Have you ever looked at the shelf at your local game store and notice how many games are based in WWII? It will probably vary from place to place since each store will have different games in stock, but probably about one-third or more are based around killing Nazis during the 1940’s. This particular time period has spawned so many games in so many genres and sub-genres in the past five years it is staggering. In the strategy genre, particularly the RTS area, these games range from ultra-realistic simulations to arcade oriented action, but rarely one that sits in-between. Codename Panzers: Phase One is just that type of game, and manages to do this rather successfully.
In Codename Panzers, you control the Germans, Russians, or the American/British forces. Each of these sides has a campaign, and each is covering a different section and a different time period of the war. Sadly, the Japanese and the Pacific theatre are nowhere to be found, but honestly, did you ever hear of a Panzer tank making a break through the lines at Iwo Jima? The absence of the Pacific theatre is pretty negligible since what you have is chock full of plenty of stuff for you to take in without having it being a burden.
The reason Panzers doesn’t overwhelm you with it’s content is because of it’s scale. The maximum amount of units you can control never exceeds 25. On top of that, the scale of each map is pretty small when you compare it to the overall scheme of things. This is not to say that things do not get hectic and boring. On the contrary, the action is pretty intense. Granted a good chunk of the time you are on the offense, sometimes you are on the defense, and with 25 units (not all of them being combat oriented), you are getting swarmed with attackers. Thankfully, you can pause the game at any time and issue orders to your units if you need to. Your units AI will also help simplifying things, as they will do pretty much what you want them to do automatically. If some infantry starts taking fire, they will go prone and react accordingly. Medics heal units automatically, as well as ammo and supply trucks. Most of the micromanagement needs that are common in this genre are automated properly thanks to the units magnificent AI.
One of the things Codename Panzers emphasizes is your individual unit. Each of your units’ gains experience and level up, and these units carry over to the next mission if they survive the current one. This makes keeping veteran troops alive more important. Units that level up gain bonuses in all of their attributes, especially in the hit points department. Later on in the games as the missions get hard, if you don’t have some high level units to take into the fight, your army of freshly trained recruits will get slaughtered by the enemy. However, as you play, you will grasp some tactics that work for you that will enable you to keep from losing a single unit during a mission.
Another factor dealing with units is the prestige system. Each mission that you have has objectives. Some of these are primary, some secondary, and some secret. Completion of these objectives al give you prestige points, which you use to buy reinforcements before each mission. Early on, this will feel like a strain because you won’t have that many points to spend. However, as you gradually build your army, gain experience and move on, you will find that you won’t be spending as much, if any prestige on units because you won’t need to.
Now I said early on that there were mainly two types of RTS games based in WWII, ultra-realistic simulations and your arcade action style. Codename Panzers is a hybrid of these two. Each unit has a good portion of stats, tanks can be damaged differently depending on the side that was hit, units are not created in game like a Command & Conquer style, and the gameplay more-or-less forces you to have a rounded attack force, complete with support units. These characteristics are common in the simulation types. However, the damage modeling is more arcade like, where infantry take more damage from a submachine gun that a direct tank shell. The range of your weapons, particularly artillery, is reduced to about two screens away at max. All of your infantry don’t have to worry about being supplied with ammo since it’s infinite, but on vehicles and artillery it is limited. The whole feel of the game has a much lighter appeal than that of a serious simulation that more or less has a “do this or your dead” approach. In Codename Panzers, if you try something and it doesn’t work, you can usually pull out and regroup without taking to many losses (if any) and try again.
With all of the mumbo jumbo I just wrote, the main thing to focus on about the gameplay is that it fun. Whether it’s a simulation, arcade-style, hybrid, etc., Codename Panzers is fun to play, and that is what matters most. During missions, you will have a numerous amount of options to choose from, and all of them directly come from how you like to play. If you want to go all infantry, sure, go ahead; watch out for armor and artillery. Want to go out with tanks? Sure, go ahead, but watch out for the enemy anti-tanks and flamethrowers. Almost any situation can be approached any way you see fit; it’s up to you to make your particular approach work. Personally, I used a strategy based around artillery, snipers, flamethrowers, and very little armor but an abundance of tank crews. Reason for this is that I would creep up with my snipers, spot the hard targets and kill any infantry as they go. I would then take the artillery and smash anything that I either couldn’t steal, or what was too costly to steal. Then I would take flamethrowers and assault a tank, heating it up until the crew had to eject. The snipers would take the crew out, and I got me a nice new tank that I didn’t have to pay for once it cools off. Enemy artillery and anti-tank guns that need to be towed have it’s crew exposed, which means snipers can take them out, and your own troops can man them. Why spend prestige for your own stuff when the enemy has already bought it?
Codename Panzers Also comes with some modes other that it’s singleplayer. You will have your basic tutorial, which does very well at getting you to know the basic units that you will be using and how the game is played. A scenario mode is there for you to try out some specific maps, but be warned, these maps are of considerable difficulty compared to the rest of the game. You also have a Training Camp mode where you are given some prestige, you build an army, and you face that army against a map full of enemies. It’s basically a sandbox for you to test out any particular strategy you want to employ. The last mode you have, and definitely not the least is multiplayer, which is expected in 95% of games today. What wasn’t expected, but is always welcome is that the entire singleplayer campaign is there to play cooperatively with a buddy or three. Such a feature is so rare on any game in any genre that it is always a welcome addition. In addition to playing the campaign with a friend, you can fight each other in Deathwatch, Assault or Domination. This is more like playing a game of cards, because once you choose your army, that’s it. Your forces might be what you need to expose a weakness in your opponents units, or it can be vice-versa. What will make the difference here is who can adapt to the battlefield the quickest and exploit the weakness of the other rather than just throwing your units at the enemy and hope that your forces will slug it out and win. In a game like this, precision and tactics beat brute force hand over fist.
As far as the Graphics are concerned, Codename Panzers doesn’t necessarily set a new standard but the quality that is there makes the game look and feel alive and does the job adequately. The maps that you play on are littered with a great range of things that are all detailed extremely well, even under close scrutiny. Your units are heavily detailed and their models are well done. The environment that you move them in reacts as you pass. The landscape is pretty destructible and will react to not just your units firing at it, but just moving over it as well. What comes to mind first is running over a telephone pole, and it’s wires realistically swayed as they fell, all in real time.
Sadly, Codename Panzers is not perfect and suffers from some noticeable flaws. The first one, and most likely the easiest to recognize is that you never know what type of troops you should be taking into battle until you get there, This means you have to go through a trial and error process to finding out what type of mission you are going to be undertaking, and this is annoying. Personally, I don’t like having to restart a mission because I wasn’t given enough information to tailor my force to meet the objectives. Also, the sound of the game wasn’t something of a memorable performance. I am not saying it’s bad, far from it. I am saying that it is exactly what you would expect from a WWII game, nothing more. The final negative thing to say is that, since it is a WWII title in a long, long list, everything you do has been done, multiple times by many other games. How many times have I invaded Normandy now? How many times have watch the French surrender? I’ve lost count, and I bet most of you have too.
All in all, Codename Panzers: Phase One is a great game, but not for everyone. If you are a fan of WWII, and lets face it, most of you are or else we wouldn’t have so many titles based on it, this is a game that is worth picking up. If you are a fan of strategy titles or are new to the genre, it is still a good game to pick up because it eases you into your role and ramps up the difficulty appropriately. Personally, with all of the mediocre games out there that use WWII as it’s main marketing ploy, Codename Panzers: Phase One is a big step up because it brings you a great game that is easy to learn, a joy to play, and a blast with friends.