If you're a simulation fan thinking of picking up WWII Tank Commander and thinking you'll get an M1 Tank Platoon out of it, don't. Despite its name, you don't really command a tank in WWII Tank Commander. This isn't a simulation of tank combat so much as it is an action arcade game of tank combat. In fact, WWII Tank Commander is almost like a first-person shooter, but instead of holding a gun and running around, you're firing a tank cannon and rumbling around the French countryside on treads. It's an incredibly simple game, which can be expected for a budget title that sells for $20, but the crazy thing is that, for all its flaws and issues, it also packs a simple charm.
WWII Tank Commander puts you in control of one of Patton's tanks during his romp through Europe, and the action is fairly straightforward. Using the familiar mouse/keyboard control scheme used for most first-person shooters, you'll steer your tank through a series of highly scripted battlefields, blasting away at German tanks, artillery, and infantry along the way. For all the attention to detail that the game pays to getting the sway and rocking motion of a tank's suspension right, this is very much a first-person shooter where all you have to do is put the cursor on the target and fire away. There's very little semblance to realism, as German tanks pretty much take three hits to kill every time, while your tank has a health bar that can absorb plenty of hits. And if your health runs low, just run over one of the many health packs that enemy tanks leave behind when they die.
There are all sorts of arcade-style contrivances in the game. For example, the perpetual fog in the distance ensures that all engagements take place from close to medium range. Enemy tanks don't really move much, and you have to get close enough to "trigger" them before they notice you. Enemy infantry stand in the open and wait for you to mow them down, or run them over. You'll be part of a platoon of American tanks, none of which will die no matter how many hits they take, so it's easy to let them get in front of you and soak up all the hits. They won't die unless it's scripted into the mission. You have the fastest loader in the history of tank warfare, because he can get a new round into the cannon in about three seconds. Missions are a bit like old-fashioned rail shooters in that each one unfolds the exact same way as the others.
It goes on. There are no instant action or multiplayer modes; there's just a single-player campaign. There are no difficulty settings, but that's not a problem for most of the levels, since you'll just roll around behind your invincible teammates and fire away from relative safety. (The only "tough" missions involve creeping along the tight confines of a gutted town, spotting enemy tanks and blasting them before they hit you.) Did we mention that there's pretty much no artificial intelligence in the game and that most actions are scripted? There are no midgame saves, so if you screw up and die, you have to start over again until you get it right.
So it's a bit easy to dismiss WWII Tank Commander as shovelware, but the game deserves a bit better than that. The graphics engine can't be considered cutting edge, but it still delivers some immersive moments, like when your tank platoon is rolling through a French field in formation, which can't help but make you feel a bit invincible. Or when you crest a hill and discover a Tiger tank with its cannon pointed at you at point-blank range. Or the cool atmospheric effects, like the way distant artillery detonations light up the sky, much like in that eerie nighttime sequence in Saving Private Ryan. And for those who miss lens flare, there's lens flare galore in this game. The sound effects are passable, though.
WWII Tank Commander just doesn't have a lot of depth or replayability to it. Yes, it's a budget game, but regardless, there are far better options available, even at a budget price. It has its charms, but they're not enough to make WWII Tank Commander recommendable.