Achtung Panzer: Operation Star finally released, demo available
I seem to have missed the release of Achtung Panzer: Operation Star on Tuesday, which is a worrisome sign because I'm one of those few, proud gamers who has been keeping a close eye on this little-known wargame.
Operation Star is a sequel to last year's Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943, which I thought was one of the best tactical wargames in years. It's an Eastern Front wargame with solid graphics and sprawling battlefields that really emphasize the scope of WWII tank combat. Paradox published the earlier game, but developer Graviteam appears to be self-publishing Operation Star, which might explain the lower-profile release.
I spent a weekend trying out the demo, and while Operation Star does not seem like the major refinement this fledgling series needed, this new edition looks as vivid and demanding as the first game. It also includes a couple features that should be standard in every wargame. Get the demo here, and read on for my impressions while it downloads.
The AI is tough to judge in this demo, but it seems much weaker than what I'm used to seeing in a game like Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy. It fails to use suppression fire, and is happy to send infantry marching into the open against a machine gun nest or two.
The scale is still really impressive, though. While the battle might be focused on a single sector of the campaign map, all the sectors are adjacent to one another, and so a small skirmish in one area can spill over into other parts of the larger battlefield. This was one of the coolest parts of the first game. Sometimes a skirmish would sputter to a halt after a couple platoons took pot shots at each other, but it was just as likely to become a pitched battle that sucked in tanks, artillery, and aircraft from the rest of the area.
The interface is clunky and employs a nearly incomprehensible set of hieroglyphic menu buttons. On the other hand, Operation Star's UI also has some nice features that I wish were more common in wargames. First, the map overlay shows a proper topographic map. It also labels what sector is currently under attack, and where the attacking forces are coming from, eliminating a lot guesswork. You know where the points of attack will be, and you have a rough idea of the terrain you're defending. That makes it easy to establish a basic plan of battle. Plus, you can bring up an overlay that shows the area that a units can actually see from its current position. It's a huge improvement over the checking-by-hand that is so common in wargames.
The full game is $30, which is cheaper than most of its competition, although not quite the steal that Kharkov 1943 was. The demo gives a pretty good idea of what you can expect, although on a much smaller scale.