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Steel Panthers is a classic turn-based strategy game that recreates intense WWII armor battles on the DOS platform. Released by SSI (Strategic Simulations Inc.), it employs a board game model for gameplay. It lets you play important WWII battles, be it the Pacific battles or the Battles in Europe. Players can take the advantage of playing American, Russian, Polish or German forces. This can be quite intriguing as the missions will be completely different depending on which nation you choose.
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The game offers a variety of gameplay options including long campaigns, random battles and scenarios. The game uses a board game paradigm with a hexagonal tile map for deploying units and moving them to specific positions. The approach is turn-based. Players take turns positioning their units and firing at enemy units.
Before playing the campaign missions or scenarios, players must refer to the manual to get acquainted with the game basics. The game is simple and easy to play, but you will have to spend time understanding each unit and its function. This can be a bit disappointing for players who are not well-versed with WWII units. But, once you understand the functions of each unit, the game will become relatively simpler than initially imagined.
Prior to the beginning of each mission, gamers have to purchase units with a set number of available points. The units range from a wide variety of armored tanks to mounted cavalry, foot infantry, snipers, engineers, armored trucks, naval bombard units and support aircraft (for some scenarios). Each unit has its own pros and cons against a particular enemy unit. For example, attacking an armored tank attacked with mounted cavalry will be ineffective, but bombarding it using 80mm mortar units will do the trick.
One of the best aspects of the game is the ability to plan an attack well in advance. You will have to place strike elements of mortars and battleships and wait for couple of turns to let the strike elements trigger. So, predicting the enemy’s next move and placing the strike elements require some tactics.
The mission builder option allows you to create your own maps and save them. Creating custom scenarios can be fun, especially when it gives you a chance to recreate a major WWII battle.
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Steel Panthers is played from a top down view with the ability to zoom-in and zoom-out. It features SuperVGA graphics displayed in full 640x480 resolution. The artists toiled hard to create eye-catching maps. The animations are not that impressive. It looks more like a board game. But, when an armored unit gets damaged, the fire and smoke coming out of it look great for the time. From a top view, the cavalry units look two dimensional, although the tanks have a three dimensional feel.
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The sound of exploding tanks, machine gun fire and mortar bombardment can make this game quite entertaining. Before playing you will have to set the sound to get optimal sound effects. You will have to browse to the main folder and open the SETSOUND MSDOS file. You will see various sound configuration options. Choose the one that is compatible with your audio drivers and let the system configure the sound driver automatically. If it is not compatible choose another option until you get a success message. Then exit by pressing the “Done" button.
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With loads of scenarios, random battles and campaign modes, Steel Panthers assures replayability. There are some problems with the overall learning curve of the game, but this is compensated with adequate documentation and precious charts and tables provided by SSI. The game becomes quite addictive once you get acquainted with the concept, controls and units.