Dusty But Trusty: Panzer Elite Special Edition

Grappling with unanticipated pathfinding and optimisation challenges, the makers of Tank Squad have decided to delay a demo originally intended for release this week. One possible way to assuage disappointment is to fire up Panzer Elite Special Edition, an aged classic that is a trifling $1.50 at the moment at GOG.

Before lowering yourself into a turret for the first time I recommend downloading and installing Ostpak Redux (follow the procedure outlined in this forum thread). PESE modders have been tinkering with the game for over two decades and this enhancement amalgamates improvements engineered since the release of Jowood’s 2001 ‘Special Edition’ ā€“ shapelier tank models, smoother terrain undulations, longer view ranges, and better pyrotechnics and ballistics.

If you’ve not played before expect to spend your first hour tussling with Wings Simulations’ peculiar but powerful control system. The cause of many of the negative reviews on GOG, PESE’s lengthy keystroke list really should have come with a boiled-down ‘getting started’ version. Something like this:

+++++++ ESSENTIAL PESE CONTROLS +++++++

Cursors = movement

Backspace = immediate halt

 

Keypad 4, 6, 8, & 2 = turret traverse and gun elevation

Space or LMB = fire

A = load AP

Shift + A = load special AP

H = load HE

Shift + H = load special HE

Keypad * = fire coaxial MG (useful for ranging)

 

Ctrl + F4 = external view (hold RMB to pan view)

Keypad 5 = commander’s view

F5 = commander’s binoculars

F8 = gunner’s scope

Keypad 0 = increase scope magnification (not available in all AFVs)

F12 = map

You rarely fight alone. Initially, the best way to control wingmen tanks is probably via the ‘mouse tank’, a movable and resizable GUI element in the corner of the screen. Through this you can do a host of things including altering formation shape and spacing, and issuing orders to particular AFVs in your zug/troop (Click on one or more of the numbered boxes then issue a command such as Ctrl + W (wait) or Ctrl + C (continue)).

More intuitive but slightly riskier is order issuing from the commander’s cupola. Cursor a subordinate’s tank then left-click a spot in the landscape and the tank will trundle to the specified spot.

PESE comes with myriad missions and campaigns, many of which are as hard as nails especially if approached in a gung-ho manner.

In general, tactics that paid dividends on WW2 battlefields also pay dividends in the sim. Find hull-down positions. Aim for areas where armour is thinner. Save your ‘special’ AP for apex predators. Use smoke (S = load main gun smoke shell. Ctrl + S = fire smoke mortar) to close the distance between or break contact with tough opposition. Keep an eye on the map and listen to the stream of contact reports from allied units. Use arty (requested and targeted via the map), if available, to thin out dense concentrations of foes. Scout with a single AFV rather than risking your entire unit.

Dismounted scouting isn’t modelled, but take advantage of the unit customisation options available in campaign mode, and it is often possible to trade one of your platoon’s MBTs for something better suited to recon.

Linear mission sequences, PESE’s campaigns benefit immensely from intermission crew and vehicle management sessions. Because Wings take a pragmatic/historical approach to defeat, failing to achieve primary objectives doesn’t mean replaying a particular scenario over and over. Suitably chastened by a scathing assessment from a disappointed boss, the player does their best to patch up their mauled unit before moving on to the next scrap.

Considering the game’s crude lighting, boxy buildings, and billboard vegetation and infantry, the way it can evoke, say, a chilly eastern front scene or a dusty desert battlefield is pretty remarkable.

Ignore a slight tendency to jiggle on uneven ground, and tank physics are serviceable. The same adjective could be used to describe the AI routines. Although you won’t see enemy AFVs displaying CMx1 style initiative, mission scripting generally ensures threats put in convincing performances.

There are more realistic WW2 armour sims available (the excellent Steel Fury is Ā£2 on Steam at the moment), but, hand on heart, I’ve had more fun playing Panzer Elite Special Edition over the past quarter century, than I have playing any of its rivals. Will I still be playing Tank Squad in 2047 I wonder?

6 Comments

  1. Hey, it’s Robert from Tank Squad team, I personally tried to launch PE from GOG few months ago but was just pushed back by various software issues that I just could not care to get working. Now from your article and from few other comments I never though I would be just recreating a game I never played šŸ™

    The optimization is just one part, we still lack various stuff that I would not like to present to audience, why waste the occasion to make a good impression if I am myself not satisfied with.

    Very nice article Tim, got a lot of ideas from your previous work and you just keep adding them šŸ™‚

    • “I never thought I would be just recreating a game I never played”

      That sounds promising! If Tank Squad manages to be ‘PESE with better graphics and controls’ that will suit me just fine. Best of luck with the optimisation/AI work. As the owner of a fairly elderly PC I’m hoping you’ll offer lots of ways for us low-end users to maximise performance. Speaking personally, I can live without lashings of high detail flora and FPS-grade infantry models.

  2. I played Panzer Elite a lot over the years, but never with mods, time to reinstall I guess šŸ™‚ Thanks Tim.

    I wish there was an option to upload images in the comments. I could have share a screenshot with my tank commander medals.

  3. Definitely one of my Dusty/Trusty too . Iā€™m running GOG version PEse with OstPak 2.2 on a Win7/64 bit. This mod improves not only graphics but also gameplay. (See YouTube vids by Kempet/Daskel)

    One particular thing I like about PE is the level of control the player has over his wingmen making platoon tactics possible. Commanding a platoon of Shermans against German juggernauts can be quite a challenge. ( note to anyone interested “Panzer Elite Action” via Steam” is often confused and is NOT the same game and is arcade by comparison)

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