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’ – 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 £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?