Codename: Panzers is a WWII simulation where players can take command of Russian, Allied, or German troops. Historically accurate vehicles -- tanks, jeeps, motorcycles, and planes -- take to the battlefield with environments that include weather effects, and a realistic damage system. Ten multiplayer maps, three full campaigns with 30 missions, four multiplayer game modes, and a huge arsenal of infantry weapons -- flame throwers, shells, mines, anti-tank bazookas, and more.
Ever since the Close Combat series, which was originally developed as a computer version of Avalon Hill's Squad Leader, wargamers have been seeking the next big World War II strategy epic. Many titles had the early promise of being that next game -- one that was easy to master, offered re-playability and reasonable realism. But like the German Army and their invasion of the Soviet Union, the promise of sure victory was short-lived, and many of those titles now lay in bargain bins like some destroyed tank. Codename Panzers: Phase One, which developer Stormregion has created as the first of three titles, is more than a worthy successor to the Close Combat crown.
For the hardcore war buff, the game is both extremely balanced yet realistic in terms of individual unit strength. Nor is this the typical rock-paper-scissors RTS where tanks are tanks and the rush wins the day. In Codename Panzers, early war Panzer II tanks won't stand up against T-34s in a head-to-head showdown, nor are you advised to try your luck with a Sherman against a Tiger. Yet, on the flip side, the game's liberal use of repair units for your damaged vehicles adds just enough of the arcade-styled flair to make sure that you aren't relegated to continuously repeating missions just because your armor ran into some tough opposition early on. Likewise, the developers have kept this from being a "tank rush" game by limiting the amount of armor that can be poured into individual maps.
Codenames Panzers further breaks from the usual pack of strategy games in that it actually manages to innovate rather than imitate. The results offer some interesting turns, and surprisingly most of the decisions actually work quite well. You can easily scroll in and see the action up close, rotate the map to get a better view of the action at ease, and even can expect your armor to knock over trees. Buildings and bunkers can be destroyed by artillery and aerial bombardment, but also occupied and used as defensive positions. And rather than fall back on the tired Command & Conquer approach of merely placing units inside, you can actually see individual rooms in each building. This adds an entire level of fighting in the game's various city and town-based maps as you have to clean out buildings room by room.
The game isn't limited to towns or tight streets, and offers a variety of locations in the European theater of war with 30 missions through 30 campaigns that let you fight it out as the Germans, Soviets, and American/British forces. There are more than 50 controllable vehicles, all accurately represented. Unlike other real-time tactical games, such as Blitzkrieg or Sudden Strike, Panzers offers an unprecedented level of detail. While zoomed out, you can still make out individual units at a glance, but zoomed in you can almost see the whites of their eyes.
The interface is especially straightforward and the game is simple to play yet provides a breath of order and commands for your units. The diverse campaigns offer a bit of replayability, as there are three difficulty settings. Additionally, the multiplayer mode makes for quite a very balanced war game, and it's among the best since Close Combat. The only thing that seems missing is a random map generator for those times when you want some blitzkrieg action without having to play a mission from a campaign.
Panzers is a little rough around the edges in other ways: the sound has a few bugs that were probably avoidable, while the recorded dialog is forgettable at best and rather amusing at worst. And, like so many WWII simulations, Panzers also glosses over the conflict as a whole and is so generalized that you only get a flavor of some key engagements. Still, there's enough here that we'll be looking forward to finding out what will be covered in Phase Two.
People who downloaded Codename: Panzers - Phase One have also downloaded:
Codename: Panzers - Phase Two, Close Combat 5: Invasion Normandy, Close Combat 4: The Battle of the Bulge, Blitzkrieg 2, Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far, Close Combat 3: The Russian Front, Close Combat, Combat Mission 3: Afrika Korps
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