Armored Fist 3

By Slugger Jones

        When you have a good thing going, why stop?  The folks at NovaLogic must agree. A year after the release of their last tanksim, Armored Fist 2, they issue up the groundshaking Armored Fist 3 One look at the cracked earth and flaming background on the box tells you this sim aims to be a high-octane, heavy metal ride. But does it improve on its predecessor? Or is this an expansion disk masquerading as a new sim? To learn the answer, dropped into the TC's seat and put AF3 through the paces. It's a rollicking ride, so hang on.

        This review is not intended as a comparison between the two sibling sims but to obtain a good evaluation of AF3, an examination of their relationship is in order. The first thing that catches your eye when you load the sim are the graphics. While the graphics in AF2 were good, Armored Fist 3 are clearly a notch above. The terrain is unmatched in any tanksim to date. Rolling hills, crevasses, gullies, mountains--this is true 3D terrain mapping. The layout provides an abundance of cover and attack possibilities. You get a definite sense of space in the AF3 world. 

af3_34.jpg (74398 bytes)        One notes the similarities of the vehicles and objects in this sim with AF2 and the reason lies in the Voxel Space 32 engine, an upgrade from the engine used in AF2. The difference is striking, but a hardware price is exacted. To run AF3 smoothly, you better have a Pentium 300 or better. But the price is worth it. Armored Fist 3 features crisp graphics with great detail. Enemy tanks look great even at close ranges. The cannon belches fire and misses throw up torrents of dirt and smoke. Score a direct hit and watch the turret do a lazy death-spiral in the air, smoke and sparks erupt from the burnt hull. AF3 is fun to watch! 

        There is one drawback to the great terrain and hills in AF3--the tanks are able to scale virtually any cliff and descend at top speed down any valley, even to the point of absurdity. I noted the speed of my tank when approaching a daunting hill and the tank lost very little speed on the way up. This lack of proper power modeling mars the gameplay to a degree. And the traction modeling needs help, too. I found my M1A2 could traverse the sides of sheer cliffs with impunity! If the dev team had been on the ball, they would have structured the sim where trying to climb too-steep hills would result in a tank-tumbling death. That would have lent validity to the sim and made navigation more challenging and interesting to boot. As it is, AF3 physics  realism is barely over arcade level. 

af3_26.jpg (68879 bytes)        That's not to say Armored Fist 3 is devoid of realism--hardly! A number of features push this tanksim into the cream of the crop category. Infantry, noticeably missing in AF2, are included in abundance. Running, shooting, dropping--those little fellows all but get in the way. Your tank will leave visible tread marks. The trees and buildings are better looking. The same variety of enemy and friendly units show up here. Fast movers and helos are little threat to you in this sim but make fine targets. I would have preferred more of a threat from an SU-25 or a Hind than these units display, but at least they're present. 

        Overall, the interface seems to be lifted right off Armored Fist 2, a plus. Using a joystick and the keyboard, it won't take you long to master the controls of your tank. The same sim modes made it to AF3 as well, Easy and Advanced. You can jump right into the action with Easy mode and let the AI do a lot of the work or select Advanced and man the individual stations first-hand. The battle missions and campaign missions offer plenty of work in locales such as Thailand, Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Somalia (see the world, the ads say). Still, no random battle generator or scenario editor.

af3_29.jpg (74014 bytes)        The sound quality in AF3 is as good as AF2, maybe a little better. The .50 cal chatters with more consistency and the cannon booms with authority. I would bet most of the sound files are exactly the same as Armored Fist 2, with better program execution. 

        One welcome change is the skill of your AI gunner. As in AF2, you can (and should, the gun controls are just as touchy as in AF2) opt for AI assisted gunnery, otherwise you will rarely hit what you want. In AF3, your gunner is good but not perfect. He will flub an occasional shot and you'll see dirt clods careen off your adversary. And some shots will strike the enemy tank and not kill it. This is a good thing--who wants to play a tanksim that amounts to target practice? In this sim, if you miss, buddy, you better take cover cause Ivan is going to heave some metal back at you! And the AI's shooting skill is generally good. You will get taken out and in some missions, hard-pressed to win. Once you're busted, simply TAB over to one of the remaining platoon tanks and keep working. At other times, if you circle off your way point path and get the drop on the enemy, they may just sit there and eat it. For the most part, AI is a worthy opponent, though.

af3_35.jpg (100474 bytes)        In many sims, your range of vision is limited to about 45 degrees off the horizon. When a plane of helo rips overhead, you lose it.  Your range of vision is better in AF3--when enemy air zooms overhead you can follow it all the way over, pumping .50 lead. 

        As with nearly all sims, AF3 comes with a vehicle preview and tactics guide and it's a good one. The Tanker's Notebook, as it's called, gives you a good grasp of the workings of a tank, its ordnance and tactical operation. I would have thought NovaLogic might have skimped a little here and borrowed the guide from AF2 but they decided to craft a new one. It's appreciated.

af3_31.jpg (68694 bytes)        What do you do after you complete numerous missions, after you get really skillful and cocky? Why, you take your show online, of course. Armored Fist 3 surpasses the multi-play of its predecessor by offering completely free and effortless multi-play through NovaWorld, NovaLogic's own tanksim staging arena.  Choose between Cooperative, Deathmatch, Red-on-Blue, and Capture the Flag game modes, with up to 32 players. And you don't need to get together in a chat room and set up IP's and coordinate the start of the game--with NovaWorld you log into a game in progress and start firing. If you have a full-duplex sound card and a mike, you can take advantage of the built in communication system; Voice-Over-Net. Don't type your taunts when you can growl them. Get your asbestos undies out because you will face some serious competition. There are players out there who can nail you from 3000 meters while you're still looking around. The competition is tough but fun and addictive. "Oh! Just one more round" will be your mantra until you notice the clock reading 4 a.m.! 

af3_25.jpg (88372 bytes)        Armored Fist 3 has a headlock on the modern tanksim genre. Only M1Tank Platoon 2 is its league. If the silly physics and traction capabilities were improved, there would nothing between AF3 and the Gold Cup. As it is, if you have the hardware, Armored Fist 3 offers compelling gameplay in a rich environment that puts you one step closer to a virtual combat theater, maybe close enough, even, to catch a wisp of smoke from that 120mm smooth bore. 


Rating:  88


Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play


8/10 8/10 18/20 8/10 13/15 5/5
BONUS:  +2: Good interface;  +3 NovaWorld multiplayer


System Requirements: Pentium 233 MMX or greater (PII recommended), Win 95/98, 64MB RAM, 150 MB hard-drive space, 4x CD-ROM,  Win 95/98 compatible sound card

af3_32.jpg (99534 bytes)

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