|Panzer Elite Beta Preview
by James Cobb
Down to the Last Bogie Wheel
If familiarity breeds contempt, I should hate Panzer Elite. A year ago, I wrote a preview of an alpha version of this World War II tank sim and then promptly joined the test team of Wings, its designers. However, after a roaring cascade of patches and days and nights of replay, booting this game still awes me with its precision, interface and scope as no other simulation has.
Like Panzer Commander, Panzer Elite focuses on the two things important to the commander of an armored platoon: handling your own vehicle and then commanding the rest of your unit. They break away from previous trends of first-person arcade click-fests or simulations where the player had to orchestrate a whole battalion.
The two products diverge at this point. Panzer Commander covers all of World War II. It has a respectable number of vehicles, basic ammo loads and some infantry effects. Panzer Elite concentrates on the American-German clashes of 1942-1944. What it lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in depth. The player can control 9 different German and 9 different American tanks that go up against 62 AI controlled units.
The graphics for the tanks, units and landscape are accurate, detailed and exquisite while the weather effects are more than adequate, whether viewed from the first or third person aspect. Infantry and artillery units can be seen and are animated. These features are more than eye candy; they are essential to combat, spotting and finding cover.
The detail doesn't stop with graphics. Every type of shell available is modeled as are smoke grenades and close-combat defenses. Infantry have all different versions of bazookas, panzerfausts and panzerschrecks. The interiors of all tank positions are displayed, including a 360-degree look at the commander's position.
Furthermore, vehicle armor and movement are modeled after original specifications and after-action reports. Hence, when the rain comes, forget that fast sweep through the fields. When played on tough levels, the ballistic models give new insight into gunnery problems at the time.
With such details, the interface must be rough, right? Wrong! Although there are many keyboard commands, many functions can be done through a "mini-tank" superimposed on the screen. Just click on a part of the tank and you can choose the options. Right-clicking takes the player to the "virtual tank" where the player can swivel the views without changing turret or vehicle heading. The essential keyboard commands are intuitive and should become second nature to the player. For those who act vertically, joystick play is accommodated.
Play is not limited to tooling over the countryside, shooting up the odd enemy. Players control their wingmen, numbering up to three for the Germans and 4 for the Americans. Orders include formation changes, designating targets and ordering them to specific formations.
Wingmen's status can be seen in the mini-tank and in the map view. This view is a nice compromise between playability and accuracy. Setting at the beginning of the game can either make it a "God's eye" showing everything or render it the equivalent of a commander's map and radio log.
Map view is also where artillery fire, if available, can be called in. Artillery comes from different batteries of different caliber and can fire high explosive or smoke. Intelligent use of artillery can be the edge for winning play.
A game system is only as good as its context. Over 40 scenarios represent panzer Elite's context. These represent engagement of varying sizes from the GI's first horrendous brush with the Afrika Korps to the final days of the Normandy campaign.
The goals of the scenarios highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces. Germans in North Africa may be ordered to sweep the map while, in the same scenarios, the GIs may only need to make good contact, then get out of Dodge. Multiplicity of goals based on available force is yet another measure of this game's accuracy.
Go to Preview Part II
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Last Updated September 9th, 1999