Panzer Elite

By  Cosmo

       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. 

p_elite4.jpg (128448 bytes)        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. 

p_elite5.jpg (112917 bytes)        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!

p_elite9.jpg (129498 bytes)        The 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.

p_elite14.jpg (140144 bytes)        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 delightfully.

p_elite3.jpg (74766 bytes)        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.

p_elite15.jpg (126178 bytes)        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 battle. 

        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 be Re-released!

Rating:  93

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Music
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play
18/20 9/10 8/10 7/10 18/20 9/10 14/15 5/5
BONUS: +3 Excellent historical manual

 

System Requirements: Pentium II 266, Windows 95/98, 64MB RAM, 754MB hard-drive space, 4x CD-ROM,  8MB Direct 3D compatible graphics card, DirectX-compatible sound card

p_elite6.jpg (145732 bytes)

This tanksim is available at the TankSim Store
Order today, delivered to your door, and play for months!

Ahoy Subsimmer! Did you arrive here from the link in the Silent Hunter Online article? And you read this old review of a great game (or simply scrolled to the bottom, whatever, loser ). Then you deserve a reward. Be the first to post in the Silent Hunter Online forum "Panzer Elite is a wonderful addition to your sim library" and then PM Neal Stevens. A big ol' Ping Prize will be headed your way!

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