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BB reviews Panzer Corps

BB reviews Panzer Corps

Review - posted by Burning Bridges on Mon 29 August 2011, 11:08:18


Panzer Corps Review

by Christian Wendt (Burning Bridges)

 

 

Introduction

Panzer Corps is easy to sum up: it is an almost exact copy of Panzer General, the hugely acclaimed turn-based strategy game by SSI (1994). Panzer General is a true classic, which for many gamers became the entry point to turn based gaming. Due to a slick interface it was very easy to take up, and rewarded you with great visuals, gameplay and replayability.

SSI went out of business in the early 2000s. And although the Panzer General series has remained hugely popular, ten years passed after the demise without anyone attempting to revive it.

Having that in mind, I must make a statement before dissecting the game. That we finally see a new PG title, is something all involved in making Panzer Corps - i.e. The Lordz, Slitherine, Matrix et al - deserve praise for, in my opinion.

Scenarios and Campaign

Like in the original, the player assumes the role of a German general in a series of linked scenarios from 1939 to 1945. Depending on mission success they will take the player from Poland through Norway, France, Russia and back to the gates of Berlin, or alternatively to final victories in Operation Sea Lion, Barbarossa or a hypothetical invasion of the United States. 

While the campaign mode and the bulk of scenarios are almost identical to PG, several of the original scenarios have been left out. Panzer General had altogether 38 scenarios, in Panzer Corps the number has been reduced to 26. Gone are Poland II, Ukraine, all North African scenarios, Crete and Malta. They are only partially offset with three separate USA scenarios instead of just one. While Panzer Corps still has a sufficient number of scenarios, the net result is that the branching campaign has become somewhat less interesting and diversified than it used to be.

It appears however that the developer has left the door open for modifications, and supports people who are developing them. So we may actually see a flood of new scenarios in the future, and new campaigns that exceed the original.

Graphics and Sound

Throughout the game, graphics are very good. One small thing I did not like is that the backgrounds (maps) are very dark. Although there are proper seasonal and weather effects, most of the time it's summer anyway, and I got quite sick of seeing the same green in all of Europe. I found SSI made the maps more diversified. It is also hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and many unit graphics are too large. On the plus side there are now pretty explosions and other animated effects.

But barring such nitpicks and a few dubious interface decisions it is a great looking game, and since this is obvious from looking at screenshots I will not elaborate further.

Though sparse, sound in this game is also very good. In the background you hear appropriate sounds like marching soldiers or gun and engine noise. Most of the samples are really good. For the musical background The Lordz created a soundtrack which is sufficiently reminiscent of SSI's sweeping Kevin Manthei score.

Gameplay Changes

Gameplay mechanics in Panzer Corps are almost identical to the original. But take note that most of the changes SSI made to Panzer General 2 are not included. It boils down to Panzer General with a mixture of new ideas and a few features from Panzer General 2. That means if you already know PG, you will be able to play right away, but later on you will find some things that have to be approached differently.

  

Notably, the automatic reinforcements between scenarios are gone. Although inconvenient, I think this change is very clever, because it leaves an additional choice to the player. If you spend all prestige points on elite replacements you will most likely not have enough left for new equipment. So you need to find a compromise and in most cases this will lead to experience accumulating slower. And this helps with one thing that did not work well in PG. That too much experience broke the game in the second half.

The game also grants a larger number of core slots, but there is a maximum number of units on the battlefield, so you will usually have to hold some back as reserves.

Another very interesting new feature is rail transport, and railroads are now distributed over most maps. Moving by rail works similar to air transport. Trains can move almost anywhere on the map [range 30], as long as the route is not blocked by an enemy unit. But you can only load and unload in cities. So it allows to move units over vast distances but it takes two turns to redeploy a unit by rail.

     

Certain units now come with an option to select modes (switch). The 88 Flak became one of my favorite units after I learned that I can turn it selectively into a 88 Pak, which kicks ass against tanks. Being a combination of a powerful AA gun and a superior tank killer, the “Acht-Acht” have now become indispensable support units.


Other changes concern terrain types like thick forest. Thick forest cannot be passed at all, forcing you to move and attack in single files along roads. I remember a single mountaineer unit in the Ardennes that caused me quite a headache because it held up the only road, and I could not flank it.

