Every tanksim aims to sustain the illusion that the player is seated in an armored
battle tank. The latest crop of WWII tanksims feature assorted structures,
varied terrain, and enemy tanks, with a pillbox or two thrown in. But what about
infantry? Shouldn't panzerfaust and bazooka teams be included? How much are the
ballistics and physics compromised for favorable gameplay? If you are a German
dev team named Wings Simulations, your answer is PANZER
ELITE. Released in 1999, this WWII tanksim forges new trails in
ballistics, damage modeling, and interface.
To install Panzer Elite, get
ready to make some room on your hard drive, at least 600 MBs. Then install the
patch before attempting to play (see DOWNLOADS);
without the patch you get an error message that implies the program cannot find
the CD-ROM. The patch cures this and sharpens other elements of the sim. One
thing is immediately obvious as you fire up Panzer Elite for the first
time--this sim dares to be different. The intro clip is an excellent intro--the
graphics depicting a burning, bombed-out Italian square are eerily lifelike with
distant gunfire and timber crackling. The background music is perfect. It adds
to the atmosphere.
The manual comes in two
volumes, a thirty-three page Instruction Manual with the gameplay basics
explained and keyboard guide. It's adequate, but since Panzer Elite does not
include any tutorial missions, you will get your training in battles. Don't let
this throw you. Although initially frustrating, PE rewards the diligent
tanksimmer once familiarity with the controls is gained. The second volume is
WWII History and Unit Data. It is very comprehensive and well-written, a good
read by itself.
Get started right away with
Instant Action and you are dropped into a scenario with the fires burning, tanks
blasting, and dirt flying. You can choose to fight for Uncle Sam (USA) or Der Fuehrer
(Germany). Eleven US tanks are available for the player, mostly variations of
the M4, and a similar number of German models from the Panzer IV, to the
different Panthers and the Tiger. In addition to the player tanks, there are
dozens of AI units that appear on the battlefield, from armored cars, to
priests, Elefant 88mm guns, and machinegun teams.
There are 80 scenarios for single player mode and several campaigns
in a number of combinations that take place in three theaters: North Africa,
Italy, and Normandy. I would suggest you start with a single player scenario to
get used to the interface and gameplay. Trying to tackle Instant Action first
will probably lead to instant discouraging defeats. The briefings supplied are
first-rate, with animated maps and authentic German-accented instructions (on
the German side). You get the objective and a clear picture of the surrounding
and when the mission starts, you are well-orientated. The missions and campaign
are scripted, not dynamic, but the inclusion of multiple random elements
succeeds in avoiding the dreaded "canned" mission feel. Internet
multiplayer is included with up to ten players, five on each side.
The graphics in Panzer Elite
are impressive. Houses and buildings have varied facades. Trees and brush
actually make good cover but beware, the enemy uses them well. Infantry figures
are delightfully well-rendered. Although noticeably 2D, you willingly accept
them as they duck and run, hunched over with a mechanical gait. ATW teams will
sneak up on you while your attention is focused on opposing tanks with deadly
results. The vehicles look sharp and smooth. Tanks rock and rumble with life.
Small details abound--telephone poles, rivers and streams, bridges, railroads, farm fields, fences, roads.
Vegetation and trees are depicted better here than in any other sim. You can
actually enter a thick grove of trees!
surroundings are so well done, they raise the need for good observational skills. You will need to stay
sharp and locate threats visually. If you select a high level of realism, there
are no "red circles" or other artificial cues to spot your enemies.
You will have to pick them out yourself. And with barns, numerous trees, ridges,
and other lifelike visual objects for your camouflaged enemies to hid behind,
you may actually feel tension playing PE missions. "Where is that fire
coming from? Those trees? That farmhouse? Where?!" You can opt to have your
crew assist and according to their experience level they will give you general
indications but you still have to select and shoot.
There are some graphic weaknesses, such as tank
treads merging/disappearing into the ground, texture tearing, and mild clipping.
