Touring a Gunner, HEAT, PC! battlefield post-bellum is like wandering around a sculpture park filled with artworks made by an affluent anti-war conceptual artist. In order to bring home the reality of modern armoured warfare, the artist has replaced sections of real AFVs with perspex panels, then used miles of multi-coloured ribbons to illustrate the firework-like trajectories of the shrapnel, spall, and jets of liquefied steel produced by shell impacts. Sometimes the gaudy traceries miss the blue mannequins that represent crewmen. Often they do not.
When the small, communicative team behind this in-development, Patreon-funded armour sim announced that their damage model was sufficiently detailed to sim mangled limbs and organ-specific internal injuries, a few eyebrows – mine included – elevated. Having recently experienced the granular GBH first-hand I now know there’s nothing gratuitous about GHPC’s forensic interest in flying metal.
Here at last is a game that understands that calculating the exact point at which a ladybird-sized fragment of jagged steel enters Tommy Atkins can be every bit as important to the outcome of a tank duel as calculating the exact point at which a 125mm APDS round enters a hull. You don’t need to see blood and gore or read every line of one of the instantly generated impact reports…
…to see the sense in the approach. I was won over the first time a tardy loader cost me everything in a scrap with a T-72. Examining the AAR display after the fight, I realised the reason my shell handler was so damn sluggish was that an earlier hit had jammed a sliver of red hot steel through his right hand.
Over the past year the ‘vertical slice’ available to most Patreon patrons, has steadily thickened. Gain access to it today by supporting the project at the $3-per-month ‘APC’ tier or above, and you’ll find an extremely promising prototype waiting for you.
Comely driveables sculpted with the help of photogrammetry now include the M60A3, M1IP, M113, T-72M1, T-55A, BRDM2, and, unexpectedly, the T-34-85. Although the team’s limited budget mean this fleet of greensward gougers won’t be getting 3D interiors any time soon, carefully modelled optics and atmospheric unbuttoned commander views make the deficiency easy to overlook.
The view from the commander’s hatch in the game’s latest addition is particularly pleasing. M1A1’s spawn with randomised kit in their bustle racks, some of which jiggles and swings as the vehicle moves. Between you and this restless impedimenta is a potentially life-saving safety feature that lead developer Josh Busuito has modelled with characteristic care. If ammo stored in an Abrams turret ever starts cooking off, three panels in the turret roof blow out, allowing the fiery furnace to vent upwards rather than inwards.
Internal access to the turret’s firewalled ammo compartment is via a sliding door that opens automatically when a new round is required. This too is modelled, meaning Abrams unlucky enough to get penetrated in the bustle during reloading may not be saved by the blowout panels.
Complementing the peerless damage recreation and shapely exteriors, are carefully simmed optics, Fire Control Systems, and thermal sights. The attention to detail ensures gunnery in a Forties throwback like the T-55 (no laser rangefinder, no ballistic computer, and feeble night sight) is far more demanding than gunnery in a relatively modern type like the Abrams (automatic lead compensation, and excellent on-the-move gun stabilisation).
Although GHPC is admirably friendly – the WASD keys (movement), E (lase), Shift (optics), and number keys (ammo types) seeing the most action – prototypical quirks like the need to switch on an infrared illumination spotlight when using the primitive image intensification night sights fitted to Warsaw Pact AFVs, and “dump lead” when lasing targets straight after turret traversal in the US MBTs, could potentially catch out newcomers. It pays to get to know steeds on the well appointed ‘proving grounds’ map before embarking on the missions.
Enemies and excitement aren’t hard to find in the 21 missions on offer in the current build.
Usually you’re slinging your first sabot round within a minute or two of the start.
Right now most of the challenge comes from the way the scenarios have been set-up rather than the manner in which adversaries fight. You come to grief because you’ve failed to notice a foe, missed a sitter, or bitten off more than you can chew, not because you’ve been cunningly outflanked, or outgunned by an opponent that knows how to ‘shoot and scoot’ or utilise contours.
The tacAI is decidedly basic at the moment – something the devs readily admit. I look forward to the day when Goliath-facing Davids sometimes reverse and/or pop smoke, unit start positions and routes can be randomised, and victory conditions aren’t always ‘destroy all enemies’.
The ability to switch to any unit – even static missile launchers – in a scenario, and set time of day, mean there’s little chance you’ll tire of GHPC before the next update, but all the same it would be great to see some replayability progress in coming months.
While I’d be pleasantly surprised to encounter infantry in-game this year, bipedal MG fodder is in the pipeline. Unlike some of their peers, the team understand that an armour sim without units that can garrison buildings, occupy foxholes, ride in APCs, and make every bush and patch of undergrowth worthy of scrutiny, will always be flawed.
When those grunts do eventually arrive, chances are they’ll be clad in US Army and East German uniforms. GHPC’s initial focus on the Cold War ‘Fulda Gap‘ explains why there are no Challengers or Leopards in the roster at present, and why AFVs like the BMP-2, T-64, and Bradley are higher priorities for Josh and his colleagues than British or West German heavyweights.
Anyone holding their breath for WW2 content better be a pearl diver by profession. The insertion of T-34s earlier this month says more about the dev’s sense of humour than their plans for the future.
Mention has been made of a Battle of 73 Easting mission during live streams which suggests the Fulda focus won’t be totally rigid. Any Iraqi arenas will struggle to outshine the two agreeably spacious German ones currently in the game. Although far from finished, both ‘Point Alpha’ and ‘Germany Teaser’ manage to be GPU-gentle, tactically interesting, and easy on the eye. A drive along one of their shadow-striped forest rides can be almost soothing – assuming, of course, you forget for a moment that a fiery death may well await you around the next bend.
Realistic, friendly, and (probably) affordable, Gunner, HEAT, PC! has the potential to fill a genre gap that the likes of Steel Beasts and Steel Armor never quite managed to fill. I’ll be following its progress avidly from now on. Expect more screenshots of angry houses discarding their turrets…
cremating their crews…
and inconveniencing farmers…
in future Friday features.