Into the trenches
Even an ‘armchair general’ will want to feel like his decisions on the battlefield are making a difference to his men. It takes a while for Tank Operations to get to that point. During my first playthrough of the opening mission I felt like I was simply going through the motions, never really reaching that point where I felt that what I did was turning the battle in my favor. It wasn’t until I started to experiment with the special abilities of my units and stopped relying on tanks so much that the game sprung to life for me.
I started paying more attention to unit stacks, realized that my dive bombers’ special skill would (rather magically) reload after a couple of turns, and kept my artillery in the field a lot longer when I saw what a difference it made to trigger the camouflage action. Suddenly I did not feel limited at all, the battlefield changed dramatically and with every town I took I felt the momentum pick up. Even when the weight shifted towards the Axis again I did not feel that all hope was lost, I simply redoubled my efforts and came out on top.
Not all glory…
The missions that followed proved to be equally challenging, if not more. New units were added on both sides and forced me to tweak my strategies. The sensation that my actions made a difference remained throughout my playtime, considerably changing how I felt about the game. Yet my newfound euphoria in the game did not hide Tank Operations’ weak points.
The maps, for example, are a little uninspiring to look at and animations are pretty much non-existent with only the occasional explosion and barrel flare to distract you from otherwise static units. Ships have apparently been bolted onto the map and refuse to move, and the engine starts suffers from lag and unresponsiveness as you spend more time within the game.
Most puzzlingly, positioning barely plays any role at all: attacking an enemy unit from behind or from its flanks makes no difference to attacking it head on. Similarly, one would think a stack of tanks would simply steamroll over a flak cannon as it has no discernible defenses against a heavily armored unit. No such luck. And air fighters that do not have a bomb ready to drop will not be able to engage ground units, ever.
… but victory nonetheless
Tank Operations: European Campaign turned out to be a little difficult to get into, but once you ‘get it’, it gets you. It’s not fancy and it isn’t breaking any new grounds either, but it knows that and isn’t ashamed of it. All it needs to do is offer turn-by-turn strategic decisions that matter, and it does that very well indeed.
Challenging missions, decisions that matter.
Tough to get into, no bonus for flanking or attacking from behind.