Summary: Nival Interactive's "Blitzkrieg" was a hard-core ass-kicking more realistic verson of Codename Panzers. More difficult, more real, more ugly, it has been re-worked, put together with a new 3D engine and ... well, read on for more.
One of the major differences, from a gameplay perspective, was the presence of armor and penetration values. Armor did not merely subtract damage like it did in Codename Panzers, but it had to be penetrated. Thus, while a gun might have good damage, it might not necessarily penetrate well. Blitzkrieg also permitted the player limited control of the air force, by designating targets for either patrol or bombing. Units, though having a notoriously low lifespan, could carry over from battle to battle, retaining their experience. Not all units of course, but the core group, much as in the old Panzer General series.
Blitzkrieg II polishes the game up in more ways than one. The most immediately obvious change is the switch to full 3D. The first Blitzkrieg and its expansions were 2D isometric games, like StarCraft or Diablo. With full 3D, Blitzkrieg permits better use of shadows and concealment, as well as the ability to zoom in and out with ease and of course change camera angles – all features that were impossible in the old 2D mode. The game is attractive enough, but the focus is clearly on getting it to run well on most computer systems. Predictably then, performance is quite excellent even at high detail levels and resolutions, despite this being a beta.
The game’s formula has not been fiddled with significantly at all. The player chooses his side and then leads it through a series of campaigns. Germany, for example, starts in France, goes to North Africa then Russia and so on. Each campaign has a series of selectable missions that can be played in any order, and once complete they unlock the final mission which is typically a massive battle with incredible starting resources and a large pool of reinforcements.
Reinforcements are now player-controlled, with a limit on how much support can be called and how often. After the timer ticks down, the player can call in the units available for this map, assuming he has unlocked all of them. Be they various kinds of tanks, tank destroyers, mobile artillery, anti-aircraft guns or aircraft, the game designers determine what can be brought in. There is no longer a core force of units that are brought along from mission to mission. Rather, as the player gains rank through his successes, he gets officers who are assigned to a type of unit (like Heavy Tanks or Light AA Guns) and gain experience. Once an officer has a level of experience, all his units benefit from it, eliminating the frustrations of trying to keep the core army alive.
Not only do the units gain the experience of their commanding officer, but they are upgraded as the game goes along. This is done the same way as unit unlocking. Initially the player’s available unit pool is small, but winning missions permits the use of new units. As the game progresses, he’ll get upgrades to those units by winning more missions. Thus, your lowly Heinkel He-111H-2 bombers upgrade to the H-6 variant, then Ju-88s and so on.
In a fast-paced tactical RTS like Blitzkrieg, the player’s attention and ability to micromanage his units is as much a resource as his units and reinforcements. Backing a force of light tanks away from a cluster of rapid-fire Bofors AA guns and letting the heavies deal with it, or bringing artillery in, is important, but is it as important as providing cover for the trucks towing the artillery? Or would it be better to use up a reinforcement call and bring in a bomber strike (which may or may not hit the target)?
Though a deceptively simple game at first appearances, which seems to reward the big huge tank rush, the difficulty and complexity of interactions quickly ramp up. Tactics, proper reinforcements and the ability to respond to threats as they reveal themselves from camouflaged states are vital. There’s a fair bit of twitch involved, but nothing that should overwhelm casual players like StarCraft multiplayer might. Since there is no base management, this leaves players free to focus on the game and solves what is a rather tedious aspect of the game.
Overall, Blitzkrieg II is looking to be an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor, it polishes up the weak spots but doesn’t do anything wild to drives away its core audience. Who should be interested in this? Well, if you tried Codename Panzers: Phase One and hoped for some more realism and a lot more challenge, that will almost certainly be the Blitzkrieg series.
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