PE is a bit rough around the edges. And the sim demands serious hardware--on a 500 PIII there is occasional visual
halting. Panzer Elite may ask for everything your system can give but the
results are worth it.
What would a tank battle be
without bombastic sounds? Panzer Elite offers a satisfactory audio suite, not
overwhelming but good enough to get the job done. Ricochets,
explosions, and crew
members are varied enough not to sound repetitious. My favorite crew member is the
loader. He smartly informs you he is loading the gun. Try to fire before he
gives you the signal and he replies, with a hint of irritation, "I'm
still loading AP!" I had to smile every time.
While all other tanksims
utilize a combination of keyboard commands and a joystick, Wings Simulations
ingeniously developed a "tankmouse" interface. Suspended in the corner
of the screen, this little top-down tank diagram gives you virtually everything
you need to control your Panther or Sherman. You can opt for keyboard commands
and joystick as well, and the interface allows a lot of customization. It is
flexible and innovative. It also takes some time to adapt to.
I did find some disappointing
features worth noting. While you may view any tank in your platoon from the
outside, once your tank is blasted, mission over. No jumping from tank to tank.
I suspect that was a conscious design decision to enforce realism, so I won't
hammer PE over it. Then there's the interface. It's smart and it's efficient but
I fear it will put off the less diligent tanksimmer and PE may not get the
chance it deserves. And there are no aircraft. Last, although the graphics are rich and abundant in
detail, they are a tad rough at times, what with the bottom section of tank
treads disappearing into the ground and parts of the tank flickering at certain
angles. And the destroyed tanks are pretty much black hulls, albeit smoking
There are many factors that
will contribute to your victories and defeats in Panzer Elite. Crew skills vary
and impact the performance of you tank. You will gain a keen sense of logistics
with regard to your ammunition and supplies; fuel and ammo can become quite
scarce in the latter stages of a campaign. Damage modeling is one area
where PE outshines tanksims like iPanzer '44 and Panzer Commander. There are
over 40 distinct areas where a tank can be damaged, from individual crewmen,
tank treads, and radiator to
the tranny and gun optics. Your shot placement will dictate the damage done
to a target tank. A shot to the treads will disable it but leave it able to
defend itself. Given the type of ammo used, the area of impact, model of tank,
and thickness of armor and the damage varies accordingly. Get a perfect shot and
launch the turret.
Wings Simulations captured the terrain
physics marvelously. The tank will motor along at a reasonable clip on flat ground
and roads, but crossing fields or rough ground slows the tank and makes it rock
on its suspension. Crossing streams also slow downs the vehicle down and even
submerges it. Try to climb a steep hill at an unwise angle and you will roll the
tank and end the mission, just what you'd expect. This has the effect of making
terrain a real issue worth considering in your missions.
There are a huge number of
realism settings that should assist the novice and satisfy the demanding
hard-core tanksimmer. The armor and ballistics have been extremely
well-designed. If you opt for "boresighted" ballistics, you can ignore
wind, range, or other factors and hit what you aim at. Or choose "realistic
gun" and find out how good you really are--a slew of factors will affect
your shots, from wind, shell rotation, even temperature! Very challenging,
especially when you are being shot at by a number if enemies. I found one
aspect really wonderful: when I would brake to a stop and begin aiming at a
distant tank, as I lined him up and rapidly adjusted for range and windage,
sometimes my tank was
hit by fire from an unseen tank. While the shots did not penetrate and kill me,
they rocked my tank and threw my aim off. When a sim can cover things such as
this, it is really going all-out to recreate the experience of a tank
Panzer Elite is a
wonderful addition to your sim library. It has a lot of staying power and you
will not soon outgrow it. The sense of "being there" has never been
done better--the atmosphere captivates you. It is both fun and challenging in
the right proportions. The well-designed level of realism and visual detail and
the outstanding ballistic, damage, and terrain modeling make Panzer Elite the
best WWII tanksim ever. It simply crunches everything else beneath its treads.
Aug. 16, 2001 Big News!
Panzer Elite to