M1 Tank Platoon 2
Despite An Unhealthy Obsession With armoured vehicles, I've always preferred flight sims to tank sims. In a flight sim, you've got everything at your fingertips. In a tank sim, you've got to do the job of three men - drive the tank, fire the gun and command the tank - plus any awkward bolt-on strategy elements, such as commanding platoons and ordering artillery strikes, just to add to the overall sense of frustration.
Fortunately, M1 Tank Platoon II isn't just a 3Dfx rehash of the nine-year-old original. It's far more than just a tank sim, it's an incredibly realistic simulation, not of a single M1A2 Abrams tank but of modern small-unit warfare. Sure, you get to command your tank, but it will do whatever it has to do without any input from you. Using a sophisticated computerised battlefield management system, you control the other tank platoons, infantry, artillery and air strikes, and watch them go to work on the bad guys in glorious 3Dfx-enhanced technicolour.
On a decent PC, the graphics are fast and incredibly smooth, and everything from the tracer rounds to the explosions looks and feels superb. The vehicles are accurately modelled in full 3D, as are the infantry. Yes, infantry. The game includes individual soldiers modelled as realistically as the vehicles. They lie down, fire, crouch and run; they even mount and dismount from their fighting vehicles.
Add some terrific sound effects such as explosions, MGs and gunfire, as well as the atmospheric radio chatter as other elements report events taking place, and you've got a deepimmersion battlefield simulation with months of solid gameplay behind it. That includes the optional but important training sessions, fixed scenarios, five different campaign settings and random battles.
No two scenarios will ever be the same, because although the Al is programmed to follow standard Russian armoured doctrine when playing Russian units, for instance, it makes different decisions each time. On a tactical level, the Al makes vehicles use terrain features like ridges to take up hull-down positions and hide behind already burning tanks to escape detection by thermal sights.
The real 'bugger me' bit comes the first time you see infantry up close. I'd pushed my platoon carefully up a hill covered with burning vehicles. The first section (two tanks) was first, followed by the second section on overwatch, just like the training manual says. Then I realised that the burning vehicles were BMPs - troop transports. Suddenly two rockets came flying towards me, launched by two soldiers with tubes. Small arms fire starting bouncing off the tank as a dozen previously unseen soldiers let rip.
I lost two tanks to hand-held anti-tank missiles in the close-quarters fight, and learned a lesson or two in the process. In fact I only got rid of the enemy infantry by standing in the turret hatch and wiping them out with the machine gun! Should I have brought down an artillery barrage first? Probably. But I'll know next time...
Tanks and things
The M1A2 Abrams has two special features. First comes the Inter-Vehicular Information System, or MS, which gives tank commanders constant updates on the position of friendly units and enables command and control without the need for radio instructions. Second is the CITV, an all-round thermal or telescopic viewer that enables the commander to scan the area and assign targets for the gunner when he's free. Both transfer well to the game - in 'hunter-killer' mode you scan, pick targets, and the gunner never sits twiddling his thumbs. If you feel like taking over the tank driving or gunnery, you can do it, of course, and the superb graphics make it great fun. As commander, you can also pop up out of the hatch and blast away with your own personal machine gun. While you do that, the other crew members - and the other vehicles - get on with the job in hand.
Some 70 vehicles are included in the game, from humvees to heavy tanks like the Challenger and the T90, with 80 weapons such as MGs, TOW missiles, anti-air stuff and various tank guns. Artillery fire missions are there too, as is air support from Apache helicopters, A10 'Warthogs' and US Marine Harriers.
Attention to detail is impressive. The game includes all variants of tanks and AFVs currently in use - even the minor differences between Russian T72 and T90 tanks are accurately modelled. Even better is the way vehicles rock on their tracks when they're hit by guns or missiles, and moving vehicles that are knocked out will continue moving for some time before halting. Most tanks blow up quite realistically, although some simply stop with the gun pointing downwards. Others explode with the turret leaping into the air and falling to the ground. Hit a man with a machine gun and he'll even throw his arms in the air before collapsing in a heap. Hardly politically correct these days, but bloody great fun. Terrain is the least effective feature, as woods are no-go areas - you can't hide in the edges, although you can use them to protect a flank. Buildings can be flattened too, but it's the subtle elevation changes that are important to vehicles, providing protection and concealment.
There are faults, inevitably. The interface is a awkward at times, especially when dealing with the main armament, and it takes a lot of playing time before you get to understand the way it works. The manual isn't much help, either. It's also very difficult to split platoons into sections, and occasionally platoons take it upon themselves to move in strange directions. The lack of Internet play is a shame, but it does support up to five players on a network and two via modem, although I couldn't make it work on a serial link at all. These are just niggles though.
Ml Tank Platoon 2 is a superb game which shoots straight into my Number 1 slot. When it comes to real-time war games go, it just doesn't get any better than this.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode