Codename: Panzers Phase 2

Codename: Panzers Phase 2

Written by Tyler Sager on 9/8/2005 for PC  

WWII enthusiasts certainly have a lot of options when it comes to gaming, and the list keeps growing. Because of this ever-increasing glut of titles, it’s becoming more and more difficult for gamers to pick the standout WWII games from the rest of the crowd. To make matters worse, RTS games have also reached a saturation point, making it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for anything less than the biggest-name franchises. So when developers decide to field a new WWII RTS, they had better make one that stands out if they hope to make gamers notice. Codename: Panzers Phase 2 does a good job of placing itself at the top of the RTS heap, but it falls just a little short of truly shining. Still, Phase 2 is a solid game and a good bet for the RTS crowd in need of another WWII fix.

Phase 2’s main campaigns focus on the North African and Italian theaters. There’s a bit more plot tying together the various missions than is found in most WWII RTS games. The opening campaign, following a young Italian officer, walks through the Axis portion of the game. With Italy’s less-powerful tanks, the Axis campaign forces players to carefully pick and choose the fields of battle, rather than diving headfirst into the fray. While the Germans never take the forefront in the campaign, their powerhouse Panzers are filtered in over the course of the campaign as they fight to hold North Africa. Following the Axis campaign, Phase 2 focuses on the British and American Allied forces as they take the battle to Italy itself. While they have more powerful tanks than the Italians, going toe-to-toe with German forces makes for some interesting play. Following the Axis and Allied campaigns, a third campaign opens up, following Partisan forces. As expected, the Partisan campaign is much more infantry-based than its predecessors, often requiring players to capture enemy tanks and vehicles before beginning a true offensive.

Each mission begins with a briefing, at which time the primary and secondary objectives are handed down. These objectives are important not only for completing the mission, but also for gaining prestige. Prestige is the currency used between battles to purchase new and impressive units. As there is no building or infrastructure component to Phase 2, spending prestige is the only way to increase forces above the number assigned at the beginning of a particular mission. With the limited number of units available, each tank and infantry squad is precious. Losing a single tank, repair vehicle, or sniper unit can be crippling. In addition, each unit gains experience from battle, leveling up in an RPG-lite manner. As they gain levels, units become more durable and better able to dish out additional damage, making it all that much more important to keep the veterans alive.

As one might expect from the name, Codename: Panzers Phase 2 focuses mainly on the armor and tank elements of the battlefield. While I tried to find a way to utilize infantry in a meaningful fashion, I soon found that I could complete almost every objective more effectively with tanks and artillery. Infantry are just too fragile and they don’t deal enough damage to make them a force to be reckoned with. While there are some interesting conventions in place, such as the ability of flamethrower infantry to heat enemy tanks to the point where the crew needs to evacuate, I had a difficult time finding many practical applications.
Phase 2 introduces some interesting fog of war conventions. While the fog of war is a bit cramped for my liking, noisy units can be detected just outside a unit’s line of sight, demarcated by either a footsteps or vehicle icon. While units cannot target the enemy directly using these icons, it does allow players to get the jump on unsuspecting targets. Phase 2 also incorporates a day/night cycle, with darkness reducing the line of vision. Vehicles can cancel this reduction by using headlights, but this will cause them to stand out in the fog of war, marked by a headlights icon.

In addition to the units doled out at the mission briefing, players are also given a limited amount of air and heavy artillery support. This support includes scout planes, aircraft bombing runs, and artillery bombardments, each of which can only be called in a handful of times. Used correctly, this support can be devastating, as a few well-placed bombardments can severely and quickly punish an unsuspecting enemy. Often, completing secondary or secret mission objectives will result in additional air and artillery support, making these objectives all that much more important.

Phase 2 looks good, with the tank and vehicle units getting the most attention. Each is quite detailed and very well done. The infantry get shorted in the graphics department, as individual unit types are quite difficult to pick out of a crowd. The terrain is deformable and very well done, from the deserts of Africa to the towns and fields of Italy. The audio holds its own, with pleasing explosions and gunfire. My only gripe was with the voice work, in particular the overdone Italian dialogue. The, “Momma Mia! They-a hit us hard!” quickly became tiresome.

The controls were smooth and intuitive, as expected in a modern RTS. The AI was actually decent, although pathfinding bogged down when fielding too many tanks in a single grouping. I was also disappointed when I failed to find any way of maintaining formations, either with tanks or infantry. Given the limited number of units on the field, a formations option isn’t necessary, but it would have been a nice addition.

The missions themselves were very well crafted, with a pleasant mix of objectives. All of the missions were much more than “get ‘em!” style, and most required some careful planning and scouting. Since units are limited, I spent a great deal more time in preparation for each and every enemy encounter than in actual fighting, which is how I envision wartime command.

Codename: Panzers Phase 2 is a solid, enjoyable WWII RTS. With well-designed missions, strong graphics and a good balance of “realistic” and “fun”, Phase 2 is a decent way to spend some gaming hours. It’s not as standout as it needs to be to drag itself from the pile of “me too!” WWII titles, but Phase 2 is certainly near the top of a very long list.
A good WWII RTS. There’s nothing spectacular here, but there is quite a fun game. The Codename: Panzers series delivers another quality title.

Rating: 8.4 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.

Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.
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