by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
The turn-based WW2 cliché?
Turn-based strategy and World War II seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly, or macaroni and cheese. There’s just something about tanks, planes and massive numbers of ground troops that lend themselves well to grid warfare. Unfortunately this perfect pairing also means that these games have become a bit cliché, with it being difficult for titles to stand out as original or worthwhile above the many others. Judging the Beta version of BitComposer Games’ Panzer Tactics HD - a graphically improved version of the 2007 Nintendo DS game Panzer Tactics DS - to fall somewhere in the middle.
Familiar gameplay, complex thinking
You control an army of units, move them around a hexagonal map one turn at a time, capture strategic points and engage enemy units to complete your objective. Of course it’s not a checkers match, and a satisfying number of supplementary factors affect the tide of battle. Each unit type has certain advantages and disadvantages against other units like a large-scale game of rock paper scissors, the terrain and weather change things, units must be fueled and supplied, etc. The game is already balanced quite well, which is hugely important, hitting a great balance of complexity where I was kept busy and thinking without driving me mad under a tidal wave of tedium. It’s definitely not a game you can just pop into for a few minutes here or there to satisfy your gaming itch. Missions require dedication and a solid train of thought. It is slow moving, but in a good way. Panzer Tactics HD is plotting, methodical, and takes a lot of time to really immerse yourself in.
Anyone not already intimately familiar with turned based strategy games, and perhaps even those who are, will be met with quite a steep learning curve. It takes a few games to get the hang of how things flow, how best to use the different unit types, where your priorities should lie and more. It’s a good thing, though, as it means that there is depth. The tutorial is actually very effective at hitting the right balance of hand-holding, but nothing beats the “through the gauntlet” approach of jumping into a mission and learning through the metaphorical (and literal) fire and flames. As should be the case with any military strategy game worth its weight in bullets, there is a plethora of viable paths to victory in any given mission and campaign. While mission objectives funnel your focus towards a specific end goal, and there is often at least a perceived best way to do it, your unit choices and investments allow the game to reward your sharp thinking and creativity.
Speaking of objectives, at the beginning of each mission you'll get both primary and secondary goals which usually amount to capturing a certain area or defeating a certain target within a certain time, though more diverse objectives do pop up. Choosing which units you’d like to purchase and send into battle plays a huge role in how the whole confrontation will play out. The units that you buy are core units. Think of them as your VIPs or heavy hitters. These units stick with you for multiple missions, gain experience, can be upgraded, and, if too many of them are taken out, can result in you failing the mission. You’re also given more expendable units before each battle that don’t carry over or rank up like your purchased units. While not as strong as their more expensive counterparts, they’re still an invaluable resource for leading assaults, taking risks and minimizing damage elsewhere. Officers also come into play eventually and increase the effectiveness of the units in their area. Playing smart and keeping these units in the best shape possible (or sacrificing them when appropriate) goes a long way to giving you advantageous momentum in your army strength.
Nothing new, but well done!
All of the gameplay in the world wouldn’t mean much if the amount of content in the game was lacking, but even in Beta stage that isn’t a problem here. Panzer Tactics HD consists of three distinct campaigns, the Germans, Russians and Western Allies, which, when taken all together, span all of World War II. Each campaign contains 10 missions lasting from 20 minutes to well over an hour, delivering a nice variety of land, air and sea battles spanning all different environments. Speaking of which, the game’s units and environments look nice. They won’t blow anyone away, but they do a serviceable job and are varied enough that I didn’t get bored with what I was looking at.
Panzer Tactics HD looks to be a fun game. It is deep in terms of both content and strategic possibilities, and feels well balanced and put together. Its three campaigns provide enough variety to keep players engaged even if there is some feeling of “been there, done that,” at least in part. Luckily, its overall lack of ingenuity is easy to overlook when it does what it does so well.