M1 Battle Tank is the latest in the line of 'formula' products to come over from MicroProse USA. Its instantly recognisable style has all the hallmarks of MicroProse's earlier sims but doesn't mean that it looks dated. MicroProse games use sophisticated techniques, but the majority of their products are forged from good planning, excellent design and an amazing depth of research. This makes for some of the best simulations ever to grace the home computer market, better even than many professional military sims.
M1 Tank Platoon is no exception. Granted it has rudimentary graphics and fairly basic sound, but a wealth of realistic detail helps create an outstanding sim. This time you don't play an individual character. Instead, you control a platoon of four M1 Abrams Battle tanks, the US army's top fighting machines.
Each tank is assigned a crew of four: a captain, gunner, driver and loader. Effectively you control sixteen men. Each person has their own rank and ability which affect their overall skill. The highest ranking character is the captain, the lowest the loader. Promotions decorations and combat experience improve the skills of individual platoon members hence the squad's fighting ability. For the most part these people will obey your orders acting on their own judgment and skill.
If you want to get into the thick of the action you can take over one of the four seats in the lead tank. The driving seat is fairly uninteresting, and you're so low down in the tank you can't see much. It's best to occupy this position when you need to guide your platoon out of trouble in a hurry. The M1 comes equipped with a .50 calibre machine gun which doesn't harm tanks but is great at churning out five hundred rounds a minute and blowing away unarmoured trucks. The best position is the gunner's cabin. Imagine sitting behind a 120mm smooth bore cannon with high explosive and armour-piercing shells, a laser ranging system, 7.62 coaxial machine guns, smoke generators and night sights. Point, target and fire. If you get into a good position you can blow merry hell out of a Russian armoured platoon. This is definitely the fun place to be in a fire fight.
Issuing orders to the platoon is fairly simple, after you've worked out what everything does. There's a main map screen showing the locations of buildings, hills, visible enemy, bases and your men. To order the platoon to a set location you must first click on it, then select the 'move to' command and advance. This may seem unnecessary hassle, but it's fairly uncomplicated and sensible when you look at the logistics behind controlling four tanks each staffed with individual, thinking, characters. The platoon can travel in a line, column, v shape, wedge or diagonal line. You can instruct them when to fire, at what, use their smoke generators, or run. Alternatively you can issue orders to individual tanks, although it's inadvisable to split the platoon if the situation doesn't warrant it.
On a majority of missions you're supported by a secondary platoon of armoured personnel carriers and infantry. These are controlled directly by you through the map screen. On other missions you get the use of scout helicopters, AH-64 Apache Gunships, equipped with smoke and explosive motors and artillery rockets. When you can get hold of one you can cause untold damage in preemptive strikes.
As usual the bad guys are Russian. If East/West relations keep improving I can't help wondering who MicroProse will use as cannon fodder in future games. Before the start of a mission you can choose the quality of the troops you'll come up against (cadets to elite corps), and this determines what they're equipped with and how well they'll react to a platoon of M1s storming up the hill they're defending.
Though the game is graphically unimpressive it's very satisfying landing a hit on an enemy tank and this can look fairly impressive. The accompanying sound is flat and uninspiring and could have been beefed up a little. However, M1 is a fantastic sim. The wealth of things to do coupled with my naturally destructive, violent nature meant that everything I came across, including houses and my support team, fell prey to my 120mm gun. I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game. A fantastic sim in every respect, though beginners might find it difficult to play at first.
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