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There are several tank positions associated with the aiming and firing of the Abrams’ main gun. The Gunner (GNR) Cockpit looks cool, but really isn’t all that helpful in the middle of a battle; the station doesn’t offer any kind of external view of the action, and all of the functions it contains can be accessed via hotkeys, anyway. The GNR’s Primary Sight is where you take control of the tank’s main gun, “lase” targets to determine their distance, and then blow them to holy hell using either the coaxial gun, or Sabot, HEAT, MPAT, or STAFF rounds. The AI controlled gunner will choose and fire upon targets on his own, but by jumping into this position the player gets to take direct control of the main gun. If you’re a good shot, you can waste enemy tanks much more quickly than the gunner. The GNR’s Auxiliary Sight allows the player to manually determine the range of a target, and is used only when the laser designator is damaged or the GNR’s Primary Sight has been knocked out of commission.
Perhaps my favorite, the TC Hatch Open position is awesome for those “up-close and personal” encounters between your tank and “soft” targets like trucks or infantrymen. Here, the player has direct control of the commander’s machine gun, and can mow down troops while the gunner is previously occupied. Nothing beats the exhilaration of driving your tank (or platoon) into a horde of enemy infantry, jumping into the Hatch Open position, and feeding them a steady stream of lead.
The final tank position that the player can occupy is also one that proves completely useless during the course of the game. The Commander’s Vision Block simply allows the player to view the area around his or her tank through small “vision slits” in the turret. Even the game’s manual underplays this position, stating, “All you can do here is…” Simply put, there is nothing you can do in the Commander’s Vision Block except look out the slits. One has to wonder why the designers even bothered including it, especially since the Hatch Open position offers a 360 degree view and the use of a machine gun.
Surprisingly, the driver’s station is not available in M1 Tank Platoon II, and this exclusion is made even more bizarre by the inclusion of the useless TC Vision Block position. It is possible to manually drive one of the tanks, but it ends up being a real pain. The arrow keys are used to accelerate, decelerate, and turn left or right. The only problem is that none of the stations in the tank is really appropriate for such direct control. Even in the TC Hatch Open screen, you have no idea which direction you’re facing or the position of the main gun in relation to the rest of the tank.
Certainly the most important station in the entire game is the full-screen tactical map, accessed by hitting “F3.” A natural expansion of the IVIS, the map is where the player plans the master strategy before entering into the battle, and directs all supporting forces once the operation is underway. All units, including your own M1A2 platoon, can be assigned waypoints, formations, and firing orders. The map is also used to call in airstrikes and artillery support, should they be available in the chosen scenario. I’ve really put the map through its paces, and found that it’s an excellent way to manage all of the friendly forces. The interface is simple to operate, yet allows the player to fully control the actions of all available units, including speed, facing, and engagement orders. The waypoint system is excellent; each waypoint can be programmed individually, so that units perform specific functions at each one. For example, the main platoon of M1A2 tanks could be ordered to stop at waypoint one (at the top of a ridge), face east, scan for any enemy contact for 10 minutes, and then proceed to waypoint two, where they would stop, face west, and prepare to fully engage any enemy forces. You can also issue a “battle drill,” which is an immediate order that bypasses other waypoint orders and forces a platoon or unit to instantly enter into a sort of “emergency combat mode” and engage any nearby enemies.
There are several ways to play M1 Tank Platoon 2, none of them particularly easy. Training scenarios at the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California prepare the player for just about any combat situation imaginable, and are essential in teaching the skills necessary to survive the “real” combat missions. And boy oh boy, do I mean real. There are a number of stand-alone single missions (including, of course, 73 Easting), a random mission generator, and five complete campaigns that take place all over the world. But here’s the real kicker: The single missions and campaigns really are “real.” There is no way to reload a platoon once it has been completely destroyed. So, once you leave the safety of the training missions and enter into other types of gameplay, you’d better be damn sure you can handle anything that’s thrown at you. Hey, they always said war was hell….
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