Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment
Release Date: November 7, 2007
In 1994, Strategic Simulations Inc. (Epidemic! , Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Wizard's Crown) created Panzer General, a strategy title for the PC. It was unique; the player takes on the role of an Allied or Axis general on a turn-based, hexagonal map system where one moves his WWII-authentic units across a map,. Victory not only provided a player with a sense of accomplishment, but also more units to use, a tactical advantage in the coming missions, and even a discount on future units. It was no surprise, then, that the title received a following of tactical gamers — the same people who were enjoying the real-time strategies coming out at the time, mind you — that sparked this series to stardom. When it received the Origins Award for Best Military or Strategy Computer Game of 1995, SSI was already making expansions and sequels, all the way through 2000, when the company was bought up by Ubioft and faded into obscurity. The fans have not forgotten, which is made clear by the plethora of web sites and player-made campaigns that sprung up to keep the game alive.
But it seems Sproing would not allow this series to die out completely and created Panzer Tactics DS, a smaller, much more portable way of getting the experience of the PC game without lugging a laptop everywhere you go. With 33 missions split over three distinct campaigns (German, Russian, and Allied), an easy-to-adapt training mode, and multiplayer options, the game is quite the lengthy stop on the strategy bandwagon the DS has created. The campaign keeps the story simple; it tells you which area you're blitzing/liberating, the expected resistance and your objectives in all the missions. The game prompts you to check weather reports and intel, organize the starting troops, and using Fame Points — earned through successful battles, capturing cities, and completing missions — to recruit additional troops and officers who boost your range, attack, mobility or defensive power. Authentic German, Russian, and Allied weaponry involve land, sea and air and grow in power as the player grows in strategic mindset; the effectiveness and total value of your force grows with you through successful missions, upgrades and Fame Points.
The number of factors taken into consideration for each attack is really impressive. It was much more involved than simple degrees of terrain and level of units; I've had artillery from the mountains fire on an unaware, plains-faring infantry company, for only two points of damage out of a full 10. Despite my use of terrain — roads for mobility and forests and mountains for defensive cover — the enemies were capable of making units do up to five points of damage, when I had the clear advantage. Panzer Tactics DS has a very individually based unit-weakness/resistance system, which they neglect to explain in the training mode and instruction booklet. The title assumes you will do battle tank-on-tank for an average amount of damage, but until you carpet bomb a place, set upon the enemy encampment with explosive flak from afar using destroyers and artillery, and then roll in the treads, you're not going to take down very much in one-two shots. Of course, only the anti-tank weapons can rip the enemy heavy into scrap metal, but their mobility is mount-based: a one-polygon moving unit that can be loaded into a truck and increased to five to six hexagons, but you lose the turn to fire.
Careful maneuverability, the right weapons, and the correct special attacks to use at the right time are very important; all the units have them, but the enemies have them, too. Also be prepared for the computer to shock you; this is not Advance Wars, and the enemy will not be standing still or leaving its prized units open nearly as often. Expect long, drawn-out tank-on-tank battles if you have no aerial or ranged support, which will deplete supplies quickly and require you to spend Fame Points and turns in order to rearm and repair.
The graphical state of Panzer Tactics DS is a little less effective; the background is rather nice with landscaping and detail of sparse forests, fields, and mountains with varying degrees of light and dark, but the units themselves look like cardboard cutouts rolling across the battlefield, with small smoke clouds coming out of the ships, planes ... and tanks, too! The only thing I have to experience behind a field platoon is a bunch of walking noises. At the very least, the battle animations are a little better, except when the units seem to fire aimlessly into the other with no regard or tactical reasoning — even when the force cannot legally fire! I continuously see non-combat trucks fire on military companies when they can't. I've seen recon trucks fire on aircraft. It doesn't make any sense, and it throws off the player from the actual combative force. This is a complete detriment to a title that prides itself on subtle detail alongside impressive gameplay; it has one, but not the other.
Likewise, music and sound are also not where they should be to equalize the level of gameplay in Panzer Tactics DS; the treads and gunfire are okay, but when I think WWII, I expect an explosion, not a brushing of the back of an oil drum. They're low, jaunted, and pretty weak for a bombing run and destroyer fire. The music is majestic enough for the historical backdrop, but when you have only two songs, you don't have much to work with at all. You hear the battle music everywhere, while you're buying troops, placing troops, at the combat screen, and learning about your mission. It's repetitive, and in this game, unnecessary. A much better job could have been done by spending time on these qualities to further polish the game; gameplay is definitely important, but the extra bells and whistles are nice, too.
Only true strategy nuts should get Panzer Tactics DS, since they tend to prefer gameplay over graphics and other niceties. For a PC-era game, it doesn't translate over to the handheld all that well. It's a good game for $30, but when I'm fighting with cardboard cutouts and trucks that should fire but don't, one wonders exactly how much effort the developers put in.
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