Genre: Tank Simulation
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Crazy House
Release Date: May 24, 2006
We Regret To Inform Your Son Was Killed Because of Low Framerates ...
Wow, a tank simulator! I thought someone had passed a law against these games after M1 Tank Platoon. Big-ticket titles in development take up all of the publisher and designer budgets because surefire hits are needed to keep things going, or at least that's the story "the man" tells you. The fact of the matter is this: Simulators are few and far between because of the esoteric gameplay and academic approach to the subject matter. Iron Warriors: T-72 Tank Command unabashedly takes this angle without apologizing to anyone, and for that alone, the game is laudable. First and foremost, Iron Warriors is an armored fighting vehicle simulator. In this case, the game focuses on a Soviet brand of main battle tanks; the venerable T-34, T-55, and T-72 are all playable, but the T-72 is the game's focal point.
Let me begin with Iron Warriors's core gameplay design ethics and mechanics. A joystick helps. You can play this game with a mouse, but aiming is too slow and precise to really work efficiently and comfortably, and trying to adjust your aim on a moving target with a keyboard is simply impractical. That being said, this is a title that expects you to read the manual before firing up a mission. You even need to know the game's layout and mechanics before you run the tutorials.
The driver, gunner and commander positions are modeled using relatively accurate representations of the crew stations. A fully modeled 3D station would have been a nice touch, but Iron Warriors sticks to only what you need to work the tank. Everything is labeled in Cyrillic, again a cue to read the manual, and the key mapping isn't exactly intuitive. Number keys 1-7 are driver commands and keys F5, F6 and F7 are crew views. Switching ammunition types is done by tapping B and N, and in order to move the turret to aim with the mouse, you must hold down with button 1 while firing with the space bar. Of course, everything can be remapped, but with a game this complicated, remapping may be more work than simply learning the built-in key functions.
It will be crucial to know and understand how your tank works because the game will tell you very little about what is expected. Maps and briefings are rudimentary and vague at best and downright esoteric at worst. Negotiating across terrain, finding and engaging targets and meeting mission objectives began to feel like Herculean tasks, which began to make me wonder if I were supposed to be enjoying this experience. To clarify, I love simulators and found IL-2 Sturmovik to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I've ever had with video games. In IL-2, it was a realistic challenge to learn how to maneuver, line up shots, and shoot down an enemy fighter. You could manage your fuel mix, cowl flaps, rudder trim and manifold pressure (if you wanted) and yet still smile while you played. This was due, in part, to comprehensive tutorial missions, good documentation and a finely executed game engine.
These three factors are sorely lacking in Iron Warriors. The tutorial missions are simply missions where the enemy AI is dumbed down, and you're told to go shoot this and that while driving to this point and that point. No explanations or advice is given. The manual helps to alleviate some of this learning curve, but it doesn't adequately explain some of the nuances of the ammunition types and their suggested targets or how to effectively use the AA machine gun to engage enemy helicopters. You're just thrown into the tank, and it's assumed you'll figure it out. It's no wonder that simulators are a dying game genre.
Iron Warriors's graphics engine is a conundrum. Standing still, it looks fairly decent for a ground level simulator engine. The terrain rolls and is dotted with features to hide behind, and using the backside of a hill or the dip of a ravine will provide real tactical advantages. Then you start moving, and it looks like you're trying to play amidst a Polaroid slideshow. The engine isn't all that impressive in terms of its ability to render; we're not talking about pixel shading, anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering here. While the title looks good for a sim, it's rather pedestrian when compared to most modern games.
So why does it work at a snail's pace, considering that I have a fairly respectable setup? There are complex algorithms used to calculate the ballistic characteristics of different shells, but the game slows down whenever you scan and move, not when there's a lot of shooting. There are some complex AI routines used to simulate real-life battle drills, but even during the tutorial missions, the game chugs when the AI isn't doing a thing, suggesting that the engine was poorly written. There are a myriad of features that a user can tweak to change performance, but making the game look simpler and uglier would be an absurd cost to pay to simply make the framerates playable.
Iron Warriors is actually geared for some intriguing multiplayer gaming, but I haven't been able to get a multiplayer game going because I can't find anyone who actively plays. There is the ability to play as a complete crew with a driver, gunner and commander in a single tank, or you can play your own tank with or against other players. Three of the game's 36 missions are strictly intended for multiplayer, and you can work through the campaigns cooperatively as a single tank, but alas, not being able to find a reliable multiplayer game anywhere certainly renders all of this moot.
Iron Warriors is a frustrating game to look at. I knew I was in for a rough ride when the game would not boot up correctly the first time through. Here is a genre sorely lacking in quality titles; it needs new blood to show to gamers and publishers alike that making simulators is worth the time and money. This offering does a disservice to its purchasers and developers because the potential for a killer game is right here. The ballistics modeling is comprehensive and useful. The terrain engine needs a lot of work and patching, but it could be made to run efficiently and still look attractive. The game's documentation could be amended and tutorial missions revamped to make them real tutorials.
Every major problem with the game is very fixable, and had these issues been worked over just a few more times before release or in the near future via patches, then Iron Warriors could become for ground combat simulation what IL-2 was for aviation simulation: challenging in all the right ways and rewarding for mastery of those legitimate challenges. Otherwise, it is merely an exercise in frustration. I wish I could score this game on its potential, but I don't know how much time and effort Crazy House is going to put into shaping up this game into what its consumers deserve. With that in mind and with all of the game's simple yet infuriating faults, I am left with little choice.