Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition – Game Review (PC)
I’m Arkane (Donald Pence in the real world) and I’m a treadhead.
(from the audience) Hello Donald!
I’ve lived, eaten, slept, and breathed tracks for the last 22 years. And as almost a guilty confession, I’ve owned and played the majority of tank sims out there. From the original M1 Tank Platoon and it’s sequel, through the Armored Fist Series, and all the iterations of Panzer this and that, I’ve fed my off duty addiction to armored warfare. Just as I thought I could break it and be happy with arcadish FPS games, Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition comes along.
eSim Games has developed a niche in the simulator market by developing highly realistic, low overhead simulators for the military and ultra realistic games. As a matter of fact, the big brother to this game, Steel Beasts Professional, is currently in use by the Australian, New Zealand, and Danish Armies. Not meant to replace full blown multimillion dollar simulators, Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition (hereafter known as SBPE) allows your average treadheads and armchair generals to work their skills on PC’s at home. And this it does, and then some.
The first thing that struck me about the game (calling it a game doesn’t do it justice) is the copy protection. Using a USB based system, this was enough for me to break out the manual and follow the install directions (something I never, ever do). To play the game you will need a free USB port, as the key has to be plugged in for the game to run. If you run into problems, the Steel Beasts Forums are the best place to turn. And that in itself is one thing that makes this game different from the others. For the last six years the original Steel Beasts has had an active community, and with this release it is shaping up to be even better. Already there are custom scenarios, vehicle skins, and guides posted on the net. An amazing mixture of civilians and military personnel from all over the globe, the Steel Beasts community is a bit more mature so there’s no need to fear being flamed when asking what key switches your ammo in the forums.
Continuing the fine tradition of the original Steel Beasts which won Sim of The Year back in 2000, this game combines not only a tank simulator but a tactical simulator too. Quite often I found myself back at the map screen adapting my strategy to my enemy’s tactics. Through the use of NATO standardized tactical symbols players can plan and execute complicated combined arms operations. Looking for a tactical RTS? You can run an entire battle from the map if you so desire, essentially giving you two games in one.
SBPE is going to appeal to a small group. First off its hefty price tag ($125.00 as of this posting) is going to put a large majority of average gamers off. This is a hardcore military-grade simulator. SBPE clearly inherits its playability from its big brother, and like a lot of other military grade tank simulators –being extremely user friendly isn’t its strong suit. Luckily it’s still point and click, so you won’t be too put off. Documentation is one thin spot in this title, although the manual is generally written well and gives some great theory and history. Luckily this isn’t a game breaker, since there are great tutorials provided in Acrobat format when the game installs (a whopping 24 Megs worth of tutorials, datasheets, and guides). The only thing I would have added to the documentation is graphical representations of how to apply different lead to moving targets. What the documentation lacks, the playable tutorials more than make up for. If for nothing else the in game tutorials are functional and fun to play, and will get you well acquainted with the keys used in the game.
Showcasing the Abrams, different variants of the Leopard, and the Bradley, SBPE more than delivers what it promises. Graphics are eye candy in general, but urban areas are mundane and one-dimensional threats, sparsely populated with buildings that are blocky and repeated often. Trees and foliage are modeled as well as any hardcore sim I’ve played, and trying to negotiate through a treeline to a support by fire position proved just as challenging as in real life. Views from the crew positions and the sights and effects are almost perfect. PE has the best modeling of thermal sights I’ve seen in a sim to date. Turrets pop off of T-72′s with a grim reality; HE rounds create awesome splashes, and TOW missiles white out the sights with an amazing sense of reality. With an average gaming rig you can crank SBPE’s graphics up to max and have no problems (at one point I forgot to turn off my anti-virus software, spyware blockers, and other junk and the game never missed a beat).
|Are you sure this is a city of 10,000 people?||A burning tank as seen through the thermal sights of an M1.|
Engagement techniques are procedurally correct, and the ballistics seem spot on, but I’ve always been leery of how high explosive rounds are modeled in any simulator. They just don’t seem to arc that high in real life. The after action review (AAR) capability also shines, allowing "blow by blow" reviews of battles, and it provides all of the critical information we so desire. The game even gives you a great graphic representation of the hits you score on your targets by use of colored rods. Additionally the game generates a no-frills HTML file for you to post on the internet showing how well (or how awfully) you did. SBPE does an excellent job of replicating ammunition and effects, and there’s a bit of satisfying warmth to watching dismounts go flying from a Bradley’s HE rounds.
Battlefield effects are where this game shines. I looked up in marvel at one point from the commander’s hatch and watched ICM rounds crack and pop up ahead. Impressive. Depending on availability in the scenario you’re playing, on-call artillery can be just as devastating as in real life. Engineers place lane markers at breach sites. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
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