Sprocket

While it’s technically possible to create an exact replica of a Tiger tank in angry house architect sim, Sprocket, the chance that you’ll actually produce one is Panzer roadkill slim. Recreate that distinctive, perfectly perpendicular hull front within this ingenious £15 Early Access title, and before you know it you’ll be reaching for the ‘glacis angle’ slider, keen to give your ‘Pz VI’ a pitched Pantherine prow.

The urge to make every Sprocket tank design as resistant to AP as possible, is hard to resist because, more often than not, your creations have to weather the high-velocity emissions of AI AFVs and anti-tank guns to pass muster. Developer Hamish Dunn believes in baptisms of fire. He’s combined his sophisticated but friendly vehicle editor with a workmanlike tank sim engine, and a slew of tough scenarios.

Three hours in (Sprocket was going to be one third of a 3×3 article until it elbowed its two frailer companions out of the picture) I was ready to declare those scenarios too tough.

Overcoming the numerous opponents in standalone challenges such as ‘Taiga’, ‘Railway’ and ‘Dunes’ seemed almost impossible. Now, with around ten hours of rapt turret sculpting, cupola placing, track trapezoid tweaking, and shell slinging under my belt, only two of the seven scenarios in the current build remain unconquered, and I’m much happier about the difficulty quotient.

One of the reasons you’re sure to see ‘defeat’ screens like this one frequently during your first few hours is, right now, the editor fails to explain many of its myriad sliders and settings properly. Core dilemmas such as “More armour = more weight” and “Smaller silhouette = less room for crew, weapons and ammo” are easy to grasp. Where there’s a need for better tooltips is on UI panels connected with engine, suspension, and track/wheel choice.

Why is my Prince Rupert Mk III much harder to steer than my Ireton Mk V? Why do the engine settings on my Blitzer often lead to breakdowns? Should I fiddle with ‘torsion bar length’ on my Trenchmaster B? Until Hamish goes to town on tooltips (ETA Q4), answering questions like these will be harder than it should be.

One of the scenarios that I’ve yet to best channels the Great War. You’re tasked with crossing a cratered tract of the Western Front ravined by trenches, rocked by artillery blasts, and terrorised by inconspicuous AT guns. Narrow, fragile trench bridges mean a troop of light Whippet-likes could, in theory, get the job done, but the primitive starter hull that greets you when you begin, nudges you in the direction of lumbering land battleships like the Char 2C. The lengthier your creation, the less likely it is to find itself helplessly askew in a trench or crater, its caterpillars clawing at thin air.

The other unbeaten undertaking takes place at night in a forested venue. You and/or a wingman tank* must make it to a distant frontier. Standing in your way is a selection of hazards I won’t disadvantage by detailing. Lacking both a map and a briefing (none of the challenges have preambles), ‘Silent Border’ is Sprocket at it’s most puzzle-like and merciless. Inevitable defeats send you scuttling back to the designer screen to tweak your battle wagon and rethink your tactics. Some players may end-up frustrated, but, spurred on by steady progress, I’m still happily plugging away.

*Often missions involve friendly AI tanks that can be commandeered when starter AFVs are KOed, and ordered about with simple ‘go there’/’follow me’/’attack that’ commands issued with the reticle.

Every scenario has a timeframe – WWI, interwar, early war, mid war, and late war. These modify tech efficiency. Although there’s nothing to stop you loading the handsome prebuilt Centurion or Panther from the showroom at the start of the ‘No Tank’s Land’ – the WWI mission described above – an off-the-shelf design isn’t a silver sabot round. The limitations imposed by the ‘WWI’ engine modifiers mean armour will need to be ruthlessly thinned, crew members ejected, and guns downgraded in order to produce a machine capable of self-propulsion in the 1914-18 era.

