Summary: Codename Panzers, the huge World War II RTS hit in Europe is about to hit shores this side of the big Pond and we've got a preview of this sweet-looking strategy game. Come inside, check it out and take a peek at our screenshots!
There are games that have either put limits on the importance of economy, such as Kohan, or put it beyond the scope of the battle Ė like in the Total War series, where units are bought with points in multiplayer or built in the turn-based strategic map in single player mode. The end result is to put more emphasis on the strategy and tactics in each game, respectively.
Codename: Panzers does away with all semblance of an economy completely. Rather, it takes a page from SSIís classic Panzer General and rewards players for their performance after a mission with Prestige points. Prestige points are used to upgrade units or buy new ones. The player can take control of one of three commanders, American, German, or Soviet, and lead him and his retinue on a campaign. Invading Poland in 1939, the German commander has only a Pz II and a Pz I with him. However, later, he can requisition upgrades for these units, like a Pz III F, or buy new units completely.
The amount of prestige available is directly proportional to the success of the mission. The more men the player loses, the less prestige he receives. Difficulty settings affect the quality or even very existence of, replacements. If you lost your experienced squad of medics on Easy, youíll get them back. On medium difficulty, those medics will be replaced but only with inexperienced troops, and on hard there are no replacements. This is an interesting way of setting up difficulty levels but it does work. Early missions tend to be easy no matter what, but the curve does increase at a steady pace. Later on, less experienced players playing on easy mode will find themselves with fairly large forces to control.
In multiplayer, the server admin selects the time period Ė early or late war Ė and the number of prestige points available to players. Once everyone is done buying, the rumble starts. Up to 8 players can play on two team deathmatch, domination or assault mode. There are also co-operative maps.
The AI isnít a very competent opponent in any of the multiplayer modes but it does do better in single player, since it has the advantage of being set up by a human hand and generally superior numbers Ė though rarely, if ever, at any given moment. The multiplayer is quite basic but enjoyable.
Codename: Panzers gives the player a small number of infantry squads, trucks, artillery units and tanks to control. Rarely have we been in charge of more than 20 units, 30 at the most. The player is pitted on missions in a linear campaign. A typical task involves the capture of a landmark, escorting units to a location, or anything else that serves as an excuse to bring combat around.
The combat, naturally, revolves around the tanks. The game is named after them, the real war was defined by them, thus they do tend to play a leading role. Tanks can charge through forests, ignore enemy infantry fire and even put up with anti-tank attacks. Their spearheads are what permit the rest of the playerís forces to come up in support.
The game relies on a hitpoint system to simulate combat and, thanks to some complexities, it does an admirable job. Every vehicle has an armor rating on its four sides, typically strongest up front, weaker in the side and very weak in the rear. This armor not only deducts damage taken, but takes damage itself as well, becoming less effective the longer its been abused. All friendly vehicles can be repaired by repair trucks, even while in combat or motion. The repair truck does have a limited supply of parts, but itís still not likely to run out even after a major engagement. Its only weakness is its own fragility. The vehicles have to be resupplied with ammunition as well, so there are ammo trucks for that.
Of course, itís not all about tanks. Bring a force of all-tanks or all-tanks-and-trucks into combat against even the skirmish AI and youíre going to get your goose cooked Ė quite literally. Infantry are remarkable resilient and numerous, and a flamethrower is as effective against the mighty IS-2 as it is against a Pz I. Furthermore, once the crew of a tank bails due to the heat, the same tank can be re-occupied by another crew, even if itís not of the tankís original nationality. This is true even in single player Ė you can trade up your Pz I for a Renault R-35. In fact if I canít afford to buy a whole tank between missions, I buy a crew and then hijack one during the mission.
In fact, one of the greatest abilities of infantry in general is to use various howitzers and anti-tank guns. With their long range and high powered shots, they can often turn the tide. Finding an artillery piece can often save the player from having to call in air support against a bunker or tank cluster.
Unfortunately, the game doesnít let the player keep captured vehicles, which is a real shame since historically all armies in the conflict used captured hardware. There were German T-34s and Russian Panthers, and both sides used each othersí artillery routinely.
Other tidbits are likely to annoy grognards. The combat and vehicles in-game arenít modeled with as much emphasis on realism as on balance and ease of play. Typically weapons do as much damage as they have barrel size in millimeters. So, a German rifle squad with Mauser Kar 98 rifles of 7.62 millimeters caliber does 8 damage. The huge Soviet KV-2 tank, with its 6Ē gun will do 152 damage. This does neglect all sorts of other factors, like muzzle speed, ammunition quality and so-on. As a consequence, a Tiger tank doesnít dominate Sherman 75s quite as completely as it did historically. Of course, this is all balanced out by vehicle costs in the final equation.
In the end, Codename: Panzers is a more enjoyable RTS than we dared hope while retaining as much realism as possible. The gameís been out in Europe for some time, so weíre a touch confused as to what is and is not final material in the preview code we were sent, but the core gameplay is final.
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