'Rising out of the steel turret, I stared through fieldglasses into the eastern horizon'
The Fulda landscape is quiet in the foggy West German dawn. My forces, the sorry result of nearly a decade of post-Vietnam defense cutbacks, stood ready anyway. Detente had failed, President Carter was already on the hotline to Moscow, and by the time Walter Cronkite broadcasts the first reports of World War III to a scared nation, thousands of soldiers and civilians will have already lost their lives. A scared German family hurries past my metal machine, the father slowing long enough to yell a frantic, 'Von der Osten, von der Osten, Die Russichen kommt nach hier!'
As if in response, the ground shakes with the reverberations of the preliminary Soviet bombardment. I hunker down in my tank, the command vehicle in control of this improvised line of defense. I tell my forces to fire at the maximum range; we need to stop these Communist bastards before they can bring the superior firepower of their vaunted T-80's to bear upon our outdated Patton's and the shamefully low quantity of modern M1-Abrams. 'Where the hell are our choppers?!' I ask under my breath as the lead tank finds its first target, fires, and scores a direct hit to cheers of 'U.S.A! U.S.A!' up and down the line. Success is good, but it probably won't last for long. While the Soviets advance, I use my mouse to access the pop-up artillery menu. Next round, Ivan's going to receive a little surprise....
Steel Panthers II is about war, an electronic game that grabs you by your emotions and adrenal glands. This game will take your mind and bring it to the modern battlefield where the player has the opportunity to fight in every major battle from the first wave of North Korean invaders in June of 1950 to the first wave of Chinese forces in a fictional 1999 invasion of Taiwan. There are scenarios from Vietnam, including Ia Drang in 1965, the massive invasion of 1972, and even Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
One of the areas well covered in this game is the Middle East, where a player can fight in any of the regional conflicts, from the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973, to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and finally to the multi-national coalition wars of the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 1991 Gulf War. Of course, one can play either side, giving every armchair general the chance to make history, or change it. There are a lot of surprises, too.
One of the best features of this game, besides the general content, is the tried, tested, and proven SSI wargame interface that has been a constant winner from the days of Panzer General through the first Steel Panthers and on to the most recent Age of Rifles. This interface is a series of user-friendly buttons on pop-up menus. When the mouse cursor is placed over one of these buttons imprinted with a picture symbol, a brief description of that button's function is given at the top of the screen. This gives the player an easy reference and allows him or her to play a fast game without constantly referring back to the instruction manual. You only have to consult the manual if you want some notes on strategy or the firing ranges of various weapons.
Also online is a complete weapons and equipment encyclopedia with dates, pictures, and descriptions. This is an essential aid for the player, because at the beginning of each campaign, he or she must purchase armies and in order to field the most effective force, specifications of these types of infantry, armor, artillery, and support companies are necessary. Another feature of this encyclopedia is in the powerful Scenario Editor, an easy to use device for building a battlefield and stocking it with troops of any nationality. It is possible to construct a battle for Germany in which the forces pitted against each other are those of Taiwan and Israel!
The actual gameplay itself is simple. Battles consist of clashes on the tactical level, not on the strategic. So, when the player moves a tank or infantry company, he or she is actually moving one infantry company or one tank. The use of areas of cover such as woods or hills is encouraged, and is sometimes the key to survival in such a battle. There are towns of a few buildings, bridges, rivers, and prominent hilltops. Watch out for the hilltops. The enemy can see its targets if placed in plain view and its artificial intelligence is an astute one. To fire a weapon, click on the tank and then send the target crosshairs to rest over the enemy target. Sometimes it will be a miss, other times an explosion will follow with a long, tall column of flame and black smoke rising from the blackened machine.
Graphically, this game is phenomenal. Explosions look real, with some parts of the battlefield obscured completely by smoke and fire. The sound brings the player into the war, as machine gun fire crackles and artillery arrives with a high-pitched whistle that culminates in a violent crash. The martial music in the background only serves to heighten the senses to the fiery chaos and confusion of modern war going on all around.
There are many people who dislike sequels, who truly believe that no follow-up product could ever be as brilliant and innovative as its original. Sometimes, these people are right. And then there are times, like with this game, when these people are wrong.
Damned Soviets. We'll send them all back to Moscow this time.