I think all gameplay changes are well thought out and should stand the test. The changes to automatic upgrades and prestige point distribution made me do some things a bit differently than in PG. Like for example, keeping veteran units with outdated equipment in reserve until I could upgrade them in a coming scenario. Or using regular, not elite reinforcements most of the time, to save prestige for upgrades.

Difficulty, Balance and Artificial Intelligence

On normal difficulty, Panzer Corps felt harder than I remember the original. And if I may say it, also a bit more unfair.

Some people attribute this to an improved artificial intelligence, but in my opinion this has to do with many things. In all scenarios I played I noted that the AI kept throwing a huge amount of fighters, tanks, battleships at me, a bit more than I remember from PG. Because of this, steamrolling through e.g. the Low Countries is nearly impossible since you are faced with a dilemma. How to deal with superior allied air forces and tanks, while there are entrenched strongpoints which require immediate air strikes and tanks against artillery. So it will cost you a lot of time and nerves before you make headway, even a bit more so than in the original.

But the differences are subtle, and there five different difficulty levels, so you should absolutely be able to tailor the difficulty to your style.

Concerning the artificial intelligence, it gets a lot of praise elsewhere, and that’s ok. The AI in Panzer Corps does exactly what it should do. It is a competent, opportunistic defender and will mercilessly wipe out weakened units when it has a chance. It also guards objective towns well, and never presents you easy pickings on a plate.  All this while it properly follows the fog of war rule, and does not cheat. But it is not much more clever than PG either, and can hold out mostly only due to superior numbers. Once it has used up its numerical strength during the first half of a scenario, everything becomes rather easy.

  

Even though the game plays mostly like it should, I think the developer still needs to fine tune combat resolution a little. For example infantry units should be more penalized for attacking tanks in "their" terrain, i.e. in the open. The same with fighters, even outdated biplanes, which usually hit armor pretty badly without taking damage themselves.

On the other hand, a lot of other things feel improved. Gone is the ridiculous omnipotence of the dive bomber. Engineers can no longer be used to simply overrun entrenched units. Instead, suppression fire has become more important. Sometimes you will be at a loss what to do against certain units, since there is no other way than soften them up with artillery and airplanes before an attack. You will find out that this now also goes for tanks, not only for entrenched infantry as in PG.

To me Panzer Corps feels a bit less balanced than PG. Paradoxically it feels also more balanced. This is because it has improved Panzer General in many areas, but a lot of fine tuning remains unfinished.

Verdict

Panzer Corps is a PG clone and it is a very good one. At the same time this is the game's main weakness. For it emulates its blueprint so well that it also carries over all problems. In fact it makes some even worse.

One must not forget that Panzer General appeared in 1994, and at the time it did a lot of things which had never been done before. Playing PG for the first time was fascinating. But even then I had the feeling that it was often a frustrating experience, that something was wrong. 15 years later I still have the same feeling. To me, every scenario begins with a lot of promise, but eventually feels like having to rob a bank, simply by running into it, pushing everyone aside and grabbing the money, while a person stands behind with a stopwatch.

Yes, the old mechanics still work marvellously. But since every scenario in PG was designed so that the objectives must be reached in the minimum possible amount of time, a lot of strategic potential is lost along the way. Where are the pocket battles? Where is strategic surprise? Where is a more realistic air war? At the end of every scenario I still feel that I again just barely managed a race against time.

No one should hold this, or lack of originality against the game. I would however be disappointed if the next title simply went on to emulate another game of the series in the same style. No, as a former PG player I still wish for a somewhat different game. With the same combat mechanics, but bigger scenarios and more units. With more time, and more room for manoeuvre and creativity. With new  features like bombing / blowing up bridges, recon planes, etc.

I also think the future of this game will stand and fall with new scenarios. Like in PG the game still works best in the first part of the war. Later the game gets more and more bogged down to gigantic tank battles. So it comes as a disappointment that there are less scenarios in the early part, when the game still shines.

But all that aside, my verdict can only be very positive. Panzer Corps has hit the nail on the head with graphics and sound, is extremely faithful to the series, with some carefully thought out, solid gameplay changes. Moreover it is competently programmed and comes without any noticeable bugs. On the negative side there is only the reduced content (scenarios), and a slight lack of balance, which can be patched quite easily.

PG veterans will get a lot of fun out of this, but may eventually get bored, because at the end of the day they have already played this game before. It is however an ideal recommendation to those who are new to the series, and can approach it like a completely new game. Because with all its weaknesses, Panzer General is still one hell of a great game, and this one is no less.


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