Panzer Corps review
Panzer Corps seems to be a game stuck out of time. If someone installed it on your computer without giving you even a smidgen of information about it, you’d be hard pressed to work out when it’s from. The concept is as old as muck: turn-based warfare on a hex-grid board, challenging players to conquer a single opponent. The graphics might be 2D, with only a few smooth smoke and flame effects narrowing down our elusive release date to somewhere in the last decade, but they serve only as an accompaniment to the meat of the game. Audio, visuals, menus, campaign structure – all these extraneous elements are secondary to the core gameplay.
It’s a refreshing design approach, particularly when executed as well as developers Slitherine have done so here. Panzer Corps works. It clicks. Each area of gameplay supports the others well, and whilst there are few hiccups from time to time, the experience remains solid throughout. It might not be the first word in innovation, but it still provides a neat package of worthwhile entertainment.
As I’m sure you won’t have realised from the title, this is a World War 2 game, one that tasks you with leading masses of mechanised war machines across a variety of different scenarios. Initially it looks very tank-centric, as a ‘library’ option on the main menu brings up plenty of historical detail about a variety of different American, British, Soviet and German tank models, including some interesting cross-section drawings of each.
The focus of Panzer Corps is in fact far broader. Whilst the variety of tank models is extensive, the infantry units are equally diverse, and different artillery, aircraft and naval units will all come under your command at some point or another. This diversity allows missions to scale up and down very easily, proving equally entertaining whether focused on a smaller campaign such as the initial German assault on Poland, or on mass attacks featuring units of all kinds like D-Day. This is turn makes for a smooth difficulty curve; the tutorial campaign introduces you to the basics by recreating German exercises in the early parts of 1939, and the rest of the game broadens out at a friendly, but not unchallenging pace.
Altogether, Slitherine have pulled off the admirable trick of creating great depth but hiding it underneath a simple concept. A typical scenario starts you off at one end of a rectangle and challenges you to make your way to the other in a certain time limit, defeating enemy forces and seizing towns, ports and airfields as you go. For all the layers of complexity added steadily to each mission, the ultimate goal always remains the same: take control of a few objective towns and do it quickly. Instead of overwhelming the player with a hundred new methods of waging war, each addition is channelled toward the same cause.
At the start of the game a useful force might consist of a few infantry units, a tank or two and some supporting artillery. By the time you’re invading the Soviet Union, your firepower is massively increased, but still manageable. New gameplay concepts like rail transport or weather conditions are handled with equal care. Whilst some players might need to utilise trial-and-error to some extent, the relatively short length of each mission – even the largest can be polished off in an hour – makes failure disappointing, but not overly off-putting.
Every scenario in the game can be played on its own, whether as the Axis or Allies, or as part of four campaigns in which Germany is the only playable nation. The campaign mode features a number of benefits. Units are carried over from mission to mission and can earn experience through combat. Some might gain a stat-boosting commander, or you might choose to buy them motorised transport. The start of the Polish campaign in 1939 might only grant you a few basic units, but purchasing and upgrading new soldiers soon sees you expand your army into a more personal, tailored force.
The campaign is also cleverly structured. Each mission has three possible outcomes: a loss, a super-quick decisive victory or a marginal victory, and each result can take the campaign in different directions. Smaller scenarios might lead into the same mission regardless of the result, but a decisive victory in a major battle might let you change the course of history.
Two smashing victories in the Low Countries and France 1940 missions will give you the opportunity to bypass the Battle of Britain and invade good old Blighty; defeating the Soviet Union at Moscow unlocks the even more daunting invasion of the United States. In some cases a loss will end the campaign, but not in all. It’s far more enjoyable than simply repeating a linear string of missions and replaying the same scenario again when things go wrong.
Panzer Corps won’t redefine turn-based strategy or set the industry on fire. This doesn’t matter. Slitherine set out to make a cohesive, entertaining experience and they have done so. The best evidence is this: I admit to playing on the easiest difficulty level for a few missions so I could play more to get the review completed. The enemy units were half the strength of my own, allowing me to steamroller the Red Army in barely 11 turns when the limit was 28; but the strength of the basic gameplay was enough to make me enjoy it nonetheless.