Long Live the King: Panzer Corps 2 is shaping up just fine22 Jan 2020 0
I’ve been fortunate enough to play a pre-release version of Matrix/Slitherine’s Panzer Corps II (PC2) these past few days in conjunction with Monday’s announcement. By ‘pre-release’ I mean what I had was by no means a full-fledged package. But after tromping thru Poland in 1939 as the Wehrmacht and trudging thru the snows of 1942 Russia as the Red Army, I think I’ve seen enough to form a pretty good opinion. And my perspective is that if you even only mildly liked PC2s ancient ancestor SSIs Panzer General, you are going to really, REALLY like the sequel to its successor Panzer Corps the First.
That said, don’t expect a full review today, where I describe exactly how to play the game, or even evaluate all the new improvements being built into PC2 as described earlier on The Wargamer. This little tome is solely about the differences I could eyeball and type after 30 + hours putting the beta to the test.
Exterior Paint and Chrome
The first thing you will notice about PC2 is there is an increased hardware requirement to run the game, though overall the plus-up is not egregious. Edition One called for Vista thru Win10, a Pentium 4, 2 GB RAM and a 128 MB video card with 500 MB storage recommended. Now you need a 64-bit OS, a dual core CPU, 8 GB RAM, and a recommended NVIDEA or AMD video card with 4 GB VR and 9 GB storage. The new specs are necessary because this time around PC2 uses the UNREAL 4 graphics engine which delivers full 3D capability. Currently, the PC I use to run games like this is a small Dell workstation that is nonetheless way overkill on all specs except for the video card. I’m using an AMD Radeon R5 240 low profile (it’s the only card that would fit) with only 1 GB of RAM (half of even the minimum of 2GB) and it does show. This setup does run the software OK, but when you get to large campaigns or engagements, you will notice that mouse and onscreen movement can be a little sluggish with slight wait times. Overall, not a problem.
The graphics are much improved, however, in both quality and quantity. The game map is styled as a very photorealistic, 3D overhead reconnaissance image with enough detail to convey individual houses with backyards within large towns. The playing pieces are accurate, 3D models of ground troops, ships, vehicles, artillery and aircraft, though very politically correct all throughout. There are no infamous hooked crosses to be found on any German equipment, though interestingly, Luftwaffe aircraft correctly have yellow wingtips denoting assignment to the Eastern Front. Unfortunately, the ability to change the camouflage schemes of the various warring powers was not yet available in the PC2 press copy and this was one of the “new and improved” selling points I was really looking to try. Aw shucks, but animation such as explosions and combat sounds were exceptionally well done, and I absolutely fell in love with that Soviet style music that PC2 uses as a soundtrack. And speaking of sound, mission briefings now include voice and text not to mention map markers.
PC2 also advertises more units available for play, evidently over 1000 vice 700 in the first edition. Well, I didn’t count them but if what I saw of the Soviet side in the 1942 Rzhev scenario is any indication, I believe it. I’m an old Panzer General morphed with someone who built every single Tamiya WWII plastic tank model ever made. Not only did the Soviet list contain a lot of lend-lease merchandise from the US and UK, but also arcane tanks, guns and aircraft not to mention differing models of more common equipment I never knew existed. Obviously as the Red Army commander I had to field the lumbering land battleship known as the T-35 and I’ll admit I actually had to look up the T-50 (it was a light tank that resembled a T-34 pre-puberty, only 69 built) to see if it was legit. The sheer enormousness really drew me in, because, after all, who doesn’t like running around the eastern steppes with the esoteric of the esoteric?
Finally, I thought the strategic map was exceptionally well done. Not only was the design the clearest and most informative I’ve ever seen, but I like the way you could expand its size over top of the primary battlefield, and the concurrent display of friendly controlled hexes was a solid choice.
Under the Hood
This version of PC2 was limited in what you could play and in some of the features you could use. In the latter category for example, limiting or eliminating the player’s ability to perform a “do-over” was turned off (tho I really like the concept). Also, while the game listed a choice of several campaigns, all were inoperable except the 1939 Polish invasion, or at the very least, you had to finish that before you could move to North Africa or Barbarossa. As regards to individual scenarios, those included some random engagements and also the historical battles of Rzhev and Crete plus the hypothetical Defender of the Reich and Fjord War (don’t ask). Like its ancestors, it looks like PC2 in the raw will be targeted towards a German campaign so I decided to play not only Poland 39, but also Rzhev because here you get to wear your Marshal of the Soviet Union tabs.
