Game Reviews

Panzer Corps

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| Panzer Corps
Panzer Corps
| Panzer Corps

You might never have heard of Slitherine Software, developer of detailed military simulation games, but its iOS debut Battle Academy is probably the best game I've encountered on the platform.

Now the team is back with another PC port in Panzer Corps. This is a close mechanical relative of the much-loved '90s series Panzer General, but Slitherine has expanded and updated the concept.

The game places you in charge of a colossal formation of German units which you command through a series of historical World War II campaigns, such as the invasion of Norway and possibly some rather ahistorical ones like a Nazi conquest of Great Britain.

It all depends on how you do. Branch points in the campaign mean that repeated decisive victories will offer you the opportunity to rewrite history with glory for the Reich. Fail and you'll end up with the Russians hammering on the doors of the Reichstag rather sooner than expected.

You also get to keep your core units from one scenario to the next, allowing you to watch them grow in experience and capabilities as you upgrade their equipment. There's even the opportunity to earn medals and other distinctions.

Circular strategy

However, to achieve a measure of success in Panzer Corps beyond the easiest difficult level requires you to keep your wits about you.

This is very much a game of force concentration and combined arms. In most scenarios you'll need to capture key victory cities, but tanks are of little use in urban environments - you'll need to send the troops in to do the dirty work of street fighting.

However, the infantry in the open are in turn vulnerable to attack by armour, artillery, or aircraft, so you'll need to support those flexible but flimsy units with similar formations of your own. And the bombers that can cause so much devastation to ground units are vulnerable to fighter attack, so they need escorts.

It all goes round in a dizzying circle, a military maelstrom of mutual dependency. Launch an offensive without the right units in the right places and you'll be torn to pieces. Take too long over organising your troops and you'll run out of time.

There are a number of other factors to take into account. Different units have varying levels of effectiveness in different terrain types, and badly damaged or over-worked units may need replacements or resupply, which costs valuable time. There's reconnaissance, weather, suppression, and more besides.

It all adds up to one of the most challenging and engrossing strategy experiences available on the iPad. So it's a bit of a shame that players will need to clear so many hurdles before they can fully enjoy the core experience.

Basic training

It starts with the presentation: graphics look muddy and pixellated on a Retina display. The interface, shorn of its tooltips on a touchscreen, takes a little getting used to. And the 800 different unit types available can feel overwhelming.

But the biggest problem is just the complexity of the game. Panzer Corps sell itself as an accessible introductory war game but that's only really true when you consider how impenetrable some of its kin are.

There's a tutorial campaign, and plenty of helpful pop-ups to help you learn the ropes. But it's very focused on telling you how to do things rather than showing you.

There are mountains of text to read and information to digest before you can play effectively. And you'll probably end up reading the manual anyway, which is still focused on the PC version, with no separate instructions for iOS.

Glorious victories

For me, the game proved entirely worth the effort of learning and I imagine most strategy fans will feel the same. But given the eye-watering price point, Panzer Corps would have benefited hugely from a lite version to try before you buy. Without one, you're taking something of a gamble.

With the relentless focus on cheap, quickfire titles, it's easy for mobile gamers to forget how impressive and engrossing bigger budget games can be. And there are few more imposing reminders than playing Panzer Corps.

Panzer Corps

A gloriously rich, deep, and rewarding historical strategy game. You'll need to put in a lot of effort both to learn the ropes and to play effectively, mind