For years, armor fans have been waiting for a realistic World War II tank simulation. Most publishers have followed in the tracks of MicroProse's 1989 classic game, M1 Tank Platoon, basing their simulations primarily on the American M1 Abrams. In 1995, it appeared that MicroProse would break through with its World War II game, Across the Rhine. However, as a simulation, it was a disaster and not well received as a tactical real-time game.
With iPanzer '44, Interactive Magic had the opportunity to exploit the wide-open market for a serious World War II tank simulation. Unfortunately, those who pinned their hopes on this game are in for a major disappointment. The game plays slow, even on a high-end Pentium II system with a 3Dfx Voodoo2 card. It is a buggy, graphically unappealing game with the misfortune of being released at almost the same time as M1 Tank Platoon II, which, for all its faults, looks fantastic and plays wonderfully on less-powerful systems.
Gameplay in iPanzer is similar to tank sims of the past, except that you have the choice of commanding either German, Russian, or American forces - a notable plus. Play options include instant action, single missions or a series of battles in a dynamic campaign. Your persona earns medals, and your tankers gain experience with each successful engagement. Multiplayer support, which was originally promised, is absent from the game.
In battle, you control a company-sized task force and fight from one of the vehicles in your personal tank platoon. When playing the Germans, you use the Panther. As the Americans, you use the M4A3(76) Sherman and, as the Russians, the T-34/85. You can move between the gunner's, driver's, and commander's stations and switch to different tanks within your platoon. There are a wide variety of support units, including armored cars, light tanks, assault guns, tank destroyers, self-propelled artillery, anti-tank guns, and infantry (but no heavy tanks). Commands to support units are issued from a map screen.
The game is riddled with problems, such as graphical glitches that cause armored vehicles to sometimes hover in mid-air, flashing terrain textures and units that fire through hundreds of meters of seemingly impenetrable forest. The AI borders on pathetic. Vehicle pathfinding is broken, and unit deployment routines, which can't be modified, often cause troops to be positioned in ridiculous locations. Infantry units are crudely depicted and many vehicles look like caricatures of their real-life counterparts. Some players have reported that they can't get the game to work in Direct 3D mode.
There are, however, two areas in which the game deserves credit. The first is its manual, which does a good job of describing the game's mechanics and is packed with interesting information on World War II weapons and armor. The second is the wide variety of options players are given to configure the game. It's too bad that the configuration menu ranks among the most confusing ever devised, and system settings do little to improve the game's performance or appearance.
iPanzer should have been a step up from iM1A2 Abrams, last year's promising effort from Interactive Magic. Yet somehow, the company managed to take iPanzer the opposite direction. Given Interactive Magic's disinterest in addressing issues with iM1A2, there's little reason to believe that iPanzer will get any better with time.