Review by GamingJock
"Realistic but frustrating- A review from a non-wargamer"
Steel Panthers: World at War is a turn-based wargame that simulates World War II combat on a platoon and company level.
I'm not a wargamer- I was raised on RTS classics like Warcraft and Command & Conquer, where lone infantry units gladly rush cannon towers and Soviet heavy tanks upon your command. I approached the hexes and detailed stats of SP:WAW with some trepidation, but since the full game was released for free on the Internet, I figured I may as well test the waters of wargaming.
As it was released in 2000, one can obviously not compare the 2-D graphics of World at War to modern titles. However, for a wargame it is surprisingly detailed. Instead of counters or other vague abstractions, armor and vehicles are displayed as individual units and infantry as squads of troops on the game map. Damage from artillery bombardments is modeled on the battlefield hexes, although damage to structures looks very poor. Another minor issue is that it is sometimes difficult to see your green and tan infantry against similarly colored backgrounds, but hey, I guess that's the point of camo.
Music only plays on the menus- during gameplay there is none, which is for the better. Sound effects are exceptional: individual unit firearms are accurately recorded to the point that you can tell that a hidden German machine gun squad is firing a MG42 at your men based on the sound alone.
This game has a very steep learning curve for those not familiar with wargaming. My first few plays my American troops were routinely routed and my tanks left ablaze by historically weak forces like the Vichy French and Italians. World at War forces you to learn real world tactics such as infantry supporting armor as a result. The main problem is the scope of the game is too overwhelming for a casual gamer. The sheer number of units and amount of data that needs to be considered makes even a seemingly small scenario a frustrating affair. Also, there is little room for mistakes in most scenarios- one wrong move can result in much of your force being wiped off the map during the enemy's turn, and there's no Quick Load button either. Even when you capture most of the objectives and you think you are winning, the scenario can result in a draw or loss if your morale is low and losses are high. Realistic? I suppose so. Fun? Not really.
On the plus side, there are literally hundreds of scenarios to try and several long campaigns to play from six sides in the war.
Control is probably the weakest part of the game. Tutorials barely explain the numerous keystrokes and button commands that are necessary to command your forces. Constantly consulting the manual while playing should not be necessary. Another pet peeve I encountered: there is no confirmation for movement, so an accidental flick of the mouse can send your valuable tanks hurdling across the map right into enemy lines. On huge maps with hundreds of units, any control you have pretty much "spins out of control" unless you have the patience of a saint.
From the perspective of a casual, non-wargamer, this game was an interesting experience but far too much to handle. However, considering that Steel Panthers: World at War has been released for free by Matrix Games, I encourage you to download it and try it for yourself.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/05/08
Game Release: Steel Panthers: World at War (US, 12/31/00)
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