Panzerkrieg: Burning Horizon 2 – PC Game Review
Panzerkrieg: Burning Horizon 2
Dev: United Publishing. Pub: by Ascaron Entertainment. $19.99
Passed Inspection: Very playable, good unit abilities, challenging and fun scenarios.
Failed Basic: Dated graphics, too dependent on snipers for victory, AI needs updating.
For a game that is seemingly quite simple, Panzerkrieg is a game that will make sense to any experienced wargamer.
Ascaron Entertainment has repackaged and published three games of the old Blitzkrieg series as Panzerkrieg: Burning Horizons 2 (P:BH2). While it is great to see the classic World War II real time strategy (RTS) game on the shelves once again, the simple fact remains that P:BH2 is not a new game, and many of the features of the Blitzkrieg engine, such as overpowered snipers, poor AI and pathing issues are still evident in this re-release. However, the old fun and excitement of Blitzkrieg is still there, along with solid historical data on weapon systems, good graphics and sound effects. Old does not necessarily equal bad and dated does not mean unplayable.
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For veteran players of the series, expect few new features; Panzerkrieg is, as noted, a compilation of three previously released games in the series—Blitzkrieg: Red Horizon (Soviet), Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder (American), and Blitzkrieg: Lost Victories (German)—that allow players to fight World War II at the tactical level. Unlike the original Blitzkrieg, there are no random battles in the campaigns that allow a player to build up his forces’ experience before playing the major battles. Panzerkrieg instead is a series of linear scenarios—challenging and well designed but linear nonetheless—that form the overall game play.
The campaigns are stand-alone and sequential in nature, i.e., to fight in France as the Americans, you have to successfully finish the North African and Italian scenarios first. Scenarios vary from interception of enemy forces to deliberate defense and assault missions. They vary within each nationality, e.g., you will rescue a German officer from a crashed scout plane in one Eastern front scenario, hold back the German breakout attempt at Falaise Gap as the Western Allies in another, etc.
While the scenarios are entertaining, they are often plagued by poor AI. For example, if the Soviet tank hordes keep overrunning the player’s artillery, he will soon discover that the T-34s tend to take the exact same path every time. Consequently, a player can lay anti-tank mines or tank obstacles to canalize and fix the enemy force when the scenario is replayed—and you should expect to replay some scenarios over and over until the game-winning trick is discovered. Once the AI pathing is discovered, it is quite easy to win a difficult scenario without too much trouble. While entertaining, this does detract from overall game play.
Where the game system really shines is in the historical accuracy of the units depicted and the hard math behind the numbers that determine unit firepower, armor protection, etc. What seems to be another RTS game—i.e., the side with the most tanks wins—is in fact a more complex game that rewards a tactical mindset. You can dig in your anti-tank guns, place them on a likely avenue of enemy approach, and set them on ambush mode. When the enemy armor appears, it will be caught by surprise, and it is not uncommon for a well-organized defense to savage any number of enemy tanks. In other words, don’t expect a swarm of King Tigers to overrun anything; in fact, without a combined arms mentality, the Tigers will end up as so much scrap metal in the middle of a minefield or burning on top of a line of entrenched infantry.
One of the more entertaining facets of the game is the use of engineers to lay minefields, dig entrenchments and emplace obstacles. Savvy players will protect their resupply and engineer vehicles at all times, as the scenario itself often depends on the ability to keep units repaired and supplied at all times. A defender can greatly enhance his chances of victory by judicial placement of anti-tank weapons, obstacles and infantry. Even in an assault scenario it is often useful to spend a few minutes digging entrenchments for the assault forces, at least until the enemy defenses are scouted out.
For a game that is seemingly quite simple, Panzerkrieg is a game that will make sense to any experienced wargamer. Flank and rear attacks will often disrupt an enemy assault, the use of massed artillery directed by scout-snipers can suppress enemy air defenses so that tactical aircraft can savage the enemy rear areas, and foolish horde attacks with armor will lead to defeat. The game’s AI, while often making pathing and other mistakes, will surprise a player with its ability to do counter-battery artillery fire and use combined-arms attacks. While the AI fails to use air power to its fullest extent, often dropping bombs on areas where a human player’s tanks have already passed through, it generally does a good job of emplacing air and tank defenses.
Panzerkrieg often runs into the same problem that the Blitzkrieg engine suffers from—a patient player can sometimes win an entire scenario just by using a single sniper and artillery. Snipers in the game are quite overpowered, being literally invisible until discovered. This allows a player to sneak a sniper through the enemy lines to target anti-aircraft guns and artillery for destruction while the AI does nothing to stop the attacks. Against a human player, however, such tactics would consistently fail, as a human opponent would quickly hunt down any sniper after the first shot. Another major problem with the Blitzkrieg engine is friendly AI pathing. For example, supply trucks may attempt to drive through enemy lines to refill themselves at a depot that they could have reached via a shorter route through friendly lines. Losing all your supply and repair vehicles to poor AI pathing is frustrating, to say the least.
Panzerkrieg is a real classic of World War II RTS games. Many of the standard features of other World War II RTS games, such as repair and resupply of units and campaign construction, are direct descendants of the features of the Blitzkrieg series. While Blitzkrieg is a bit long in the tooth, it is a fun and playable engine that has spawned a fairly robust modding community. For gamers with older PCs, Panzerkrieg runs under XP and has fairly low processing and graphics requirements. These are plusses for many players with older machines and little desire to play more graphically and sound-enhanced RTS games on the current market. Given the value of what is basically three games in one package, the recommended price of $19.99 is well worth the nearly limitless hours of play.
Armchair General Score: 70%