The Steel Panthers trilogy was one of the most decorated and praised wargame series from SSI. Now Gary Grigsby and Matrix Games, the company he now works for, has licenced the name and came out with a remake of Steel Panthers games called Steel Panthers: World at War (SP:WAW). This game is being distributed free of charge by Matrix Games (although it has minimal in-game advertising), and you don't need any of the previous Steel Panther games. Also available with the whopping 300MB+ download is a manual, a Editor, and a CD case pic in case you want to make your own CD :) |
At first glance, this top notch war game looks complicated, but it is quite easy to get into. The manual has a great tutorial, a section for Steel Panthers veterans that lists what is new and what has changed, and a detailed explanation of everything. In a nutshell, SP:WAW is a turn-based hex wargame updated from DOS to Windows 95/98. The game covers battles all through World War II, from Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to a 'what if' cold war scenario in 1949. 27 nations are represented, with pictures and short movie clips to add to the realism. You can select a quick battle if you like, and configure it to your preference. Or slug it out with a scenario – over fifty scenarios come with the download, and more user made ones are available on Matrix Games' website. There are also three Campaign options – a Campaign Generator, a Linked Scenario option that will link some scenarios together for you, and the classic Long World War II option letting you play as one of six nations – the United States, the United States Marine Corp, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Germany, and Japan. Both Europe and the Pacific are represented and you can switch back and forth if your chosen nation fought in both areas. You start each campaign by building a group of 'core' units, and you can add to and modify them as the war goes on. In each battle, you earn points by killing enemy units or by taking and holding objective hexes. The core unit and point system is similar to SSI's 'five star General' series and makes it very easy to understand and operate.
The realism of the game is carefully balanced between real combat and a playable game. Numerous options are available to help make the game harder or easier. There is a "VCR Playback" that is helpful in figuring out what happened in tough battles. The music is good, tense and dramatic, and the sounds are perfect, from the firing of artillery shells to the rumbling of tanks. Add in the fact that you can assign sounds to whatever action or unit that you wish. Graphics are simple but pleasing, with detailed unit icons, bright colors, and a nice touch to the playing screen in the form of 'battle damage'. The AI is also quite good, being careful in when and how it attacks you. The game supports PBEM and Internet play and there is also an Editor available for download that lets you make battles and modify existing ones. As a special bonus, SP:WAW is also available in five different langauges besides English with more translations pending.
The game only has a few flaws – more original music should have been included, as the pieces are good but not that varied. The game is a little slow, and minimizing Windows utilities when playing is suggested. There's also no Autosave, so make sure you remember to save on a regular basis. The game is still being updated, though, and once Internet play is available a great wargame will be turned into a almost perfect one. Overall, SP:WAW is a little harder to get into than Clash of Steel, but the game is so user-friendly you'll get the hang of it in no time. It may also inspire you to check out other tactical turn-based war games such as War in Russia, Western Front, Pacific War, or any of the great SSG wargames. Even if you have never found a wargame you liked before, check this one out before you write it off. With something for everyone, even veteran wargamers will soon fall in love with the realism and the challenge. Definitely the best Steel Panthers game ever, and that's saying a lot. Two thumbs up, way up! Make sure you check Matrix Game's website to check for new patches, as well as a great forum and the addition of Internet play.Reviewed by: SoulBlazer