the short history of computer tank simulations we've had basically two
types: WWII and modern era tanksims. Lately we haven't had any new serious sims
to speak of, which makes T-72: Balkans of Fire! (published
by Battlefront, Developer: IDDK/Crazy House) a double blessing. It's strives
to be a simulation and it heralds a new front: Eastern Europe.
T-72 takes place during the Yugoslavian civil wars
from 1991 to 1995.You, the player, are a Russian volunteer tank
commander, supplied with Russian built tanks; the T-34/85,T-55A and the
T-72B.Your opponents include the M50 "Super Sherman", Leopard 1A4,
SU-100 assault gun, other T-55s and Russian armor, the BRDM-2 APC, and just for fun, the Mi-8
assault Helicopter. During game play I had to navigate and fight in
forests, river crossings, hills and valleys plus urban areas. The game campaign
consists of 18 linked missions and 5 single missions. the two
training missions are detailed and informative with text instructions
that tell you what to do and which keys do it. Since this review is coming well
after the game has been released (and doing well, I might add), I would like to
point out the excellent support Battlefront has given this game. At the time of
this review there is a significant patch and two mission packs which add 21
missions and two new desert maps. The game supports cooperative and competitive
LAN battles but no Internet action, nor a dynamic mission generator but
it does have a nifty mission editor.
can play as the driver, gunner or commander. The AI crew handles
whatever station you are not managing. In any role you can pass on orders and
instructions to the other two AI crew. For example, as the gunner you can tell
the driver to go to a waypoint, instruct the commander to scan for targets. If
he finds one, he will tell you. You can order the driver to stop and face the
target or find a hull-down position. There are times when switching between
stations can be disruptive--the AI driver always takes his foot off the throttle
when I switch from driver to gunner, requiring a quick jab at the "5" key to get
him going again. The easiest strategy is to play one role and stick to it
through most of the mission.
T-72 has about as many config and realism options
as I've ever seen in any sim. There are numerous settings within the game and an
external game config application to tweak realism, physics, sounds and character
speech, textures, barrel wear, cheats, and more. One problem I had with the
joystick, I was unable to get the "invert joystick" to work, so pushing the
stick forward raised the gun barrel, and pulling the stick, lowered it. I prefer
to tank with a stick but I put it away and used the default keys, which
do the trick.
keys are worth noting. Switching to the map by pressing F11, this is a toggle
action. Pressing another station of view key does nothing, you have to press F11
again to toggle the map off. Switching to external views is pretty similar; you
have to press F9 again to get out of the external view. It's a learned behavior.
The career campaign consists of 18 scripted
missions with one or more objectives. You begin your career in an old T-34
abandoned by the Croat army, working your way up to the T-72. Some missions are challenging and some are just
plain tough. The enemy always starts in the same places but tanks and infantry
that are not dug in will patrol and roam freely, causing a surprise or two when
you are replaying a mission for the third time thinking you know where everyone
will be. AI behavior is competent, their gunnery is worthy of Guderian. They
won't hit you with every first shot but give them a clear target and you won't
have much time to answer. Enemy armor presents a constant threat but
they are not infallible. You have to make the right moves and act fast but once
you get familiar with the interface and your tank's capabilities you can fight
your way through a mission in a few attempts. There are missions where you have
additional forces under your command but they're not much help. I found them
useful as decoys. Controlling them is done from the map station and the design
is a little flaky--it often
took several tries to get them to move and fight.
Starting a mission mirrors real life nicely. You
are given an objective, you start the tank engine, apply throttle, release the
mountain brake, and shift into first gear. The tanks have five or more gears and
their use is determined by the terrain. On paved roads, the tank will take the
highway gear and rumble along at speed. Beware, if you try to turn to quickly at
high speed, especially on pavement, you will probably throw a track and have
your Russian tank commander (TC) swearing at
you. He does that a lot.
Crossing fields and rough terrain requires a
lower gear, making you accept a lower speed.
Drive too fast and the TC will tell you to
slow down. When you have to cross streams and fords you will gear down to
first and keep the engine revved up or stall the tank. Having so much driving
activity is stimulating and the engine physics are really good. Every turn you
make drops the rpms. Going uphill will bog the engine, forcing you to shift
down. This is a tank that you actually get to drive, not just control. The T-72
battlefield is littered with anti-tank obstacles like barbed wire roll, dragon's
teeth, hedgehogs, ditches, and minefields. Run into one and you will damage or
disable your tank.
