series though, has always been the ability for the player to jump into a scenario or campaign and immediately get stuck into the action. There are times when you can appreciate the inherent realism of spending a great deal of time manoeuvring, without ever making contact with the enemy. There are other times when you just want to blow things up. The Panzer General series has always been a good way to indulge the latter impulse, without resorting to frantic RTS clickfests. So, how does the latest instalment stack up? To find out I was provided with a late beta copy for review by Mattel Interactive. The beta copy tested seemed to be complete in most respects, lacking only some intro. animations.
Panzer General III: Scorched Earth (which from now on I‘ll call PG:SE) is a turn-based, hex mapped wargame focussing on battles on the Eastern front during World War Two. The Game features four campaigns (plus the linked Tutorial scenarios, which comprise another mini-campaign). Each campaign is made up of a number of single scenarios linked by the presence of a commander (for example, the German campaigns are based on the wartime careers of Generals Manstein and Guderian). The campaigns are not dynamic, but there are several alternative branching paths through each campaign. The missions within the campaign can also be played as single scenarios. You must achieve victory in each scenario of the campaign to progress to the next scenario. Fail in a scenario and you must re-play it until you are successful. Most of the campaigns are based on the Russo-German conflict from 1941 – 1945. The Guderian campaign however begins with two scenarios featuring the 1939 German invasion of Poland, although it then moves on to Guderian’s involvement with the Russian campaign.
The game also features a Battle Generator that enables you to create your own scenarios. This is a fairly simple tool that allows the player to select general information such as the date of the battle, weather conditions, number of players, length of scenario and the map on which the battle will be played. Curiously, although all the available maps relate to the Eastern Front, the player can select from Russian, German, British and American forces, but not for example Finnish or Polish. Thus it is possible to stage battles in which British and American troops slog it out round Smolensk, if anyone should want to do so, but it is not possible, for example, to re-create battles from the Russo-Finnish war.
Generally, the game seems accurate in its historical details. Appropriate new equipment is introduced as campaigns develop, and the balance of forces reflects the historical situation.
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