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Posted on Jan 22, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

SPWW2: 1930-1946 – Game Review (PC)

By Robert Mackey

Passed Inspection: One of the true classics of computer wargaming. Nearly unlimited replay value with over 300 scenarios and dozens of maps, plus an included OOB, Scenario and Map editor.

Failed Basic: Steel Panthers game engine is getting long in the tooth. Graphics are dated as are the sound effects, but these are secondary to the quality of the game..

Once upon a time, there were quality games that did not require 3D virtual reality graphics, driven by Cray supercomputers and demanding so much processing power that entire swaths of the developing world are blacked out when a game is fired up. For wargamers, that game was Steel Panthers. It was the original Squad Leader in computer form, but with the ability to craft maps, scenarios, and orders of battle with ease. It was fun, easy to play, and damn addictive.

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Shrapnel Games has given the old girl a new makeover in their SPWW2: 1930-1946, adding new goodies but keeping the spirit of the old game. While the graphics are still decades behind the current spate of games, SPWW2 brings two major bonuses along-it is fun and it is playable. Those are claims few new games today can make.

SPWW2 does what it does extremely well-turn-based squad/vehicle to regimental level combat in the World War II era. It ran without a falter or crash; the AI was competent and the game itself was extremely playable. Anyone who played the original will soon find that their ‘keystroke memory’ kicks in, and you’ll intuitively remember the correct keys for dismounting/mounting vehicles, etc. For new players, SPWW2‘s shortcut keys make sense-don’t expect odd combinations of "CTRL-4_*&A" to get Sherman tanks to fire. In addition, the game can be hotseated or PBEM, allowing for grognards scattered across the globe to humiliate one another.

SPWW2 begins with a scenario screen that outlines each of the over 300 scenarios and shortcuts to the included scenario, map and Order-of-Battle editors. In addition, the ever-popular OOB Calculator is included as well, allowing for quick scenarios based on points for each side to be generated and played with a minimum of hassle. Add to this the ability to build forces based on a meticulously research OOB database for 33 separate countries–from the "Big Five" of US/USSR/UK/Germany/Japan to Swedes, Romanians, Chinese Communists and both sides in the Spanish Civil War. The only limit is the player’s imagination; anything from off-the-wall scenarios to the historically possible are easily created within a matter of minutes.

A standard turn of SPWW2 is fairly simple. A unit is selected for movement with a simple mouse-click. Maximum movement areas are highlighted and the unit is moved. This is where the fun begins-enemy units will open fire on your moving units, automatically giving a sense of action in what would have been a mere "I-Go/U-Go" model. Off map artillery and air support can be used, as can on-map indirect fire units. The result is a real feeling of tactical combat, where the player has to find enemy units with fast moving recon forces, blind those enemy units using smoke to cover movement, and use artillery to suppress threats. Air support, if available in the scenario, adds another dimension to the game, and a prudent player will quickly learn how useful dual-purpose AA guns are.

The scenarios vary from small skirmishes to very long turn major battles. Specialized units, from Finnish skitroops to Wehrmacht combat engineers add their skills to the game, giving budding KampfGruppe commanders the chance to use a variety of tactics. Reinforcements can be scheduled in home-made scenarios and are part of many of the pre-loaded scenarios as well. Overall, it is a game that will be quickly learned and only grudgingly dropped. Personally, I expect to go back to this one time and time again, and it will live a long time on my harddrive.

The graphics in SPWW2 haven’t changed all that much from the original. While useful and informative, they lack the high-resolution depth and detail that many gamers are accustomed to. However, this is a game that will not overtax an older system and is a great choice for someone looking to play a decent game on a ten-year-old computer.

The sounds in the game are functional at best, but do add to the game. While the game play was kept from the original, so were the sound effects. Don’t expect Dolby surround sound; expect early 90′s and you won’t be disappointed.

One of the best, most well organized manuals I’ve seen in a long time. Good graphics, printed on quality paper, with actual screenshots; a very useful and informative guide to learning the game.

SPWW2 is the perfect game for the hardcore wargamer who never owned the original Steel Panthers or would like the new scenarios. It’s also recommended for anyone with an older PC looking for a well-crafted and challenging game.

Armchair General Rating: 85%

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