As Sprocket lacks a firing range and the multi-coloured impact arrows and x-ray views available in sims such as GHPC, it’s a tad difficult to assess the quality of the ballistics and penetration modelling. Is it possible for an AP round to enter a shot trap, or pass clean through a target without causing serious damage? I can’t say for sure, but I’ve seen enough ricochets now, and slow, incremental tank deaths, to be pretty confident the sim isn’t brazenly cutting corners in fundamental areas.

There’s certainly no hitpoints here. I’ve lost scenarios because internal fires have spread unchecked, and won them in trundlers that have shed tracks, suffered turret motor damage, and crew casualties.

Fans of ferocious frustrums will be pleased to hear that turrets aren’t mandatory.

Even though Sprocket has no interest in production costs, in pursuit of low profiles I’ve found myself fashioning machines heavily indebted to cheap, squat Sherman slayers like the Hetzer and Jagdpanzer IV. Presently it’s impossible to model the forerunners of these formidable tank destroyers, the Marders. However, like multiple main guns and turrets, and halftracks and armoured cars, predatory cabriolets are on the way (Q2, 2022).

It would be good to see “Smoke shells”, “Visible crews”, “Infantry” and “Improved AI” appear on the roadmap at some point. As things stand, foes never seem to shoot-and-scoot, and rarely linger in good hull-down positions when advancing. ‘Bum rush’ or ‘wait’ seems to be the only tactics the red team employs.

The absence of a campaign really doesn’t bother me, but I’m hoping map and scenario editors are in the pipeline. If Hamish is too busy to provide new challenges at regular intervals, perhaps we Sprocketeers can supply them.

It’s hard to imagine any fan of Panzer Elite, Steel Fury, Tank Mechanic Simulator, or World of Tanks disliking original, exciting, educational Sprocket. Assuming you avoid “No Tank’s Land” and “Silent Border” on day one, and think like a post-Barbarossa German tank designer not a pre-Barbarossa one when sculpting steel, there’s no danger of the frustrations outweighing the fun.

6 Comments

  1. I’m so excited for this- it’s the perfect complement to Ultimate Admiral Dreadnoughts which I’m enjoying the heck out of. Now we just need an equivalent “design a vehicle and put it in combat simulator” for airplanes to cover that land-sea-air trifecta. Really hope Hamish includes scenario modability- so frequently the primary deciding factor in whether a game has long-term legs. And in the long run, in that classic activity of demanding more features way before the game has really even gotten started, I’d love to see the ability to design early Cold War steeds for Fulda Gap scraps.

  2. I’m a sucker for games that let you design vehicles ala Automation, I’m curious as to how customisable the tanks in this are as that will be a primary selling point for me (Automation gives you a solid amount differing body designs to play with).

    Another solid read, thanks Mr Stone.

    • They’re very customizable. You can freely mold the hull form, with sliders for the length/width/angle of various points on the vehicle, there aren’t any sort of defined body designs. You can’t go beyond the bounds of a roughly rectangular object with 2 tracks, though.

      But as you can see in the article, you can create anything from a WW1 landship, to a turretless tank destroyer, to a post-war MBT. There are a few bells and whistles you can stick on there as well, but as far as I’m aware the various crew hatches, MGs, lights, etc. are just cosmetic at this time.

  3. Missing out on Friday defoxing, I made it my puzzle to figure out the role of the dog in this piece. The dog is Sprocket, from Fraggle Rock, a puppet show not unlike Sesame Street. He tries in vain to prove to his owner Doc, a retired sailor living in a rocky-sea lighthouse, that Fraggles exist. Why a dog, a tank sim, and a profiled wheel should share a name is beyond me.

    The game sounds like good fun, though for me is decidedly a look-ahead to a time with more time. Look forward to that teased 3×3.

  4. This is a great concept that makes me wish I had more dedicated hobby time in my life. I can see this being the sort of thing that eats up hours, but never stops being fun.

    However, I can also imagine it being pretty unsatisfying in half-hour tid-bits…

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