Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 is the latest WW2-based game from Paradox Interactive.
True to form, it is a detailed, complex and historically accurate simulation: setting out to recreate the strategy, tactics and heart-pounding fear of a month-long conflict between the German and Soviet armies on the Eastern Front. Set in the snowy fields, towns and forests of the Ukraine, the two forces clashed in intense battles; each claiming small victories against the other through deployment of infantry and armoured divisions.
Achtung Panzer successfully recreates this struggle by transporting the player back to the frozen setting in a tightly-paced and exciting recreation of cat-and-mouse WWII warfare.
As you begin the game, you are presented with the a choice of six scenarios from which to play, each at a different stage of the conflict. Two allow you to play as the German forces, whilst the remaining four see you in charge of the Red Army. A custom battle editor allows you to create more scenarios should you wish to do so. Each scenario consists of a set number of turns – after these end, the side with the most victory points (determined by control of key positions) is declared the winner.
The game is split into two distinct phases; these will appeal to military strategists and quick-thinking tacticians alike. The first – the operational planning mode – is close in style and mechanic to a complex military boardgame. Here, the terrain is split into a grid, with occupied squares counting towards victory points. You have your squads and units at your disposal and must carefully plan their movements, taking terrain, enemy position and the status of your individual units into account.
From this screen you can also repair and reinforce units, view detailed information about their health and morale, and manouver your troops to cause the second – and most intense – phase to commence.
By attacking an enemy squad or having one move onto a square you already occupy, the gameplay switches into tactical combat mode,Â a full 3D depiction of the historically accurate battlefield. You can swoop the camera in close to view individual units; or take a zoomed-out view of the area to assess your position and tactics. An overall battle map is also available to allow you to survey the full scope of the battlefield.
After an initial deployment phase, where you place your units in what you hope to be the best tactical positions, the game enters a real-time phase, where you are in direct control of your army. Different units have different capabilities and skills: you can choose to dig in an infantry unit, arranging them to provide cover for armoured units; or meticulously maneuver them to attempt to take the enemy by surprise.
The tactical phase (which lasts up to 60 minutes depending on settings) cycles through day and night conditions, which you can use to your advantage. Night, although impacting visibility, can be used to attempt ambushes on unsuspecting enemy forces; during daylight hours, you can see further but are also more exposed. Fully destructible terrain allows for other tactical choices: bridges can be blown to hamper possible paths of retreat; forests cleared to remove cover; etc. The game requires a carefully-balanced mix of planning and quick reactions in order to succeed.
A number of overlays and views can be superimposed on the battlefield, showing unit range of sight; facing and movement direction; and coverage of fire. Different movement orders and tactics can be issued – for instance, you may order an infantry unit to only move along roads in an effort to avoid them becoming exhausted; or instruct tanks to provide a powerful and intimidating front line to your attack, with infantry and artillery following in the rear.
Conflict is played out in real-time too; you can issue orders based on your second-by-second assessment of the situation, moving troops to cover or commanding them to advance on their foes. If this does prove too hectic at times and you find yourself needing to reflect upon your tactics (or take a break!) you can pause the action at any time and reflect upon your plans at a more leisurely pace.
Information on each unit and its status is viewable at any time – and an individual unit’s physical condition, morale and experience can be important factors in determining if the battle will go in your favour. Additionally, some units have special air & artillery abilities, allowing them to issue orders to drop flares (particularly useful to illuminate surroundings at night), call in air support, or instruct off-field artillery to bombard a position.
In short, the tactical phase is as detailed a simulation of squad-based warfare as you are likely to play. A victory is unlikely to be achieved by good luck – instead, you must constantly plan, assess, retreat, regroup and reconsider in an attempt to emerge victorious. A successful sortie during the tactical phase (won by domination of control points, or a complete rout of the enemy) sees control pass back to the operational phase, giving you a chance to push closer towards ultimate victory.
Graphically, Achtung Panzer is an impressive title. The operational mode maps are accurate and detailed, and will appeal to those who have a fascination with the history of the period. In the tactical combat mode, the 3D battlefield and detail of individual units is excellently portrayed, and the smooth graphics engine allows you to focus your attention on an area quickly and effectively, and with a suitable level of detail to allow you to make your next move.
During the intense firefights, witnessing the likes of flame-engulfed tank crews jumping from their stricken vehicles only to be mown down by superior forces hammers home both the detail of the graphics engine and the desperation of the conflict itself. Achtung Panzer hits hard, and you’ll find no Hollywood-style glamourisation of war that you may be exposed to in other, less accurate titles.
From a playability perspective, although complex and deep, the experience is solid and engaging. AI adapts to your every move, meaning no two plays through the same scenario are likely to end in the same result. Due to the realistic depiction of combat, you will find yourself attached to your named commanders and units before long, avoiding taking actions which may put experienced veterans of several tactical battles at risk. At times, you will content yourself with a inch-by-inch struggle for domination of control points; at others, you will find yourself mounting all-out assaults on entrenched foes, spurred on by a last-ditch attempt for all-out victory. In short, you can play through Achtung Panzer using an almost infinite number of styles of play – there is no magic formula for success.
It hardly needs to be said in this review, but the steep learning curve and micromanagement required to get the most out of Achtung Panzer will not be for everyone. Those expecting another Brothers In Arms or Battlefield experience are likely to be forced into retreat almost immediately. Similarly, the limited scope of the game’s setting could be seen as only appealing to a niche audience – no theatre of war-hopping missions here: you’re strictly limited to the wintry wastes of Kharkov itself.
However, for those willing to put in the time and who are not put off by the setting, Achtung Panzer will provide a deep and infinitely replayable simulation of fierce WWII combat, where every movement and decision sees the flow of battle change.
Add the screens of statistics and down-to-the-last-rivet detail of the graphics (best appreciated by the in-game encyclopedia, which allows you to view each unit at your leisure); the scenario editor which allows you to plot and plan your own conflicts; and an AI which pulls no punches, and you end up with a package which will delight hardcore armchair WWII generals everywhere.
This game was provided for review by GamersGate