Panzer Command Kharkov – PC Game Review
Panzer Command Kharkov. Matrix Games and Koios Works. $49.95.
Passed Inspection: Great WWII armor action. Limitless replay value. Very friendly to modders.
Failed Basic: Anemic artillery, repetitive sound, and sometimes bizarre pathfinding.
The biggest difference comes from its emphasis on platoon-level command, rather than focusing on control of individual units.
World War Two armored combat on the Russian steppes has always been a favorite genre among wargamers. Deadly Panthers stalking nimble T-34/85s at long range. Lumbering Elephant tank destroyers taking unbelievable punishment without blinking. Panzer IIIs, with their pop guns, watching in horror as their best-aimed shots bounce off the front of an advancing KV-1. These are scenes that put us at the edge of our seats. Now, with Panzer Command Kharkov, Matrix Games and Koios Works have given us all of this and much more. As the second game in the Panzer Command series, Koios’ developers have apparently done a great deal of listening to their gaming audience, and PCK hits the target squarely with all guns. It gets the mix of game play, features and theme right, making the game a must-have for anyone with interest in WWII tactical combat.
At a high level, PCK covers familiar ground. The game portrays tactical infantry and armored combat on the Eastern Front, with the basic unit being a single vehicle or squad. A typical battle will have a company of tanks and a company of infantry on each side. The game features single set-piece battles but also has campaigns where the player’s core units advance through a series of linked engagements.
The game’s primary setting is the May 1942 Soviet Army offensive against the Germans near the Ukranian city of Kharkov. Most of set-piece scenarios are placed in this campaign, but the game is far from being stuck in 1942. With the included game editors, battles from any period on the Eastern Front are just clicks away.
The game map is full 3D, and game play is turn-based WEGO. Players plot orders and then the game engine resolves all movement and fire at once. The player is then shown a movie of the action that can be replayed from any vantage point. A scrolling log of major events also enhances the player’s situational awareness. Finally there is a "kill cam" that zooms in on units destroying, or being destroyed by the enemy. Since catastrophic hits blow the 3D models apart, the kill cam really helps the immersion factor. The movie replay is also a nice feature for those players who want to see all of the action from anywhere on the battlefield.
Combat is resolved shot by shot for AFVs, while infantry fire is aggregated into volleys. The player can order his platoons to attack with a specific ammunition type like APCR or HE, or leave the choice to the computer commanders. Line of sight can be obstructed by terrain or structures, as well as smoke rounds and grenades. When hits are scored, cover such as buildings or trenches can reduced the effect. The accuracy and penetration of rounds is realistically affected by range, armor hit location, and type of ammunition. Overall, even the hardened wargamer will find that combat in PCK is realistic and fun. When the bullets start to fly, it’s edge of your seat time.
So far, all of this sounds familiar to veteran computer gamers. But PCK plays and feels different than past games. The biggest difference comes from its emphasis on platoon-level command, rather than focusing on control of individual units. The player’s options for giving orders to platoon formations are rich but are very limited when it comes to tweaking the actions of individual tanks or squads. The bulk of the detail work is done by your virtual platoon leaders. Rather than clicking orders for each tank, as an example, the player can give a bound order to the platoon, and his robo-platoon leader will have half of the platoon perform overwatch while the other half bounds to the objective. The player does not worry about details. This system mostly works very well, with only an occasional stupid AI trick.
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