The AI driver will drive to waypoints
(they are not shown on the map) but you will still need to give him a hand and
make sure he doesn't smack a barn or obstacle. His behavior is little dodgy. The
AI driver will start/stop/turn/start and repeat, not really making much headway
at times, as if he's following some invisible programmed track. Other times his
performance is fine but you can't ever trust him completely.
Of course, if driving was the only feature it
would make the game pretty dull. Once you decide to play the role of gunner or
TC, you let the AI driver take over and you give him basic commands such as "Go
left", "Go right", "Stop", "Find a hull down position", "Face the enemy", etc.
This allows you to scan for enemies and work the main gun. I preferred to give
instructions from the TC's seat. You can ride along unbuttoned with a wide range
of view. When combat begins, you can drop to the TC's view and use the Dual mode
to control the gun. Or you can switch to the gunner and work the 125 mm
There are several types of ammo to choose from:
armor-piercing, hollow charge, fragmentation, and guided missile. Your fighting
prowess is greatly enhanced by selecting the proper round for the job. The fire
control enables the laser range finder and the process of getting the tank facing
the target, getting the range and the shot off is exhilarating. Once you fire,
you don't want to spend a lot of time watching the results; manually load the
next round and you may choose to maneuver while it's loading.
Most building and objects are destructible.
Trees in forests can be knocked down but recklessly
ramming trees can tear up your tank and have your Russian crew swearing at you.
a thrill to fire at a Sprut and see the trees next to him fall. The game has a
visual cue system that puts a small square and label around visible enemies,
replicating a sharp-eyed commander. He will call out targets as he sees them,
even when you are in the TC's role. It's absolutely vital in this game--so much
is going on, managing three stations at once can get you killed. The enemy AI
is very clever and will use pits, buildings, and trees for cover. There were times I spotted a camouflaged
tank hidden in a grove of lime trees or peeking out from behind a building before
the TC called him out.
infantry can be hazardous to your survival, especially the RPG soldiers. The
rest of the ground troops pose little threat to your armored monster. They're
not very mobile, nothing like the Battlefield 1942 bots, but they are
serviceable as machine gun targets.
Since this is a combat sim, stuff is bound to
get broken. T-72 features an extensive and realistic damage modeling set. A
small damage indicator informs you what quarter your taking fire from and where
your tanking is damaged. According to the 70-page manual, the tanks have their
armor thickness incorporated in the program along with numerous systems and
parts that can be damaged or knocked out. Any system that is disabled will not
be available for the player. I've seen the engine knocked out, treads shot off,
coolant discharged, the gunner's lens cracked over. This really angers the AI
tank commander--nobody says
"Bastards!" like a Russian. When the SUO targeting system is
damaged, you have to aim manually. When a member of the tank crew is killed, his
station is no longer available (and the rest of the crew usually scrambles out
and tries to crawl away). Several times I took a viscous hit and my tank
developed a wicked shimmy, making it pretty hard to get going fast in a straight
line. When a tread comes off it typically is repaired after an interval. That's
great except usually whatever shot the tread off is still after you and you're
immobilized. It can get ugly out there.
Night missions give you a chance to use the
Russian night vision gear. This is one area the game could use some
improvements. Balkans on Fire's night is not very dark, more like a hazy dawn. I
found it strange that the grass and low-lying foliage would disappear in the
green low light mode. Night vision does not stay active when switching views
which is pretty frustrating. The game should have a single night vision switch
that stays constant for all stations.
Graphics are a strong point in this sim.
The terrain is varied; hilly mountainous regions strewn with rock gorges and
rolling open spaces, rolling plains, and moderately dense forests. Unlike Steel
Beasts simple two types of buildings (barn and barn with a door), T-72: BOF
displays a wide assortment of buildings, houses, storage tanks, towers, and even
a cemetery. From the driver's position you can see individual flowers and
grass sway with the breeze. The weather is represented in good detail, complete
with rain drops on the vision blocks. Another area that
shines is the postgame report. You can fly the camera to all the major
combatants and the destroyed vehicles have little indicators to show the point
of impact. All shots and misses, enemies damaged and destroyed are tallied in a
statistic page. These two strong features contrast the rather weak sound suite.
For the most part, the sounds are adequate but underwhelming. Getting hit by a
tank round should ring your bell.
Since the last serious tanksim you played is
likely over three years old, you'd be crazy to pass up T-72. Overall the game feels a little rough around
the edges but Tanksim.com isn't afraid of rough edges. T-72: Balkans on
Fire delivers what we like: engaging gameplay, varied missions, attention to
detail, and combat realism. Sign us up.