Steel Panthers: World at War

6_1Steel Panthers marches into Windows 95.

The original Steel Panthers, a turn-based tactical wargame from legendary designer Gary Grigsby and then-legendary wargame publisher SSI, was one of the most popular wargames ever made. In addition to spawning two sequels, it inspired a cottage industry of for-profit add-ons made by enterprising users. It has also inspired several free enhancements that look to address some of the game’s failings. The latest is from Matrix Games, and it’s quite an endeavor.

Steel Panthers: World at War is a complete, stand-alone game that recasts SSI’s original DOS hit as a Windows-native program. This alone would be enough to please many gamers, but David Heath and Matrix have done a lot more than that. In the late beta build we’ve been playing, you can see some of the effort that’s gone into this game. For one thing, you don’t need to own one of the previous Steel Panthers games to play this version—it’s completely, well, complete. The game covers the same basic territory that Steel Panthers did, WWII tactical combat at a scale of 50 yards per hex and individual tanks and squads, and spans the entire war, from Europe to Asia. The design team has bumped the resolution to 800 by 600, too, so there’s more info on the screen and everything looks sharper than it used to.

11_1The list of features for this conversion is extensive. It actually uses the Steel Panthers III game engine, which originally used a different game scale, but is somewhat more refined than earlier versions. The combat algorithms have been tweaked to regularize results, particularly in anti-tank combat. Most units sport enhanced graphics and Matrix has redone most of the sounds in the game using samples of authentic weapons in action. You can adjust the size of unit icons, and the way other data is displayed, to customize the look and feel of the game as well.

In play, this is clearly Steel Panthers. Most of the original game’s interface is here intact, for good and ill. Mostly, this is a good thing, as fans of the series will attest. Sounds are very good, the new resolution makes seeing more of the battlefield easier, and the combat results, after a brief time playing, do seem more believable. You get most of your feedback via text messages at the top of the screen, but they’re easier to read than before, and you can adjust how fast they scroll by. Some of the new unit icons, while attractive, are harder to see against the map terrain than in earlier versions of the game, largely due to their realistic camouflage schemes. Still, the net effect is quite pleasing and entertaining.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95

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