A variety of games based around World War II have been released as of late, most notably Cornered Rat Software's World War II Online. However, Panzer Elite captures something that these games cannot, a true tank simulation realistic down to the smallest detail. If you have ever wanted to hop into a tank and take a spin, then Panzer Elite: Special Edition is your best choice.
Psygnosis published the original Panzer Elite title in 1999, and JoWood Productions grabbed rights to this title when Sony purchased the company. Special editions of games are often scrutinized as they usually contain a few small updates and are usually the same price as the original. Wings Simulations has not taken this approach, and have added much to the game in terms of a bonus disc included in the package. This bonus disc includes a variety of community-developed modifications and an easy installer provided by Wings Simulations. The developers have included a variety of tools used to create the game, such as particle and object editors and a complete scenario editor. Although these tools can be extremely complex to use, they are a good addition to the title. For anyone who has purchased the original, don't fret as the company has promised to publish the contents of the bonus CD on their website. Another good feature that should be mentioned is that the special edition of Panzer Elite is only around one-half the price as the original, a good decision by the people at JoWood. Panzer Elite: Special Edition offers much new to the title with the bonus disc, and will add a lengthy replay value to anyone who enjoys developing new objects and scenarios for play.
Panzer Elite: Special Edition is a game primarily focused on the gameplay, and is extremely challenging in this respect. The AI is near impossible to beat, and I have yet to win a battle against them after six hours of playtime. Either I am simply horrible at playing the game, or it is somewhat too difficult. The learning curve on this title is steep, way to steep. The developers traded off playability for realism, and I can respect that decision, but it makes the game difficult to play and even more difficult to win. The controls are difficult, and can act somewhat erratic at times as would be expected when controlling a tank. Manually targeting and firing weapons when the tank is moving is nearly impossible, as the tank is in a continuous state of vertical motion when going over bumps, not allowing you to get a good fix on a target. The game is good in the respect that it is challenging, but unless you have a lot of time to sit down and learn how to play and succeed in the process, Panzer Elite: Special Edition can be a disappointment.
Realism is the main point of focus for the developers, and they have done a superb job replicating the tanks used in the battles of World War II. 23 different tanks, 11 from the American side and 12 from the German army are available for player control, with another 20 or so that are controlled by the AI. Three different modes of offline play are available; the instant action mode will place you in the middle of a battle and prepare you for action. The scenario mode allows players to select from a variety of pre-defined scenarios each with their own objectives. The campaign mode is more of a long drawn out period of time; you must succeed in one scenario before advancing to the next. New technologies will become available as time progresses, and your crew will learn to work together and enhance their performance.
Missions can be broken down into several different goals, these of which will greatly affect the outcome of the battle. Primary goals are required to succeed in the missions; failure to complete these will result in the failure of the scenario. Secondary goals are not required, but if completed will increase the chance of being awarded a medal. Bonus goals provided by the scenarios are designed to increase the performance and skill of your crew, and succeed in doing so if accomplished.
The biggest disappointment in Panzer Elite: Special Edition is the lackluster graphics engine. Although tanks are fairly detailed to realistic specifications, the environments and soldiers lack detail and show very little realism. The game was originally released in 1999, and these graphics were nothing spectacular at that time. Panzer Elite: Special Edition would offer players a much more entertaining experience if the visuals were improved, something that would take much time and will most likely never be achieved.
Panzer Elite: Special Edition is not only about commanding your tank, players are expected to command a platoon of tanks into battle, and walk away with a victory. Not only is it difficult to master the art of controlling a single tank, wait until you try to control five at once. Players will require much experience in this title to finally get the hang of tank operation, but once you become proficient, it is an experience that few other games can match.
The manual included in Panzer Elite: Special Edition is nearly, if not exactly the same as the one shipped with the original, but make no mistake, the manual is an excellent tool in which to refer yourself to when you need some information on the tank specifications. Although a more detailed description on the gameplay and how to play the game would be nice, the manual does a good job explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each tank, and what kind of artillery they pack. One thing I was somewhat disappointed in was the lack of a tutorial campaign, to show the player hands-on how to control the tank and how to play the game in general.
Sound effects are very important in simulations, and this was one aspect that I was pleasantly surprised with. Wings have put together a solid sound package for Panzer Elite: Special Edition, whether it is the tank commander yelling orders or the sound of shells piercing the armor of an enemies hull. A large variety of sound effects have been included, and this is by far one of the best aspects of the game.
Overall, Panzer Elite: Special Edition offers much to any simulation fan, but has an extremely large learning curve. The outdated graphics engine is the most disappointing aspect, but either way, it is still the most realistic tank simulation to date, and it doesn't look like any other game will be coming close anytime soon.