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World War 2: Panzer Claws Preview

publisher: Eidos Interactive
developer: Zuxxez Entertainment
genre: Strategy

PII 350, 64MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 670MB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Nov 14, 02
» All About World War 2: Panzer Claws on ActionTrip

It's usually a good sign when I take a PC game home from work to 'playtest' it a bit more before I write the feature. That usually says more about its gameplay qualities than any phrase or word of praise I may write here. Simply put, this means that the game is addictive and that is about the only true quality that any PC gamer should look for in a title. World War II: Panzer Claws (or Frontline Attack: War Over Europe - as it's called in Europe) is one such game. Developed by a relatively unknown developer tag-team of Reality Pump and In-Images, WWII: Panzer Claws depicts the struggles of war torn Europe between 1941 and 1944.

The player takes control of a variety of armored and mechanical units (over 75 of them in all), ground troops and air support units in epic World War II battles. The game spans the German attack on the Soviet Union through to other important battles on the Eastern Front, operations in France and Italy to the German offensive in the Ardennes. You can play as German, Soviet or Allied troops in both the single player campaign mode and multiplayer modes.

Thanks to the folks at EIDOS, I got a chance to play a near-final version of the game - one that was released in Europe just a few days ago. For all of our readers in the states, I should let you know that Panzer Claws will be coming out in November, so hold your horses until then; read this preview a couple of times over if you're that desperate.

Though there are already numerous titles set in the WWII backdrop that just keep piling up on top of each other and clogging the market, I'm happy to inform you that Panzer Claws has somehow managed to claw its way (oh - I kill me!) near the top of that pile and take its rightful place amongst heaps of other WWII PC adaptations. On the surface, the game plays like any other RTS - you have your units, units-grouping and your fierce fights. However, once you dig a bit deeper under the surface, you'll find that the developers have included a wide variety of excellent tactical innovations, which make Panzer Claws a true strategy game in every sense of the word. Your tanks and rocket launchers don't have an unlimited supply of ammo, and they can't run without a crew. Hence, you'll need ammo supplies and tank crews. The gameplay in Panzer Claws is very realistic in a sense that you won't be able to 'mine' for ammo, or perform any other silly action like that. There is no resource management in the traditional sense; you have to capture an enemy supply outpost, or have supplies sent to you along with other unit reinforcements. Even then, you won't be able to simply "watch the ammo bar fill up." No sir; supply trucks will have to transport the ammo, or you'll have to order your tanks to go to the ammo depot and re-supply. Don't forget though that even the ammo depot has to have people working in it - I guess loading those tank shells and fitting the heavy machine guns with ammo rounds... You need plenty of man power, so the infantry, although weak against armored units becomes essential for the victory. After all, machines can't operate without human beings - a simple concept that has been omitted from most other real-time strategy games. Consequently, this "new" feature adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay, which greatly increases its tactical and strategic value. Infantry units can enter enemy buildings and capture enemy vehicles, which does well to boosts the game's sense of realism.

Keeping in line with the general design solutions and the focus on realistic tactical gameplay, the developers paid special attention to the supporting units, like: Air recon, heavy and light bombers ... long range V-weapons, and artillery. Air support can play a crucial role in the game. Before each mission, players are given a pre-defined number of bombers and recon planes to call to their assistance. Usually, those include two or three heavy bombers, some five or six light bombers, and about the same number of recon planes.

It's on you to decide when you'll call in the air support, but if you miscalculate and use them too soon, you'll find yourself in a whole lot of trouble. Conversely, if you time your bombing runs well and pick your targets right, you'll make it that much easier for your ground troops to deliver the final blow - and with far less casualties, too.

Bear in mind though that the enemy won't just sit on their ass and wait for you to triumphantly march across the map. Besides challenging you to think like a strategist (hey, that's not always a given in RTS games), the game will test your wits with some mean AI routines. It's highly advisable therefore to go through the tutorial and start learning those keyboard shortcuts, as I have found the enemy to be quite challenging on the hard level of difficulty.

Overall, Panzer Claws turned out to be a very enjoyable, deep, and addictive game. There were a few annoying quirks, like the ground units crawling at incredible speeds, but you should keep in mind that this is not an entirely realistic game - far from it. This is not a bug. There are always certain trade-off's that have to be made, and some realism has to be compromised in order to achieve the right gameplay balance and dynamics. Reality Pump has done a very good job here, and I firmly believe that true strategy gamers will be very impressed with what Panzer Claws has to offer.

Still, seeing how strategy gamers can sometimes crave for cool graphics and not just intense gameplay, Reality Pump spent quite a number of weeks and months developing and polishing their 'Earth-3' engine. The visuals look very solid. Nothing too spectacular, except maybe for the explosions and light reflections, but on the whole, they're good enough to deliver the chilling atmosphere of the large-scale battles of the Second World War. The engine renders both units and environments in full 3D (except for the infantry), and those don't look at all that bad when you zoom in fully with the camera. Terrain can be modified, and any structure can be destroyed.

In addition, players are given the option of adjusting the camera between fixed (2D isometric) and free 3D perspective, which is another big plus in case you find the free 3D perspective a bit too confusing. Earth-3 supports dynamic day and night cycles (the bright headlights on the tanks and other vehicles look awesome during the night), and weather effects like rain and snow of course. Hell, you can hardly set a game in Russia during WWII without paying special attention to the dreaded Russian winter.

The musical score is decent, but not as good as it could've been. It's simply not epic enough in my opinion. The voice-over's need a bit of work too (the Russians don't sound Russian at all), but let's hope that EIDOS polishes up the game a bit before it hits retail in the US. I'd really hate to see such a good strategy title blemished by (silly) mistakes such as including unconvincing voice-overs.

In any case, sub par voice-over's or not, I'm sure that every strategy gamer will love Panzer Claws for its versatility and its depth of gameplay. The visuals look nice and the gameplay offers some novelties that haven't been previously seen in strategy games. In general, WWII: Panzer Claws far exceeded my expectations and is definitely an RTS every hard-core war gamer should have in their collection - once it's out of course.



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