Codename: Panzers, Phase One Review
By Simon Graves |
For some time now gamers in Germany and the rest of Europe have been enjoying the goodness of Stormregion's Codename Panzers: Phase One. Now the title's finally coming out here in the States and, in my opinion at least, it's about damn time. We've managed to spend a fair bit of time with an early copy of the US version and have been really pleased with the experience. Sure, there are a few problems that ought to have been addressed, but the overall experience of playing Codename Panzers is undeniably enjoyable.
For those who don't know, Codename Panzers follows the recent (and completely welcome) trend in the industry towards offering a nice middle ground between the worlds of staid, unfathomable wargames and traditional, slightly cartoonish RTS clones. It's as if someone has finally realized that we can have it both ways -- mixing the idea of realistic military action found in Combat Mission with the accessibility of something like Command and Conquer. Some of these efforts, like the recent Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps are merely passable. Others, like Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2 seem like a revelation. It is to this latter category that Codename Panzers belongs.
In this game you'll lead forces from four nations in three campaigns. The German campaign lets players invade Poland and push on through to Russia, the Russian campaign tasks you with repelling the attack and throwing the Germans back to their own capital, and the "Allied" campaign sees you leading American troops from the drops before D-Day though some city fighting in early 1945. Along the way, you'll also have the chance to take charge of the British forces at Arnhem. Though many of the big name battles are represented here, they're done on a fairly local scale. So, for instance, when you find yourself at the Battle of the Bulge, you'll merely have to protect a single fuel depot.
Codename Panzers often switches you from the defensive to the offensive side of battles, sometimes within the space of a single mission. When you capture a town or important asset, you can almost always bank on a vigorous counter-attack by your enemies. There's usually a fair bit of tactical variety between the missions as well. In the Bulge mission for instance, you're in charge of the reserves, lending help where needed as Germans try to pound through a line of AI-led American troops. A similar approach is taken during the Normandy landing mission. Here you're simply supposed to assault the coastal defenses from the rear and the AI leads the landing of American forces.
You'll almost never have more than 25 units under your command and frequently, particularly early on, you'll only have a dozen or so. Having that few troops under your control eases the pain of management a bit but you'll still need to be aware of what types of troops are best used for particular situations. Since you'll have a mixed force of armor, artillery and various types of infantry, finding the match-ups that work is key to winning battles.
Since they gain experience during battles, it's very important at higher difficulty levels that you not waste your units. You'll have the opportunity to buy new units between missions by spending prestige points. These are earned by completing mission objectives. You'll also earn bonus points for completing the enigmatic optional objectives. While it's great fun to build your own customized force, the game ought to present you with more information about what types of troops you're likely to need in the upcoming fight. Moreover, by the end of each of the three campaigns, you'll have more prestige than you can spend while staying under the 25-unit cap. The AI is reasonably challenging but once you master the art of isolating small elements of the enemy army and defeating them in detail, you can walk through many of the missions without every losing a single unit.
In terms of interface, things are fairly easy. Anyone who's played an RTS in the last ten years should have no trouble understanding the concepts and controls behind this game within the first five minutes of playing it. It's a standard right-click affair and the few complications are almost always managed for you by the game's AI. If troops need to go prone to avoid enemy fire, they'll do so on their own. If they need to lob a few Molotov cocktails at an approaching tank, they'll put their machine guns away just long enough to get a toss off.
Though the game captures the flavor of World War 2 combat very well, there are plenty of concessions to realism here. Weapons are underpowered both in terms of range and damage potential. Guns that could take out enemy vehicles in one shot from all the way across the map now find that their range barely extends the length of the screen and they'll still have to pump a few shots into even the weakest enemies before they're destroyed.
Sometimes you don't even want to destroy your enemy's hardware. You just want to damage the crew enough that you can take it over. This is easiest (and almost automatic) when dealing with crewed guns. Just send your riflemen to attack the artillery pieces and anti-tank guns and they'll shoot the crew. You can then move your own men over to man the gun and turn it against your enemy. You can also use flamethrowers and Molotov cocktails to heat up enemy vehicles to the point that the crew bails out. All you have to do then is wait for the vehicle to cool down and send your own crew in to man it. It's not entirely accurate from a historical perspective, but it makes for a fun (if not often practical) game mechanic.