With its all-new 3D graphics engine and a handful of new features, Panzer General 3D Assault brings this popular turn-based tank-warfare series back for a third go-round. Though the 3D graphics can occasionally lead to command and control problems, the game is based on a good underlying system and offers the same brand of gameplay that made Panzer General such a huge hit. In short, it's more of the same, only better in most respects, which ought to be good news for fans of the series.
It won't take long to spot Panzer General 3D Assault's most prominent new feature: Instead of painted backgrounds and prerendered units, the game uses true 3D terrain maps and tiny little 3D-rendered unit graphics. As a result, this Panzer General looks very much like a tabletop miniatures game (but one played on a really cool tabletop that comes complete with rivers and little cities). The graphics are mostly good, and the rolling terrain is quite impressive. Unfortunately, the game suffers from the same problem as Panzer General II: Units in city hexes often get lost amidst the scenery. Also, aircraft float above their hexes but are often tough to pinpoint in areas cluttered with other units. Ordering aircraft to attack other aircraft can be confusing as well, as you must click on a destination hex square to move the planes, but then click on an airborne target that looks as if it's in a completely different spot.
However, once you get used to the 3D interface, most of these issues fade away. The only one that stays with you throughout is the lightning-fast combat resolution that occurs when units attack one another if you turn off the unit animation. As any Panzer General veteran knows, the combat animations are great for the first scenario or so, and then you shut them off to speed up gameplay. However, in Panzer General 3D Assault, it's difficult to tell what happened in a particular engagement unless you leave the animations on and watch the combat unfold. Otherwise, you pretty much have to go back and find the combatants on the map and highlight each to see who came out on top. Obviously, this is more of an issue when the AI takes its turn, since you can control the pace of your own attacks. You can click through moves to speed them up, but this can get repetitive. It's too bad there's no way to speed up the animations without actually skipping them.
Of course, there are some real benefits to the 3D engine. For starters, the maps and units are very well rendered, which gives the game an impressive and consistent look. Also, units that have sustained damage in combat will smoke and flame at varying levels to let you know their status. This is actually quite helpful when you're skimming the battlefield to see how things stand.
If you've played previous installments of this series, you probably won't have to change many habits in order to adapt to 3D Assault. Deep inside Panzer General 3D Assault's newfangled exterior lies a game very much like its predecessors, with the same basic wargaming system at play. Some of the extra features that had been added to Panzer General II are alive and well in this installment, including leaders with special abilities. Also, you can now make multiple moves and attacks with your units - the better a unit's leader is, the more actions it can take in a given turn. Some leaders let bombers operate even in bad weather, provide first-strike capabilities on every engagement, or let units avoid support fire from enemy artillery.
The game offers a new interface for managing all your leaders and the rest of your army between scenarios. Though the units look toy-like, and the process of assigning a leader to a unit could stand to gain a confirmation dialogue, this army-customization screen is fairly effective at simplifying the task of outfitting and upgrading your troops.
Panzer General 3D Assault includes eight campaigns that take place on the Western Front. Four of the campaigns are lengthy, full-fledged affairs, while the other four are much shorter minicampaigns. You can opt to command American, German, British, or French forces, and as in any Panzer General game, you can adjust all the various difficulty and game settings, such as the quality of reinforcements for both you and the AI.
The sound effects are pretty solid throughout, and each type of unit sounds appropriately different. Also, though they grow old in a hurry, some of the attack animations look pretty good. Dive-bombing attacks on ground units are particularly fun to watch. As with many SSI games, the musical score will probably strike a love-hate relationship with you; if you like the idea of stomping German forces to John Philip Sousa, then the music will suit you just fine.
Overall, Panzer General 3D Assault is a solid game built upon a proven game system. Despite its occasional problems, the 3D engine is a nice addition, and the gameplay is akin to Panzer General II with an even broader set of features, which should please most fans of the series.