It’s Your Turn for War
War games and turn-based strategy tend to go hand-in-hand. There’s also something peculiarly alluring about being able to engage in a full-scale war in the palm of your hand. Whether you’re sitting on the couch, chugging a cup of Joe in a local coffee shop or traveling on the road, Panzer Tactics DS lets you play out some seriously intense military encounters in one of history’s greatest military conflicts on the fly. It may not be the cream of the crop in terms of turn-based strategy on the DS, but this World War II title is bound to occupy many, many hours of your time.
Players who delight in the careful planning of every move, meticulous management of army resources, and slow and steady progress across will easily thrive on Panzer Tactic’s numerous battlefields. It’s not a game you can easily jump right into, however, and some patience is required to get up to speed with the art of war. The learning curve is a steep one, and all the moving parts take some time to get accustomed to. The built-in tutorial does a decent job of explaining how things work, but even turn-based strategy game veterans will likely have to play a few campaign missions before you begin to feel fully comfortable. Once you’ve been broken-in, the deep level of strategy and versatility required on the battlefield is quite refreshing.
The game can be controlled by using the stylus or the d-pad and buttons to select and move units. The button controls feel pretty slow and awkward, so the stylus is far more preferable. In the end, you’ll probably find the best control method involves using the d-pad to move the view around the map screen and using the stylus to handle every other major action.
Like many other turn-based strategy games, the basic gameplay in Panzer Tactics is pretty straight-forward. You’ll take turns moving your military units around a hexagon map grid while laying waste to foes and capturing enemy villages as you strive to complete objectives and turn the tide of battle in your favor. When your units go toe-to-toe with enemy forces, they’ll give and receive damage. The general idea is to whittle down your opponent’s army one unit and base at a time while keeping yours intact throughout the course of the mission. Of course, this concept gets increasingly more complex as new units, mechanics, and strategy elements come into play. Weather conditions, ammunition, and fuel for individual units, terrain bonuses, unit types, and proximity all factor into how successful your efforts will be.
In single-player mode, you’ll have the choice to play through three distinctly different historical WWII campaigns each with 10 missions which cover a mixture of land, sea, and air battles. Played back-to-back, the three campaigns span the entire Second World War. The objectives in each campaign increases in scope as you progress. Players will take control of the Germans, the Russians or the Western Allies, and the three unique campaigns play at easy, medium, and hard difficulty settings respectively. At the start of a mission you’ll receive your orders as well as primary and secondary mission objectives for the current battle map. These typically involve destroying specific enemy units or capturing enemy bases within a set timeframe, although assassination and espionage come into play later in the game. From there, players are given an opportunity to purchase a few units and deploy their army on the battlefield. Any units you buy are considered core units, and losing too many of your core units will often cost you a mission. They benefit of these units is they can be upgraded over time, gain cumulative combat experience, and are re-deployable throughout the entire campaign as long as they are not destroyed. Also, during each mission you’ll receive a set number of expendable units which do not carry forward to the subsequent missions. You won’t be penalized if you lose these units, so they are helpful as a front line attack to soften enemies before you roll in with the big guns.
Fame is the currency in Panzer Tactics, and it’s earned by capturing enemy towns and fortifications. You’ll be able to recruit and deploy new units as your fame increases. Completing special objectives also earns you a fame bonus to spend on beefing up your army. As you dig deeper into the different campaigns, you’ll encounter new upgraded units to add your forces. There’s a wide assortment of WWII infantry, tanks, planes, and ships to choose from. Eventually, you’ll also be able to assign special officers to your ranks which will increase the firepower of their assigned unit and boost other friendly units in the nearby vicinity.
The game’s strong graphical presentation does a great job of conveying a complete WWII vibe through-and-through. While that may sound like a no-brainer for any WWII title, Panzer Tactics’ developers clearly went the extra mile to ensure the style is consistent across the board and pervasive in every area of the game. From the visually detailed data menus and map screens right down to animated combat screens and character portraits, the military polish and little extra details are a nice touch. The top screens pack in a ton of information about units and terrain as well. That said, the actual gameplay visuals never really go above and beyond the call of duty. The battlefield terrain looks good, and there are some neat effects like moving cloud formations, but the hexagon grid system leaves much to be desired. Turning the grid off makes the map a little prettier, yet it’s sort of necessary to properly gauge distances when deploying units. On the other hand, if you’ve ever played any tabletop war strategy games the grid may be a welcome source of nostalgia.
The unit sprites are quite small on the battlefield, and it can be hard at times to tell similar unit types apart from one another without double checking the stat info. Unfortunately, they’re not particularly animated on the map until you actually attack or are assaulted by the enemy. The battle animations are interesting; tanks thunder forward, opposing lines of soldiers pick each other off with small arms fire, bombers unleash their payload as they sweep across the screen, and battleships rain concussive death from afar. Still, these sequences are short, and many players may just skip them altogether to get on with the war.
With 30 lengthy missions, which can each take anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours to complete, the single-player experience in Panzer Tactics is extremely thorough and long-lasting. The multi-player function extends this by offering several different ways to play against human opponents. Hot Seat is always a welcome addition to turn-based strategy titles since it allows you to pass a single DS back and forth with a friend to massacre one another seamlessly. The only snag in this instance is it may take some time for your human adversary to learn the ropes before offering a challenge worthy of your skills. Local multi-card play is also a good way to go as you can simply set the match parameters and have your opponent choose to join. Online play is a bit trickier as it requires you to wait until another player comes along with the exact same settings, although you can choose to play random battles with greater ease.
Panzer Tactics offer a great turn-based military combat alternative to the popular Advance Wars series. It’s light years from having Dual Strike beat, but some players will surely appreciate – and perhaps even prefer – the more serious tone and realism of the historical battles in Panzer Tactics. Get past the tutorials and survive the first stretch of the game, and you’ll soon learn how deep and enthralling handheld war can be. Just don’t forget to come up for air.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Strong WWII presentation, good animations, and interesting terrain features. 3.5 Control
A mixture of stylus and d-pad controls are just right. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Explosion, machinery, and combat sound effects are great. The music is appropriate, but repetitive. 4.2
This game will suck away a large amount of hours once you can firmly grasp of all the minutia it has to offer. Extensive single-player campaigns and decent multi-player features to boot.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.