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Review by: Emil Pagliarulo
Published: September 17, 1998
From the vantage point inside of an Abrams M1A2 main battle tank, you can’t help but feel safe. Surrounded by powerful Chobham composite armor, you sit in a protective womb, detached from the fierce person-to-person combat raging outside. You’ve got a highly trained crew at your command, including a gunner who’s spent more time caressing the controls of the tank’s 120 mm main gun than he has his wife. But let’s look at your situation, your security, from a different perspective. The camera pans back 3000 yards, to a concealed position on a rocky ridgeline: there sit four T-72 main battle tanks, aimed down at your M1A2. And their commanders don’t share your confidence. From where they stand, sticking out of the cupolas of their respective tanks, all they see is a small metal box, silhouetted against the stark desert sky. One shot might not do the trick. But the second? The third? Those Russian tank commanders are smiling, for one reason and one reason only: they know you’re dead.
In Spearhead, developed by Zombie and published by Interactive Magic, you’re the guy sitting in the little metal box, ready to be blown away. If you use your head as much as your main gun, you just might make it out in one piece. Get really lucky, and you might even accomplish your mission objectives. Sure it’s tough, but for you it’s just another day at the office.
Spearhead presents the player with a fictional, yet not entirely improbable scenario. After the dictatorial ruler of Libya accuses the president of Tunisia of ordering an assassination against him, Libya follows up with full-scale assault against their neighboring country. Joined by the Al-Nahda (the rebirth), an Islamic fundamentalist party based in Tunisia, the Libyans have begun sweeping through the desert. At this rate, according to United States military consultants, the capital of Tunisia could be overtaken in four days. That’s where you come in. Your tanks must sweep south by southeast and cut off the invading Libyans, preventing them from sacking the capital and driving them back into their own country. It’s a tough task, and one the United States certainly has its doubts about. During the Gulf War, the success of the U.S. (who can forget the complete victory of the Battle of Easting?) could be greatly attributed to preparation time. But this time, things are different: the Libyans are already on the move, and you’ve barely got time to mobilize before you’re thrown into the middle of the skillet. You can only hope that your hundreds of hours of training will pay off in the field. If not, your life is as good as over, and the Middle East, maybe the world, will never be the same again. How’s that for job stress?
While Spearhead does give you control of a multi-ton Abrams M1A2 main battle tank, I hesitate to call it a simulation. It’s really more of an action/simulation hybrid, offering elements of both types of games without really fully embracing either one. The player has control of several different stations inside the tank, including the commander’s independent thermal viewer (CITV), gunner, driver, and several external camera viewpoints. If you’ve ever played a tank sim, Spearhead will be easy to hop right into. If not, know that it offers all the standard tank sim options: you can lay down smoke to cover your position, use the night vision view, “laze” a target to determine its range, and launch warheads using the powerful main gun. Also included is the indispensable InterVehicular Information System (IVS), which serves as your map of the current surroundings, friend-or-foe identifier, and general communication interface.
While gameplay in Spearhead takes place solely in Tunisia, the fighting progresses south by southeast throughout the country, as you attempt to draw the Libyans back to their border. There are seven major geographic areas within this zone, and you’ll wage war in each one: Carthage, El Hani, Gafsa, Lacroix, Mareth, Mateur, Sidi Ahmed. Created using actual satellite imagery of Tunisia, the maps look pretty much the same, but offer distinctively different terrain features, so you’ll have to plan your tactics accordingly.
One of Spearhead’s strongest points is the creativity of the different missions. True, you’re in a tank, and there’s really only so much you can do, but the designers really tried to offer every scenario possible. One mission may find you chasing a supply convoy of trucks, while the next might see you surrounded by enemy tanks, with quick thinking and even quicker firing your only means to escape unscathed.
Interactive Magic hasn’t exactly made many friends lately in the tank sim community, thanks to the poor graphics and gameplay of iPanzer ’44. Spearhead is definitely a step in the right direction, with good 3D acceleration, and some exciting tank combat. But personally, I wish Zombie had gone with a straight-out tank sim instead of a combination sim/action game.
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