Where would video games be without real wars to inspire them?
It seems that virtually every month a new game is released somewhere that replays famous conflicts from a new perspective, allowing the gamer to experience one more mindless change in game style that promises to make all the difference. It's almost as if by tweaking textures and introducing a slightly longer bayonet we'll suddenly be convinced we are in fact fighting on the Eastern Front, when in reality all we're after is some quick combat to relieve anger caused by inadvertently watching the last thirty seconds of Shortland Street whilst flicking back from Family Guy.
The original Codename: Panzers title, developed by Hungary's StormRegion, was a fairly basic real-time tactical WWII game that fulfilled this need. Launched in 2004, it never achieved overwhelming success, but did manage to attract a loyal fanbase which helped draw attention to the sequel, Codename: Panzers Phase Two, which added a bunch of extra campaigns but largely retained the existing game mechanics.
Fast forward to 2009 and the third title in the series is about ready to launch - this time however, WWII is out, and the Cold War is in. This is probably just as well, as there's certainly no shortage of WWII titles available. Some have even been under development for longer than the real war was fought. Shifting the focus to this time period has allowed StormRegion to introduce some new game concepts, and we've been lucky enough to sit down with distributors Atari NZ to take a look at these.
There's always a story to any conflict, be it disagreement over borders, religion or Eurovision Song Contest votes, and Cold War sets up the premise nicely. Essentially it's centred around a fictitious air accident at Berlin's Tempelhof airport which stirs tensions between NATO and Russia. Before you can say "mutually assured destruction" the two super-bloc countries have started attacking each other, presumably in a rather warm manner which would preclude the term "Cold War" from ever being coined.
Semantics aside, Cold War is packed full of eighteen single player campaigns, twenty multiplayer maps, and a stack of developmental tools to allow even further gameplay potential. We took a look at the opening stages of the game and ran through the tutorial session, which gave us a good impression of how this title will look when it's released in late February.
The units are modelled on existing technology drawn from both sides of the Iron Curtain, and as such feature a strong upgrade path. Tanks can equip powerful flamethrowers, which seem to work well on any target, along with upgraded firepower, armour and camouflage. APC units can act as rolling workshops and repair other mechanised units at range, and likewise first aid tents can be created by special units that can heal all within range.
The unit capabilities are tied in well to create a real sense that you're in charge of a rolling army. This is demonstrated early on in the campaigns when you need to cross a river, which can only be done by manipulating units with amphibious capabilities, so there's an element of puzzle solving as well as general strategy.
This is where Cold War tends to depart from the conventional build-then-rush mentality of most RTS titles these days - this, coupled with the capture of heliports that can provide you with reinforcements (ships and trains can also fulfil this task) means that a considered approach to each battle is probably the best bet.
In order to fund these reinforcements, as well as existing upgrades, you'll need to collect the currency of Cold War; Prestige Points. These are won by completing objectives and generally doing as much damage to your enemy as you can, and are easy enough to pick up. Spending them requires a bit of thought, particularly as you can only do so at specific points on the map.
The units and terrain are wonderfully detailed, and you can zoom right in to see the heart of each skirmish. You can also further personalise your squad with team leaders that have various abilities, such as digging fox holes or constructing defensive barricades - even laying barbed wire. Keeping this all running smoothly is the new Gepard 3 game engine developed specifically for Cold War. The maps are detailed enough to include hidden objectives, which you can see at the end of each campaign, as well as realistic, combat-altering weather along with collapsible buildings and other environmental objects. Even the aircraft are accurately damaged; some even struggle to get off the runway with blown engines, or are destroyed entirely by the opposing forces.
The multiplayer will consist of three battle modes - domination, free-for-all and teams, with up to eight people on each map battling it out for supremacy. We've been advised that there are some multiplayer-specific weapons that can swing the balance of any game, so we'll look forward to trying these out when the final game is released.
It's great to see not only continued support for the great PC RTS, but support in the form of a fast-paced game that you can learn quickly, yet take your time to perfect. Codename: Panzers Cold War looks to be a step up from the previous titles in the series, and with the less common setting of the Cold War, it's sure to attract new fans. We'll bring you an in-depth review towards the end of February.