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Review by: Matt Plumb
Published: September 30, 2000
Many people in America, myself included, grew up with war games. Children can acquire massive sets of green plastic soldiers, and are usually astounded by the sheer variety of the weaponry and vehicles that are available to them. Although they often have no clue what any of the different weapons are — mostly World War II-era equipment, if I remember right — that doesn’t stop them from staging massive battles in sandboxes or bathtubs. As children mature, war games grow up with them, ranging in complexity from the relatively simple Risk to the popular and complex Axis and Allies. The computer war game is a natural extension of this, adding a level of historical simulation not available in any other medium. The Panzer General series has always combined historical accuracy with turn-based strategic gameplay; now SSI and Mattel Interactive take the franchise to the Russian Front with Panzer General III: Scorched Earth.
Panzer General III takes place on the Eastern Front of World War II, where Germany and the USSR are locked in bitter conflict. Players can choose from single scenarios, custom battles, or four different campaigns. The twenty single scenarios, which are set at different times and places during the war, can be played in any order. The random battle generator has plenty of options that allow armchair generals to recreate their favorite conflict, or create situations that never occurred. However, the heart of Panzer General III is its four campaigns, in which players assume the roles of military commanders, deciding the fate of Europe and of the world. The campaign lengths vary from seven to eighteen scenarios, each with their own specific objectives, such as capturing towns or search and destroy. Also, the missions are branching, allowing players to choose various routes to the ultimate campaign objective. As in a real war, players have limited resources, with their forces and reserves carrying over between battles. At times during missions, headquarters will reward success by deploying rare equipment, veteran leaders, or reinforcements. These historically accurate battles are waged between historically accurate military forces.
Players have a myriad of air and ground forces at their disposal, each with a classification that determines its battlefield role: infantry, tank, anti-tank, reconnaissance, fighter, bomber, artillery, or air defense. Within the separate classes, there are a variety of unit types, covering hundreds of vehicles and troop designations used on the Russian Front, from MiG fighter planes to Grenadiers to Tiger tanks. They are all rated in twelve offensive and defensive categories; statistics that include their effectiveness against armored targets, their firing range, and their ammunition supplies. As the war progresses and technology becomes more advanced, players will have access to vehicles and infantry divisions with better statistics. The vast selection of unit types creates an almost infinite variety to the clashes between the Axis and Allied powers.
Panzer General III‘s units can execute a number of general orders, depending on their class. The majority of these are simple, such as move, attack, dismount artillery, etc. Units can also be ordered to resupply or refit — two of the most important orders in the game. A resupply order takes part of a turn, but replenishes the vehicle or infantry division’s ammunition. A refit can only be attempted at the beginning of a turn, taking up all of the unit’s moves, but it repairs battle damage. The first refit repairs the unit completely, but each additional refit provides diminishing returns. In addition to general orders, some equipment types have special abilities, such as the capacity to provide support fire or entrench themselves automatically. Although units can perform a wide variety of tasks, in the hands of an experienced leader, they become even more powerful and versatile.
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