Thankfully there are life-saving features in the game for those of us that are less than tactical geniuses, and I myself used one of them on many an occasion. If the space bar is pressed, the action halts immediately (even the rain pauses mid air) and orders can be issued without the stress of attending to three fire-fights at once. This feature is identical in effect to the pause ability in role-playing games such as Baldur’s Gate, which is ironic since your units do gain ‘XP’. Yes, you read that right, your units are every bit as able to learn as you are, and reflect this new knowledge with increased firepower, range, survivability and if nothing else, a few white stars in their status panel. The incentive to keep your units alive has never been so high.
Of course, this would all be useless without a nice rendering engine to display all the detail, and Panzers does not disappoint. This game has possibly the nicest graphics I have ever seen in an RTS, not just because the textures and models are intricately detailed, but because the animation and sheer ‘wow’ factor is so high. Artillery bombardments explode convincingly, showering dust and debris over a wide area; tanks explode distributing their charred remains over the battlefield; trees and buildings collapse under shelling and your tank units as they plough through the wood. Even the re-arming and repairing animations are amusingly simple, and that’s pretty much the idea of Panzers – it’s a game that looks complicated and is no doubt difficult to master, but because of a solid control system and the sheer simplicity of commanding the units in your army you can be up and conquering in a matter of minutes. Panzers feels like a well designed and well implemented game, and I genuinely enjoyed moving about and controlling my troops. Usually strategy games that have a lot of content suffer in the accessibility area, but I never experienced this.
Unfortunately not everything is perfect. A perfect RTS is yet to be seen and Panzers is no exception. Moving a large number of units can get a little cumbersome and even though the eventual destination may be highlighted on the ground, the units may go via half the map to get there. Pathfinding, it seems, is in need of a little work. Finding units among the scenery is also rather tricky, and if it were not for the Next Unit key, it would be nigh-on impossible to pinpoint infantry among trees. You cannot re-assign controls to your desired keys either, but considering there are two key mappings available, one or the other should suffice for 95 per cent of players.
Lastly, despite all the nice new features and lovely graphics, the game does not bring enough new features to the genre. Fundamentally, it is another RTS game that plays like any other. The only thing that separates this from all the others is that it’s exceptionally well designed for the beginner and the expert at once.
All in all, Codename Panzers: Phase One is a very impressive strategy game. You have all the standard features of an RTS game and a little more. The multiplayer options are more expansive, with co-operative play through the campaigns and objective-based death match games. The unit selection is excellent, with attention to detail I’ve only ever seen in Sudden Strike. The graphics and animation are satisfying to watch, and make you feel like the game has had a lot of attention poured into it. The feel of Panzers is one of tactical thought and rapid decision making, and while it may not be too different from past World War II strategy games, it is certainly in my top three.
Games arriving now need innovation to survive, and Panzers provides just that. Stormregion and CDV have combined to deliver an enjoyable, if slightly familiar gaming experience that any strategy buff would be mad to miss out on.
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