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[personal profile] sirandrew
So, the long drought has ended.  Yesterday marked the release in the US market of the first World War 2 armored simulation since Panzer Elite in 1999, the Eastern Front sim "T-34 vs. Tiger".   I managed to get my hands on a copy.

First, it's not Panzer Elite, but then again, nothing is or ever was.  There has honestly been very few decent armored simulations of WW2 ever done despite a lot of attempts.  Sadly every time I have tried one of these simulations, I started with incredibly high hopes and ended up dissapointed.  Even Panzer Elite, the holy grail of WW2 armored sims managed to slip my grasp.  I gave up on the game early after it was released in a buggy, nearly unplayable state with a pathetic manual and a design company that went out of buisness within a month of the game hitting the shelf.  I never knew that the game then had its source code released and a dedicated group of modders, in league with the game's unemployed designers who were forced to release the game too early, put the game into a playable state and then turned it into the defenitive armor simulation of WW2.  If I had just stuck with it, the only complaint I probably would've had would be the concentration on the Western Front in 44-45, a theatre that while had a lot of armored action, was pretty one sided.  Fighting in a German tank that is sure to be overwhelmed and destroyed is a pretty dull experience.  Playing an American/British tanker that hopes against hope he's not one of the 12 tanks that is destroyed for every one German is also pretty ugly.

So, that brings us to T-34 vs. Tiger, which so far has been a pretty good sim.  The engine is nice, graphics are pleasant and the controls of the tank are incredibly easy to master.  You can pretty much run a mission in one station, letting the tank automate all other functions and respond to simple commands.  Taking over any one station is a blast and the realism abounds from realistic armor penetration to tempermental 1940's era engines.  The two tanks modeled are also very accurate to everything I know about their performance.  The T-34 is a nimble machine of rapid war.  Its engine and suspension will push the tank to the limit and compared to other tanks of the time, it can turn on a dime.  It's armor and gun are decent and were able to take some good punishment from Panzer IV's at long range.  Much like the real T-34 though, visibility sucks and the commander (like any good tank commander) spends his time unbuttoned. 

I also love how the game designers actually were honest with the Tiger, making it a real lumbering beast, armed and armored beyond all sanity with an engine that was never designed for its bulk.  I amused myself chasing a little infantryman around, trying to run him over.  He never really had to get above a light jog to escape me, and my engine kept choking out as I was trying to shift the well modeled manual transmition into the obscenely high 6th, 7th and even 8th gear to attempt to get the beast above a crawl.

Sadly, this game suffers from something I like to call "Perfect Engine Syndrome".  I came up with this phrase back when Mechwarrior 3 was released.  Mech 3 had the best engine of any of the Mechwarrior games.  A Battlemech was never better modled, in my mind, than it was then.  Sadly, there was no game beyond that.  The campaign was short and boring, and there was never much else ever released after the inital appearance of the game.  It was like the designers spent all their time making a great engine, and forgot to give you a game to actually play along with it.  T-34 vs Tiger has this problem in spades.  There is no tutorial, no training, nothing.  You jump right in and you play SIX canned missions for each vehicle.  Done.  Seriously.  Back in 1988 with my first tank sim, Microprose's legendary M1 Tank Platoon, that was plenty to keep me happy.  We were just happy a game existed and seven missions over and over again was acceptable. In 2008 twelve missions are inexcusable, even with an online component (which doesn't work at the moment).  I'm a firm believer that no sim should ever be released without a dynamic campaign on the drawing board from day one.   If games in 1992 could have long, dynamic, generated campaigns with crew qualities, promotions, medals and all the nice little touches to immerse you in the game, then every game today should have the same.  This, more than anything makes this game a bitter failure, one that will entertain only for the few hours I take playing through the missions and then leave it gathering dust till modders use the included editors to beef things up. 

Strangely enough though, all hope is not lost.  When I say the armor drought is over, I mean it's REALLY over.  In just a week another WW2 tank sim based on the eastern front will be released in the US, Steel Fury Kharkov 1942.  I hear this one is really the better of the two, and it has had a massive following form in its year of release in Russia.  Already those little cossacks have pumped out mods for North Africa and for commanding dozens of vehicles, even Hanomags and light PanzerJagers I's.  Suppsoedly there's also about 30 missions included not counting user add ons.  Still no dynamic campaign, but, oh well.  

For the Rodina!


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April 2009

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