Release Date: November 8, 2004
Stormregion’s Codename: Panzers may not be based on the most original of ideas, going by the fact you can barely count all of the WWII-themed RTS games that have came out in the last year on both hands, but that doesn’t mean that new ground can’t be broken. Though still in a preview state and blemished by a few problematic areas Panzers really looks to be shaping up well, and has some features that you won’t find in any other RTS title.
For starters Panzers is built upon a rather impressive 3D engine. Not only are the units themselves done well, as you’ll see tanks bounce realistically across uneven terrain or smoke plumes kicked up by artillery rounds, but the shadowing in game is where the engine gets really impressive. Not only do units cast near perfect shadows on the ground but units and object cast their shadows onto other units, such as seeing the shadow of a tree’s leaves being cast upon a tank column as they rumble through a wooded area.
The biggest features are built into the gameplay itself, such the ability for units to locate enemies not only by their line of sight but also by sound. If a unit hears an enemy vehicle a corresponding icon will appear in the fog of war where the units think the vehicle is. Units gain combat experience as they fight, and in turn gain better sight and hearing abilities. While a low level infantryman may only be able to tell is some form of vehicle is behind a building, a more experienced unit might be able to detect what specific type of vehicle it is (truck, tank, etc) or even what type it is exactly. Experienced units are also better shots and more skilled at taking cover, reducing how much damage they take in combat.
Flamethrower units are implemented very well in Panzers as an effective anti-armor unit as well as an excellent close-quarters anti-infantry unit. Assuming you can get to the tank or other armor unit without it opening up on your units flamethrower infantry can set enemy tanks ablaze, heating up their interiors to unbearable levels and forcing their crews to evacuate. Once the crews are taken care of and the tank cools your own units can commandeer the tank. Of course, you can also tell your flamethrower units to continue heating up the tank to the point of causing its ammo stores to explode if you so desire.
Much like in Blitzkreig in Panzers you have the ability to call on various forms of support such as heavy carpet bombers, fighter bombers, artillery, and reconnaissance planes. Say for instance you encounter a house filled with enemy soldiers, one way of dealing with them would be to send a squad of infantry inside to engage the enemy in dangerous and brutal close-quarters gunfights. Another option would be to call in some of the aforementioned artillery or carpet bombers, which would level the house and its occupants at the expense of one of the uses of those support options. Every building can be garrisoned by both friendly and enemy troops, and likewise every building can be destroyed by tank shells and artillery or roasted from the inside by flamethrower units.
Panzers does have a few obstacles to hurdle on its way to gold status if it really wants to shine as powerfully as it could. Formation control is rather lackluster, with units quickly losing their groupings and forming uneven blobs as opposed to powerful rows or wedges of firing arcs. The graphics engine itself has some small problems such as power lines absolutely freaking out, skyboxes losing their textures, and shadows occasionally looking very blocky and garbled, but such things are the norm for preview builds and chances are the final game will have none of these problems. Panzers seems to sit squarely in the middle between the realism or combat and the fantasy aspect of a traditional RTS game. For instance, though tanks and artillery emplacements realistically have weaker armor in the rear and thus take more damage from shots taken in that direction, you can completely surround a tank by 5 others and watch them pound on it for about a full minute before it dies. No matter what armor a tank has, in reality a tank taking fire from 5 different directions at roughly 2 shells a second is gonna go down in a matter of seconds. It is not that the games mix of realism and fantasy is a inherently bad thing, but fans of the RTS genre looking for a purely realistic game may want to take caution.
In the final version of the game the player will be able to play as either the Allies, Russians, or Germans, each with their own units, strengths, and weaknesses. Though the preview build only showcased the first two missions from the German campaign and the tutorial mission Panzers really seems like it could give the RTS genre a little shakedown; instead of simply basing yet another RTS game on WWII Stormregion really seems to be trying to bring something new to the genre. Given enough coats of polish Panzers may very well give the stellar Blitzkrieg a run for its money. At the very least Panzers is likely to be one of the best WWII based RTS games released this year, and with the sheer amount of them released lately that’s saying a lot.