In 1994, SSI Games introduced the PC gaming world to Panzer General. Back when the World War II wasn't a crowded time period to play in, the game used it as a backdrop to one of the most complicated strategy games of the time. It was a straight turn-by-turn strategy title that had little to no action on-screen but plenty of statistics and variables that kept hardcore strategy buffs happy for quite some time with several sequels. The console ports stuck to the simple aesthetics, but because console gamers at the time wanted a little more flash and weren't as interested in the mechanics of the game, it didn't garner as much interest as the PC counterparts.
Times have changed, though. Console gamers have grown up and are starting to appreciate the things that PC gamers have not only enjoyed for more than a decade but have also come to expect from their brand of entertainment. This has resulted in renewed interest in titles like Panzer General and other hardcore strategy games of the era. Ubisoft, the current owners of the license, have seen the results of the resurgence and have taken it upon themselves to bring a new Panzer General to the console scene. With the help of veteran developers Petroglyph, Panzer General: Allied Assault was born, and while there is a lot to the game that has changed, the core ideals have remained the same.
The game contains two different game modes, and while there is no defined story, history buffs can take solace in knowing that the game follows World War II from the Normandy invasion to the fall of Germany. The campaign mode contains 12 levels as well as a tutorial and two bonus levels that cover the given time period. Scenario mode gives you several different battleground configurations with which to play against a CPU opponent.
For gamers who have played other strategy titles on the system, like Band of Bugs and Spectral Force 3, Allied Assault plays much differently, though you won't see it initially. You still have units you can place on the field that move one space at a time, and your goal is to complete one of the many presented objectives for the level. This may be something as routine as destroying all enemy forces or occupying the home base or occupying specific territories on the map. This is all done in a grid meant to resemble a board game, and the more squares you occupy, the more points you get to spend in combat. Entering combat is where things change, since the element of cards now comes into play. These cards can increase your attack power, decrease your opponent's defensive power, or prevent support stats from other units. Each combat scenario lasts for two turns (attack and defense for one player before doing the same with another player) before ending, and units not destroyed remain on the board until the next combat scenario occurs.
Here's an example of how a typical combat scenario would go. One player sends in his tank unit to combat against another tank unit. The attacking tank has an attack level higher than the defending tank's defensive abilities thanks to the cannons placed on nearby tiles. However, the defender plays a card that increases his defense to be equal to the opponent's attack level. The attacker increases his own attacking power with another card, but the defender plays a card to nullify support from other units, making them equal again. Both sides no longer have any cards to play, so it goes to the sacrifice phase. The defender doesn't sacrifice anything, but the attacker sacrifices a card, giving him five more units of attacking power. Finally, the die is rolled but a -2 is the result, giving the defender three total units of damage.
As you can see, even the simplest of scenarios can get pretty complicated, which is both a good and bad thing for the game. Casual strategy players will lament the fact that they can't just move to the enemy and quickly tap buttons to attack. A typical fight can last at least 30 minutes, so it's definitely not something that a casual strategy fan will encounter unless it's a boss fight. Hardcore strategy gamers, however, will love the ability to tweak as much of the battle as possible, even if you are limited to the cards at hand. These fans have had to look toward classic PC titles for their fix, so they'll appreciate being able to do something similar on a console. Card game fans will also enjoy being able to employ their strategies on a video game that isn't just an interpretation of Yu-Gi-Oh, Chaotic, Magic: The Gathering or some other trading card game in today's market. The blending of the two genres works well, and seeing more done with the game either with new maps or scenarios would be welcome indeed.
The depth of Allied Assault's strategy does a good job of masking a few of the title's flaws. It's quite difficult to discern exactly which cards were obtained in combat compared to cards already used in combat. Initially, the issue doesn't seem to a big one, but once you start to progress deeper into the game, the earned cards can transform your overall card collection from manageable to staggering. The title's other large flaw is a lack of an active online community. During the review period for the game, not a single online multiplayer match was found. The leaderboards were occupied, though, so there are people who have played the game, but if you are one of those people who are just getting into the title, be prepared to plan out when you want your match instead of relying on the game to find one for you.
As far as the aesthetics of the game go, this one won't turn any heads or make anyone want to turn up the volume on their speakers. While the layout of the tiles may be different depending on the battlefield and scenario, the board remains the same. It looks nice, with it being an elevated wooden board and all, but don't expect it to change much per level. The same can be said for the backdrop, which will always have an orange tinted sky and the dust and debris of battle littering the field. The models used for the vehicles and soldiers are pretty basic and feature little to no animations. The effects, like explosions and gunfire, look decent, but you get the sense that it could look much better. The same goes for the sounds, which do a good job of conveying what's happening but nothing more. The music fits the setting but can't exactly be called memorable, and there isn't much to the voices outside of the occasional call of the soldiers to attack or counter-attack. Voiced tutorials, for example, would have been nice, but the lack of vocals also means that they can't be criticized for having bad ones in the game.
Panzer General: Allied Assault is not a pretty game to look at. It isn't a sonic masterpiece, either, and the lack of an active community means you have to spend some time with friends or others if you want a multiplayer game to happen. With all of this going against it, one would think that this title is doomed, but the gameplay is more than solid enough for people who love hardcore strategy in any form. Because of the nature of the title, those interested will definitely have to play the demo first before spending the points on it, as only fans of Risk and strategic card games will truly be able to enjoy Allied Assault and its depth without reservation.
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