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Steel Panthers has, however, a lot more to offer gamers. The two theaters of operations available (Europe and Pacific) both feature a series of campaigns with historical battles. From the invasion of Poland by German forces to the British operation Market Garden in Holland, you will find no less than eight campaigns in Europe and two in the Pacific area. Two long campaigns will allow you to start at the very beginning of the War in both regions and to continue until the end of the conflict.
The campaigns, on the contrary of a single battle, force you to minimize your human and material losses as you start with a limited number of units. When you win a battle, you will be able to build new units, upgrade and repair those who survived before going to the next battle. Experience and morale will also improve over time leading your units to better performances.
If you are on just for a single battle, you will have two choices. You can select a scenario related to a historical episode that will send you in one of the two regions, or instead to play with a mission from the battle generator. With the second choice, you will have the possibility to start a battle where you can decide who the protagonists are among a list of 16 nations and a date between 1939 and 1945. Depending on the date you selected, you won't be able to buy units that were not available at that time. It goes about the same for weather conditions as the months between October and February, for example, will surely bring winter conditions. Finally, according to the year and nationality you endorsed, the program will automatically select the terrain type associated to the scenario elements.
However, if you are still not satisfied by campaigns, scenarios and the battle generator, Steel Panthers will let you design your scenario with total freedom. As in the battle generator, you can select the nationality of the opponents, time period, different units and mission type, but you can also choose the terrain type, map size and visibility. The randomly generated maps should give you enough variety, but eventually, you can edit your own map and start up from scratch if you prefer, or load a map that you might have created previously.
The game play can be divided in two phases: deployment and orders. The first phase is where you buy the different units you will fight with and where you place them over the terrain. If you are looking for a quick fight, this phase can be sped up with the auto deploy option. The computer will deploy your forces automatically and will even let you change them if you are not completely satisfied with their positions. If, however, you prefer to place them manually the game will offer you different options you might want to try. The "entrench all units" button will dig in your units if you play a defend scenario, and you can even build minefields and dragon's teeth to oppose a serious resistance to the tanks.
The second phase nearly consists exclusively in orders given to the units. This is where you decide where the units will move and which enemy unit will be attacked. What is new in Steel Panthers compared to Panzer General is the visibility. With Panzer General, an enemy unit becomes visible as soon as you are close enough to the unit without any consideration to the environment. In Steel Panthers, you might be close enough to notice the enemy unit but because of relief, natural vegetation or any other obstacle, you can't see it as it is not in your line of sight (LOS). This feature brings an additional dimension to the strategy game because the natural environment not only affects the movements of the units but also their ability to see the enemy troops.
As the title suggests, Steel Panthers is a game that relies heavily on armored units (tanks). A vast choice of tanks with pictures and detailed information is provided during the unit selection. Of course, the infantry has not been forgotten, but its importance in the game is relatively minimized. The same remarks apply to the aviation which is strictly limited to tactical strikes (bombardments).
The SVGA graphics in Steel Panthers are very detailed. The five zoom levels of the game allow you to switch from a close view of the battle in which you can even see soldiers to a larger view of the whole battlefield. Besides SVGA graphics, you will also find animation such as explosions, smoke shells and gunfire that can be turned off to gain extra speed. The sound effects add even more realism to the game and accompany the movements and attacks of the units.
One thing that bothered me during the game is the constant number of opponents. All the scenarios and even those you make yourself feature only two nationalities. I would have prefered the possibility to mix forces of various nationalities such as the Germans and Italians versus the British and Americans for example. Maybe next time!
As you can now guess, I really liked Steel Panthers and enjoyed playing this game for many hours. It is addictive, easy to play and visually impressive.
486 DX-33 MHz or higher,
Min 8Mb memory,
MS-DOS 5.0 or later,
Hard drive required with 12Mb free,
Double speed CD-ROM drive or faster,
SVGA video graphic card with 512Kb,
Microsoft mouse and 100% compatibles,
Creative Labs Sound Blaster, Pro, 16 and AWE32; Gravis UltraSound; Ensoniq Soundscape.
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