The first noticeable difference for me was that when you assume your role as commander, you open a screen allowing you to give your character specific traits, both good and bad (which I am sure everyone will use, snicker) or have the AI select a random set for you. Here we’re talking about things like Master of Blitzkrieg vs Poor Maintenance. I was unable to observe how these impacted proceedings in the short games I played, but if it's there you know that something, somewhere is being modified for and against you. Similarly, after certain combats you might be awarded with a hero you can assign to give friendly formations a boost. My first hero was a Soviet Yak-1 fighter pilot who received a heroism decoration for simply surviving his unit getting shot silly by all the Messerschmitt’s on the planet. Cute, but I’ll take it.
Otherwise the game is played pretty much the same way as Panzer General, much less Panzer Corps round one. You buy units and deploy them and then move, shoot and resupply on a hex based terrain map that is inspired by historical events, but does not exactly replicate them. Think Thermopylae for real as opposed to Gerard Butler in the movie 300, along with an androgynous Xerxes. By no means is this a negative, however. Praised for its “elegant simplicity” since Panzer General first dropped, the franchise has wisely not decided upon massive changes simply for the sake of doing so.
Instead, what I encountered were more evolutionary changes that added a turbocharger to the engine and a bit of tasteful chrome to the bumpers. It's just the right mix of additional detail and realism without any sacrifice of playability, in part because of an interface that takes the player by the hand and identifies his options every step of the way in every turn. For example, one of the new features is the old cardboard counter wargame concept of 'Overrun' and it pretty much works the same way. However, PC2 helps matters along by letting you know when your hapless target is Overrun eligible.
In other new features, one that I really like was the way air units are handled. Instead of flying them until they run out of gas and/or ammo, every time an aircraft unit goes on a mission, it returns back to base immediately after completion. Additionally, the further away the target, the less powerful the aerial attack becomes due to the need to carry gas vs bombs. Need to start hitting targets outside the range of your squadrons? Now you have to find them a new airbase within range, and spend a turn getting them there. It's simple, accurate and challenging.
But perhaps the biggest change is the fusion of two new, but separate, capabilities introduced in PC2. This is the concept of “Encirclement” and “Unit Splitting”. Each unit has a certain number of fuel and ammo points it can use before it has to sit an entire turn to resupply. Otherwise it can’t shoot and can’t move. In PC2 it is now possible to encircle enemy units so that when its fuel and ammunition levels tank, they can not resupply and thus shoot nobody and move nowhere. Splitting units means breaking down a regular formation into two smaller detachments that can move and operate independently. Having extra units in the field means that securing the needed number of adjacent hexagons to encircle the enemy effectively becomes twice as probable. Brilliant!
All of this together made for some very exciting as well as fun games this past weekend. It also allowed me to get a feel as to what the final product might convey as regards overall gameplay. In my games I found out you can never have enough recon units in your force pool, because despite what history might record, you always seem to be outnumbered by units that shouldn’t be there. Likewise, even at the lowest difficulty setting, I found the AI to be super aggressive. Even in historical and logical defensive situations, the AI always seemed eager to attack. I’m not sure whether this proclivity is yet another new aspect of PC2, but in some cases I thought my computer adversary was almost foolhardy. Nevertheless, this combination of Fog of War when married to new tricks of the trade like Overrun, Detachments and Encirclement makes for a very tough way to learn the military’s nine principles of war.
Bottom line. As it stands right now would I buy this upgrade if I already owned Panzer General or Panzer Corps the First? Yes, I absolutely would, without reservation, and yet... a little voice in the back of my head keeps nagging me about what kind of critter PC2 actually is and if this specific is what makes it so special. Is it really a wargame in the video game vernacular, or perhaps a more mainstream strategy game with a military paint job? Or is it a hybrid crossover between the two? Interesting. If the Boss lets me, I’ll broach this when I do a formal review come March.
Panzer Corps 2 is due out on March 19th, 2020.