Panzer Commander

By Jack Black

Panzer Commander is a WWII tanksim from a newcomer to military sims, Ultimation.  With  SSI producing, Ultimation sends you to battle in over 24 different tanks, featuring the American M4A3E8, Chaffee, Pershing; German Tiger, Panther, PzIVD; Soviet T-34/41, T-34/42, T34/43, and British Churchill, Cromwell, Crusader. Just about every tank that saw action in the Big One is featured here. And the scope of this sim doesn't end with the tank models either. There are three German and three Soviet campaigns, though not completely dynamic, that will begin in 1939/1941 and take you through the entire war. The campaigns are "based in part on actual unit histories and take place in all the major areas of operations in Europe, North Africa, and Russia". You will have literally months of playing ahead of you.

panz_com3.jpg (41369 bytes)        In addition to the campaign mode, you are offered the single scenarios,  custom scenarios, and IPX/Internet multiplay. There are 40 single scenarios to choose from and several tutorials to get you started. The scenario editor is efficient and fairly easy to employ. Multiplay is best run through Mplayer (free). In multiplay, you can choose between several modes of play which include melee and capture the flag. During a multiplay game, you stalk through a village or small city, trying to pounce on your opponents while being watchful that they don't surprise you from behind. There is a sense of anxiety during this type of game--you cannot see 360 degrees around you. As in real life, you must pan the view around as you move from one covering building to the next. It's pretty intense! Exactly what you would want in a multiplay tanksim. And if your buddy does blast you, you and your tank reappear in a random spot on the edge of town--no reloading the game necessary.

        panz_com15.jpg (65444 bytes)This is one tanksim that merits generous praise on its graphics, sounds, interface, and attention to detail. Where to begin! Panzer Commander has a rousing great theme (even has male choir vocals is you let it play long enough!) that plays during the menu selection; I often leave it running in the background while I do my bookkeeping or reading. The menus slam right and left as you make your selections, with a metallic ring. And once the mission begins, the music abruptly cuts out and you get down to business. Your tank driver shouts out as he begins rolling. You command a platoon of three tanks. You have several standard tanksim views: chase, commander unbuttoned, binocs, or with the hatch down. Bear in mind, the chase view is only available at lower realism settings and the commander unbuttoned view increases your vulnerability. You can play looking through the driver and gunner ports and you drive the beast with a joy stick or keyboard. The turret turns slowly initially, then will turn more rapidly--excellent physics modeling. It makes a groaning, hydraulic sound. The main cannon blasts and rocks the tank. You will quickly recognize the sound of machine gun rounds ricocheting off your hull, heavier rounds banging against your turret. The crew's voices are very well done too, with accents and foreign phrases. Panzer Command has the best sound suite of any WWII tanksim we've heard.

panz_com11.jpg (89587 bytes)        The graphics don't take a back seat, either. The tanks are rendered pretty well with a lot of detail. As they move, the treads and roadwheels bounce on the suspension--the rougher the terrain, the slower and rockier the ride--leaving tread marks behind. Enemy tanks and fortifications will appear quite a ways off in the distance, so identification becomes an issue. Buildings and airplanes are acceptable.  The landscape is usually rolling hills, flat steppes, or moderate river beds. Where's the infantry, you may wonder? Hunkered down in the sandbags. Individual soldiers are not visible in this sim. PC is mainly tank vs tank. Grunts need not apply.

        Smoke and explosion effects are more than passable. The shell explosions will send a shower of crisp, yellow fragments arcing down. The smoke from blasted tanks rises and twirls on the wind. But wait till you get that ace shot--the enemy tank's turret heaves and launches though the air.

          Panzer Commander does a good job with the physics modeling. The tanks behave very naturally. If you approach a hill, your speed diminishes accordingly. Cut the throttle and your tank will slow, stop, and then begin to ease back down the hill. You can crash over the smaller trees and weaker houses. 

panz_com5.jpg (77098 bytes)        The forests are the Achilles' heel in Panzer Commander. They appear as big squares with green or snowy green trees flatly rendered. I suppose the dev team decided to save the CPU power for the accuracy of the AI, shot trajectories, and other more important aspects of the sim. Rightly so. What good would a sim be if the trees look great but the tank combat fell flat? That's not to say Panzer Commander doesn't have its problems in the AI department too. Occasionally you can drive right up to an enemy tank and plug away without effect. This glitch appears to be related to the armor and ballistics modeling. Even so, as a serious tank sim commander, I can allow for lapses of reality. Hey--it's a computer program, remember? No way it can be perfect. Maybe by 2013.... Nevertheless, Panzer Commander doesn't disappoint!

panz_com8.jpg (77172 bytes)        The player's manual is extensive and a bargain in itself, covering many aspects of the war and the game and how the two relate. In addition, a vehicle preview is included in the game. Once you begin reading this material, your education is bound to improve. And that's just another example of the professional finish Ultimation gave Panzer Commander.

            There are tons of options and gameplay choices that will add complexity or simplify Panzer Commander to enjoyment of the grognard and casual tanker alike. The gameplay is compelling and engaging.  If you ever wanted to hear heavy tank treads from Berlin to Smolensk, Panzer Commander will put you in the commander's seat. Panzer Commander is a hull-down winner.


 

Rating:  84

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Music
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play
15/20 10/10 7/10 8/10 16/20 9/10 13/15 4/5
BONUS: +2: Gameplay manual


 

System Requirements: Pentium 200, Windows 95/98, 32MB RAM, 130MB hard-drive space, 4x CD-ROM, 4 MB 3D SVGA graphics card, 16-bit DirectX-compatible sound card

panz_com9.jpg (140158 bytes)

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