Codename Panzers: Phase One
Thursday 6AM. BAAANG! Take cover!!! BOOOOM! They’re using mortars and artillery! Stay down! KAAZAAAM! Shit, that was close… BAAADAAANG! Private, put your head down or you’ll lose it. BOOOOM! Damn, those jerries don’t know when to quit…BAAANG! Phewie, I guess it’s finally over! BAAADAANG! Aaaaah, my leg! Aaaaarrrg! Shit, those krauts got me! Aaaaah…
Huuuh?!? What? Luckily it was all just a bad dream. But… what’s that small parcel doing in front of me? Codename: Panzers: Phase One it says… sounds like some cheap-ass second-rate Wall-Mart product to me. Can’t possibly be good… or can it?
OK, I admit. The previous intro might have been a little inspired by the Battle for Bastogne from Band of Brothers or Call of Duty: United Offensive, but hey. It’s original, isn’t it? And when game developers don’t innovate, we penpushers will!
Take this Codename: Panzers: Phase One for instance. At a first glance, it seems like your everyday WWII-RTS, albeit with nice graphics. Even the title implies that CDV will be more than willing to churn out some sequels. Luckily there are reviewers like me, who tell you why first looks can be deceiving.
But first things first, this game offers just about every possible game mode. Skirmishes, 3 captivating campaigns, a crystal-clear tutorial and even a Training Mode, in which you can try new units or evaluate your current tactics, without being limited to mission goals.
Multiplayer is available too, as was to be expected. You can choose between Team Deathmatch, Domination, Assault, and even co-op! Boy, did we have to wait for that last one! Finally a strategy game possesses this venerable option. Now you can replay the singleplayer missions with a friend or one of your imaginary internet-pals. My compliments to the Hungarians over at Stormfront for doing what few have done before. It’s just a pity that there aren’t many people populating the Gamespy-servers.
By far the most important part about Panzers are the previously mentioned campaigns. The three playable factions (U.S.A, Nazi-Germany and the Soviet-Union) each have one, in which you will lead your troops as a hero (Hans von Gröbel for the krauts, Jeffrey S. Wilson for the yanks and the Ivans get Aleksander Vladimirov).
Before each battle, you have to build your army (25 units max). For this you’ll need Prestige Points, that can be earned by completing your missions. If you manage to fulfill your secondary and optional goals, you’ll also scrounge more PP. More PP will allow you to have a larger or better equipped fighting force, because upgrades aren’t free neither. Games that let you decide which troops you want to have at your disposal touch one of my soft spots. For me this immediately put Panzers one step ahead of the pack.
When you start your first mission, you notice that a skilled team is behind this game. The game just looks absolutely great. The relatively old S.W.I.N.E-engine was given some anabolic steroids and is now able to render the most beautiful scenes. The environments are amongst the best the RTS-genre has to offer. The water, the various buildings and ruins and the many details (phone lines, kitchen gardens, graveyards…) all managed to impress me. Your units are incredibly detailed and wonderfully animated. Exemplary work, just zoom in, and keep your jaw tied to your face, while you’re at it. Of course Rome: Total War is even more amazing, but a lot of studios can still learn something from this. The special effects are also nothing short of stunning. Your vehicles’ diesel engines produce a lot of smoke and the explosion made by an incoming tank shell is something only Soldiers: Heroes of WW2 has done equally good.
When it comes to sound, again everything is as it should be. The maps all feature nice ambient background sounds (e.g. flowing streams in the countryside or the sounds of exploding artillery shells and gunfire in the cities). Your tanks make realistic humming sounds, your troops speak their native language (German, English, Russian) and have a lot of different lines to say. Beats listening to the same “yes dir, done sir” crap from other games. During cutscenes and briefings, on the contrary, everything is explained in English (be it with a nice cheeky German, American or Russian accent), so you don’t have to be a language wiz to understand your objectives. These well thought-of thingies that give Panzers its magic touch.
The missions you’re supposed to complete vary a lot. From the German tank-onslaught in Poland to the bitter street fighting in Stalingrad, the player is offered all sorts of battles. There are even some nighttime infiltrations, in which you’ll only have infantry at your disposal.
Speaking of which, besides the aforementioned Soldiers, this is about the only RTS-game in which noble footmen play a role of importance. For example: in Sudden Strike you only used tanks because troops were way to weak and got killed by the dozens. Not here, for starters you only control squads in Panzers (a lot easier to manage) in stead of individual units and each type of soldier (anti-tank gunners, riflemen, heavy machine gunners,…) packs one hell of a punch, if placed correctly (just behind your armored vehicles, supported by medics). This is revolutionary because the infamous “tank-rush” we have grown accustomed to since Dune 2, simply doesn’t work here. This is enhanced by the fact that tanks are expensive, so you can never have an entire armada of them. Next to that, they have the same ammount of hit points as most infantry squads.
But whoever thinks tanks are done for is also wrong. Armoured units have 4 armour values (front, left, rear right) which have to be reduced first before you can really hurt a tank. Experienced tanks (yup even an experience system was added) can demolish virtually anything, but they also have a weak spot. A flamethrower squad with extra molotov cocktails can disable it within seconds. If a vehicle reaches a certain temperature (shown by a gauge) the crew will exit it. This can be used to your advantage as well. You see, no unit is overpowered and you will have to combine all of your forces to achieve victory. I played the game in Normal difficulty setting and I must say I wasn’t actually put to the test. Experienced players will finish this game easily, but beginners will soon have to abandon their “build an invincible army and rush the AI”-tactics. Nevertheless, once they find the ideal combinations, they’ll beat the game too.
Codename: Panzers: Phase One is simply the best WW2-strategy game thusfar. The amazing graphics, the perfect balance between troops and tanks and the many great innovations are just a few of its strongpoints. If you like RTS-games, you need to buy it. And if you’ll excuse me, I have some more tank crews to fry!