IGN Review of Panzer Tactics
War makes for a great multiplayer experience. There's something about slaughtering an entire army that becomes exponentially more satisfying when you can lean over and laugh at your friend that was commanding. Plus, let's face it, World War II is so played out that the novelty of playing historic battles and learning about them has long since passed. So it's a little funny to see that 10tacle Studios' Panzer Tactics DS has a really strong and interesting single player, while simultaneously botching the multiplayer so bad it should be a war crime.
Panzer Tactics puts the player in charge of one of three of the most powerful armies during World War II: the German Wehrmacht, the Red Army, or the Western Allies. The Campaign mode chronologically follows real battles in the war, having players command over historic conflicts.
Each army has their own campaign mode with a set difficulty. The German's Axis Campaign is the easy mode, the Soviet Campaign is moderate, and the Western Allied Campaign is difficult. It's an interesting choice to make the easy mode, and the tutorial, star the Nazis. What's also interesting is that the developer did not opt for a politically correct, neutral portrayal. The German army is definitely evil, as shown by the contemptuous and snarky comments of fellow officers, especially compared to the more righteous, heroic comments from the other armies.
Each Campaign has 10 missions that get progressively more complex and intense. The difficulty curve is a bit steep, so Panzer Tactics might not be the best game for a newcomer to turn-based strategy. The difficulty doesn't get too bad, though, and players are eased into the management of troops. The missions star off basic and with a limited number of different troops, then more options, enemies and objectives are added.
The design is pretty simple. The map is broken up into hexagonal grids. Players select units and move them along the hexes. When a troop is adjacent to an enemy, they get the option to attack, and the game cuts to an animation showing the ensuing carnage. The graphics aren't spectacular, but they do a nice enough job of showing the battle. Each vehicle, infantry unit, plane, and ship looks different and the environments are pretty realistically, and accurately, rendered during the battle. In contrast, the map mode is very basic, and each unit is flat and simplified. The map itself is nicely detailed though, and there are some neat weather effects during the game, but for the most part it feels pretty static.
The game gives a sense of value to every unit by implementing a rollover system. The core units, the ones that are purchased, follow the player to each mission. These core units also gain experience, and can be upgraded as the war continues. So by being a good leader and taking care of the core troops they'll perform better and will make the subsequent mission easier. Conversely, if players lose a bunch of their troops, they will be at a disadvantage in the next battle. Some battles also have temporary troops that neither follow the player after battle, nor count towards a penalty if they die. They're like the decoys and suicide bombers.
Because of the ability to buy any units available, the missions are really open to complete any way the player sees fit. They're not restricted, save for a few that have emphases on either naval or aerial attacks. The missions are so open that it's often hard to figure out the best way to attack though, and the AI will quickly take advantage of any wrong move. So the game can get a bit frustrating, but that's war.
The campaign mode is pretty fun and is a deep and lengthy experience. So it really clashes with the awkward multiplayer modes. There are two ways to play Panzer Tactics DS with only one card. The first is Hot Seat Mode which allows two players to take turns playing the game and pass the DS off to one another. Technically this works, but it's a very awkward experience. While the friend is playing out their turn, the player has no idea what's going on. Then the DS comes back and the game becomes "try and figure out what just happened!" It's akin to getting up during a chess game, and then having to figure out what move the opponent made. Not to mention that if the game has any more than five units of the battlefield the wait becomes excessively long and the entire experience quickly devolves into tedium. Of course, the Hot Seat Mode doesn't even make a lot of sense since it's likely the other player hasn't played Tactics, in which case they'll probably need to run through the tutorial to really know what they're doing.
What's even more bizarre is the oddly restrictive Wi-Fi mode. The player starts by setting up a game, picking all the details: map, number of players, starting Fame, time limits, objectives. Then they wait and if another player also creates a game with exactly those parameters, the game begins. It's too specific to work. After several days we were never able to connect to anyone through the random method. Players can connect to people on their friends list, but they have to use the same game creation method, which really forces the player to call that friend up and organize everything. Not exactly pick up and play.
There is a multi-card multiplayer mode that is much simpler to do. One player creates a game, with all the specific details, and other players just join it. Up to three other people can join the battle, and there is a nice variety of maps and objectives to customize the game with.
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