You may recognize the developer of World War II: Panzer Claws. Throughout various name changes and publishers, the team has created several real-time strategy games like the Earth 2150 series and World War III: Black Gold. Zuxxez Interactive, as the developer is now known, has teamed up with Eidos for its latest project, a real-time strategy game set in World War II.
Panzer Claws lets you play as the German Wehrmacht, the Soviets, or the Allies. The game has all the standard modes you might expect from a real-time strategy game, including single-player campaigns, instant-action skirmish maps, and multiplayer options. Panzer Claws has six single-player campaigns, divided evenly between the three sides. You do have to complete a tutorial mission before gaining access to the campaigns, but that may be a good thing considering the game's surprisingly steep learning curve. Interestingly, the campaign actually plays differently from the skirmish and multiplayer modes. In the campaign, you're given a set number of units to complete each mission, but in skirmish and multiplayer, you have to construct a base and build units, and you gain money over time by capturing and holding mines and factories spread throughout the map.
The three factions have equivalent units and buildings in terms of functionality, which you might expect, considering the kind of technology that was available during World War II. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the game is the inclusion of infantry, a first for an Earth 3-engine game from Zuxxez. When you start a mission or purchase infantry units, the infantry units appear as a group. For example, a basic infantry squad will actually consist of nine units clumped together. You can split them apart if you'd like, but it's a good idea to keep groups together when you have a lot of troops. Panzer Claws also offers a wide variety of armored vehicles to round out your army. A crew of infantry mans every vehicle and building, and you can send your crew in and out at will. Panzer Claws also has aircraft, but you don't have direct control over them. Instead, you use them as one-shot deals for air reconnaissance, bombing runs, or rocket attacks.
Just about every unit in Panzer Claws serves some valuable function. For example, infantry may seem pointless, since they're so vulnerable to enemy vehicle attack, but they have many purposes. They're very cheap to build and they draw enemy fire, and since tank shells and antitank bunkers do little damage to infantry, you can have opponents waste their time and ammunition on your infantry, and you'll suffer relatively few casualties. Second, your infantry are adept at killing vehicle crews without damaging the actual vehicle, and you can then capture enemy vehicles and use them yourself. While they're surprisingly useful, infantry can sometimes pick up speed for no apparent reason and move as fast as some vehicles. It's rather unpredictable, but it doesn't affect gameplay too much.
Panzer Claws' vehicles are diverse and are balanced against each other in a rock-paper-scissors scheme. For instance, armored cars and halftracks are highly effective against infantry. Tanks are effective against vehicles like armored cars, as well as buildings, but you can't simply load up on powerful tanks and expect to win, since tank destroyers are much cheaper than regular tanks. You'll also be able to recruit units with long-range firing capabilities, which can be a problem if you're running the game at a low graphical resolution, because your field of vision will be limited, which may make it difficult for you to see your long-range attackers.
The campaigns themselves are modeled after real events in the war, including the invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent defense of Moscow. Missions range from holding a line against an attack to destroying certain objects, like an armored train. They force you to strategically plan every move. Since you have a limited number of troops and air strikes and sometimes limited ammo, you may find these missions to be especially challenging, and some of Panzer Claws' missions are unusually long.
Panzer Claws' skirmish mode plays almost like Zuxxez's previous game, World War III: Black Gold. Panzer Claws doesn't involve the use of worker units for building structures; instead, you place an outline on the battlefield and a truck will appear to construct the building. Units aren't built in the buildings but instead appear as reinforcements from an "appearance point." Appearance points are of strategic importance, since if you lose yours to the enemy, you won't be able to build anything else. The skirmish mode's pacing generally isn't as fast as a conventional real-time strategy game, because you don't earn funds quickly. And since pretty much all of Panzer Claws' units have effective counterunits, you can't simply rush your opponent with a single unit type. Skirmishes in Panzer Claws require you to plan an assault with mixed forces of infantry, armor, and aircraft.
Panzer Claws has several gameplay elements from Zuxxez's previous games, like day-and-night cycles, which can affect visibility and firing ranges. Visibility actually plays a strategic role in multiplayer games--for instance, you can surprise your opponents by turning off your vehicles' lights until you reach their base. Also, like in other Zuxxez games, you need to keep your units supplied with ammo, though the game doesn't give you a good indication of whether your supply trucks are working. For whatever reason, the game doesn't provide any kind of acknowledgement as to whether a supply truck is on the way, and when it does come, you need to make sure it doesn't get attacked. Fortunately, this is one of the few instances in which Panzer Claws will force you to micromanage your units.
Panzer Claws' AI is decent, but it can be weak at times. The campaigns aren't particularly challenging because your computer-controlled opponent is a master strategist; they are challenging because the computer will have a lot of units and defenses. It's possible to beat the computer on the highest level of difficulty in a skirmish quite easily, but if you face more than one computer-controlled opponent, you'll face a serious challenge. Your units will do a good job of targeting opponents and telling you when they're under attack, though you'll have to go through the process of manually ordering them to hold their positions if you don't want them to move. Otherwise, they may wander in front of a turret and die before you can even select them.
Zuxxez has used its Earth 3 engine once again for Panzer Claws, and the engine is beginning to show serious signs of age. Panzer Claws' graphics just can't compete with recent games like Warcraft III and Age of Mythology. The game's buildings look drab, and the infantry animations are terrible, though the environments look decent enough and feature trees, water, and elevated terrain. However, the Earth 3 engine's camera system still works extremely well in Panzer Claws. The camera is fixed by default, but you can unlock it and control the camera with your mouse. It's one of the best camera controls in a real-time strategy game because you don't have to fiddle with a bunch of keys on the keyboard to rotate, zoom, and pitch the camera. Also, when you zoom in to the battlefield, the camera automatically changes its pitch to keep a good field of view.
World War II: Panzer Claws is hard to recommend to anyone who's just looking for a fast, fun real-time strategy game. The fact that it attempts to accurately model features such as firing ranges and counterunits and that it includes the concept of supply lines may drive away players looking for a fast-paced game like Command & Conquer. On the other hand, hard-core wargame fans may prefer games like Combat Mission, which do a better job of accurately simulating a battle. Otherwise, there's nothing in Panzer Claws that hasn't been done before, but then again, that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable in its own right, and the game's lengthy single-player campaigns should keep you occupied for a while. Unfortunately, Panzer Claws' skirmish mode doesn't offer much in the way of new thrills, and to date there are hardly any players playing the game online. Panzer Claws is a decent game, but if you're looking for another Earth 2150, or even an Earth 1942, you won't find it here.