Review: Tank Battle East Front06 Mar 2014 0
Review: Tank Battle East Front
Released 15 Mar 2014
Before I sat down to write this review I reinstalled 2012's Tank Battle 1944 to refresh myself on how far Hunted Cow's wargames have come. A lot of the changes are subtle and hidden under the skin, but they've had the impact of a heart & lung transplant on the series.
The Scottish publisher has put out six games in its Hex War series over the last couple of years, each one a little bit better than the last. Following that curve, East Front is the best Tank Battle game yet, and it's leagues better than the original 1944 installment.
If you played the dull Tank Battle 1944, that might sound like I'm being catty. But East Front stands on its own as an entertaining tactical-level wargame as long as you go in with your expectations properly calibrated. This isn't a game on the same level of complexity as Panzer Corps or (good god) Grigsby's World at War, which Slitherine told us last year was on the hop for an iOS release.
But if Panzer Corps is a track day in a good domestic sports car with a six-speed gearbox, then Tank Battle East Front is a few laps around the mall on a Segway. Not as sexy, nowhere near as complex, but easier to pick up and still a good time.
East Front is a low-level turn-based tactical wargame set ostensibly on WWII's Eastern European theatre. There's no effort here to model historical battles (the game couldn't possibly, with such a small scale) but it rather presents you with a "campaign" of tactical scenarios featuring real historical equipment. As with the previous Hexwar games, there's no continuity between the battles in each campaign, so it's better to think of them as discrete, war-themed puzzles full of tanks and infantry squads.
That equipment is where East Front's previously touted involvement from Panzer Corps devs Lordz Game Studio comes in -- Lords made all the 3D unit models in the game. It's a small thing, but it makes a difference. If, like me, you've wasted enough brain space on that sort of thing, you can easily tell a Panzer IIIJ apart from a Panzer IVF thanks to Lordz's lovely high-detail renders.
As I mentioned before, the Hex War games are getting better and better, building on the very basic foundations laid by Tank Battle 1944. East Front combat model includes crunchy hardcore strategy elements like indirect fire (like mortars and artillery), unit facing (you do more damage to an enemy unit's flank or rear), accuracy penalties for moving and shooting in the same turn, unit experience levels, and an optional results predictor that shows you the odds of a successful attack given relative unit strength, terrain effects and the like.
It sounds like a great mix on paper, but the scenario design and the combat engine itself still aren't quite the equal of games like Battle Academy, which model similar company-level battles with greater historical fidelity and more interesting rules. Part of East Front's problem is that some of the improvements made by previous games are a little half-baked.
For example, unit facing (introduced by Ancient Battle: Rome) is now an important element of the game. If you can get a shot on his less-protected rear, you can take down big scary KV tanks with comparatively puny Panzer IIs. The problem is that this new emphasis on which way your unit is facing hasn't been accompanied by controls that let you change it. In East Front, you can move a tank, but you can't turn it around in place. Manoeuvring your tanks can get frustrating when you leave your ass hanging out without meaning to -- and with no undo button, all you can do is grouse about it and watch the shells come in.
East Front finds the Tank Battle series at a slightly awkward junction: not quite a casual pick-up-and-play strategy game anymore, and still short of being a proper grognard game. Will the next game go further towards historical sim with bigger battlefields and morale systems and fancy armour penetration formulas? Or will it pull back a little towards arcade games and approachability? Whatever Hunted Cow decides to do, it can't quite stay here.
That said -- this is no bad game. I played through the entirety of both German and Soviet campaigns in East Front and genuinely enjoyed myself. At higher difficulties, many of the scenarios are nail biters. Veteran wargamers may wish to stick with more complex fare, but if you're more interested in tactical puzzles than historical simulation, East Front will do you just fine.
Tank Battle East Front was played on a 2nd-gen iPad for this review.