World War II Re-do
Panzer Corps, the latest wargame from The Lordz Game Studio and Slitherine Games, has but one goal: to recreate the magic of the Panzer General series, which was popular in the 1990s. It succeeds in doing that, but many fans will wish the developers had aimed just a little bit higher.
Anyone can ape a classic game, but it takes a genius to truly update one. Panzer Corps is fun way to spend a few hours, but it’s hard to forget that all the best elements were stolen, and it’s even harder to justify the $40–50 price tag.
For the uninitiated: Panzer General was a tactical, turn-based strategy game for PCs that came out in 1994 and spawned numerous sequels. It put you in the jackboots of an Axis general during World War II—specifically, a German general in charge of a Panzer division. Your job was to fend off the Allied forces, and if you did well enough, you could turn the tide of history. It is a bit disturbing to put players in the position of helping the Axis powers win, but the emphasis was always on military strategy, not on Nazism. (And as far as I can tell from the Internet, the game was never very controversial outside of Germany itself.)
Panzer Corps is essentially a remake of Panzer General. The game offers a total of 26 different missions, arranged in a tree that you move through depending on your performance. For each battle, you win decisively, win by a narrow margin, or lose; the better you do, the more likely you are to win the war. If your wins and losses mirror real-life Germany’s, the war will unfold in a somewhat historical manner, including the invasion of Poland and D-day. But if not, anything can happen—you could find yourself conquering Moscow, or even invading the U.S.
The main campaign lasts from 1939 to 1945, but more experienced players can play special scenarios that start in 1941 or 1943, and try to turn the tide after the real-life Germany already suffered some setbacks. There are also multiple difficulty settings. As was the case with the original game, all of this gives Panzer Corps a tremendous amount of replayability.
This is a great game for newcomers to PC strategy titles, because it’s fairly simple without being dumbed-down. The control scheme is a huge relief to people who feel overwhelmed by the insanely complicated setups so many strategy games use these days. It’s nearly all point-and-click, with a simple, handy interface along the right-hand side that tells you what your options are. The fact that units aren’t stackable makes it even easier to keep track of what’s going on.
There are a total of 400 unit types and 19 classes, and different units have different weaknesses and strengths; infantry is incredibly effective at close range, artillery can attack from a distance, and so on. You’ll even be taking to the air and sea with planes and ships. But each battle is governed by the same basic principles: Use your recon vehicles to check things out, attack with an aggressive blitzkrieg strategy, heal and supply your units when they need it, and be mindful of each unit’s best and worst features. So, as hectic and complicated as any battle might get, there’s always a method to the madness that any gamer can grasp; all you have to do is locate the hexagonal tiles you need to win, and capture them without getting wiped out. There’s also a well-constructed tutorial mission for those of us who like to get a feel for new games before plunging in head-first.
Especially interesting is the almost RPG-like progression of your units through time. Whether you win or lose, your soldiers—the ones who survive, at least—get better. Later in the game, highly evolved units are a very valuable thing, and you have to go to great lengths to protect them. You can always buy new units by spending your prestige points, but there’s really no substitute for units that have improved their skills over the course of many battles.
The basic gameplay is almost perfectly polished. However, strategy games have moved on in a number of ways since the Panzer General series was at its peak, and Panzer Corps doesn’t make much of an effort to incorporate these new developments. The graphics are the most strikingly deficient aspect, with bland terrain and little in the way of detail. It’s a shame, because modernized visuals would have helped with the sense of immersion. Oddly, there’s a fire effect that’s somewhat realistic, which clashes with the background whenever you hammer an enemy unit, as if you held a lit match in front of a crayon drawing. Other aspects of the presentation aren’t so much dated as they are blasé: The music and sound effects are fine, but not outstanding, and the occasional voice acting leaves much to be desired.
Another bizarre throwback is the online multiplayer, which is play-by-e-mail, as if the last decade never happened. PBEM certainly has its advantages—you don’t have to be online at the same time as your opponent, for example. But it’s bizarre that you don’t even have the option to play a standard multiplayer game online, in real time, with each move taking place right after the previous one. The one saving grace is that if you have another strategy fan in the house, you can play local hotseat multiplayer.
Of course, the bottom-line question is, “Is it worth it?” At a price point of $20 or less, I would say go for it. It’s a lot more enjoyable than most of the games in that price range, and it’s a nice trip down memory lane. However, the download is priced at twice that, and the boxed version is $50, the same as big-budget strategy games like Total War: Shogun 2. I realize that the developer and publisher are small-time operations and don’t have the economies of scale that huge companies have, but $40–50 is definitely too much. Unless you’re a huge Panzer General fan who can’t wait to try out its spiritual successor, I’d wait until the price comes down.
That said, Panzer Corps manages to resurrect an old, nearly forgotten series, and it will give you hours of entertainment before it gets old. It is a testament to the original game that more than 15 years after its debut, the Panzer General formula is still a recipe for magic.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.1 Graphics
The visuals here look dated. 4.5 Control
This is a high point; Panzer Corps is easier to control than many strategy games, without being dumbed-down. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
They’re fine, but nothing too impressive. 4.0 Play Value
This is an incredibly fun game, but it’s mostly stolen from an earlier series, and it’s too expensive. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|