Rommel in the Jungle!
We got the chance to see and play Panzer Front last week, and judging by the Japanese code we were privy to, the game is shaping up to do some serious damage in the action-strategy genre. Puns and all. Arcade and simulation fans should both be right at home once they have adjusted themselves to the control system, which not only lets you handle each of the tank's tracks simultaneously, but independently of one another too. There's no left or right, just forward and back keys for each track. It's a bold move for the developer, but could well pay dividends with fans seeking a realistic interpretation of the inner workings of a tank. The game will plunge you into the heart of the battle, giving you control of several tanks which can be cycled through and given orders. Instead of using the classic portrayal of Good versus Evil, the game allows you to handle things for Allies, Axis and more, in modern conflicts as well as old. The lack of Nazi insignias and similar emblems is probably down to the game's prospective audience in Germany and neighbouring countries, who have an almost blanket ban on the subjects. German, American and Russian forces are available, and depending on the conflict you may be called upon to take up any of their positions. Panzer features more than 25 stages from various conflicts, with many based on real-life events, as well as 38 unique tanks from World War II right up to the present day. These are all authentically modelled on their real-life counterparts, with an impressive level of graphical detail for the ageing PlayStation, and realistic physics.
Graphically the game seems to stretch the PlayStation quite a way, and its large, sprawling battlefields are detailed right down to the individual trees and frames of shattered buildings. Most of the scenery can be damaged or destroyed, with trees and telegraph poles falling dramatically under the weight of your caterpillar tracks. Enemy tanks are all detailed to the same level as your battalion, and you can target each of them using various ordnance, including armour-piercing rounds, high explosive and more. Each of the various forms of ammunition has a different effect depending on the tank. Although exceedingly difficult for the inexperienced, the game will offer a sensible selection of difficulty options to make it more approachable. On the higher skill settings though, if you don't get the first shot off against an enemy tank, you will be mincemeat, just as you would be in the case of a real war. Manoeuvring your tanks around together to make sure no single unit is victimized is a subtle art, and important if you want to succeed. In some missions, the type of tank that you allocate to a certain task is crucial to success, where clearing a rat's nest or holding a strategic position are your orders. For instance, tanks that are going to be under heavy fire should be equipped to attack from long distances any threatening enemies, and remain rooted to the spot, whereas missions that involve raids should rely on quick and nimble tanks with plenty of close-range firepower. As you can probably tell from this writer's enthusiasm for the task, it's engrossing work!
The complexity and exhaustive detail of Panzer Front was obvious despite the short amount of time we got to spend with the game. Everything looks and sounds like a real war, and planning is just as important as execution. Although perhaps limited in its effectiveness by the ailing PlayStation architecture, Panzer Front should blossom into an excellent war game for thrill-seekers and purists alike.