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Posted on May 1, 2008 in Electronic Games

Panzer Command Kharkov – PC Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

One of the best things about PCK is the almost limitless replay value provided by the game editors. A random battle generator works very well to quickly build fights of almost any variety. But even better, a random campaign generator allows players to follow their units through many battles, during almost any period of the war. For those players willing to spend more time and create the perfect scenario, a full battle and campaign editor are also included.

One issue for some players will be that maps are not randomly generated. Kharkov has an unsupported map editor and documentation on how to create terrain; however, map creation is technical, and really is the realm of gamers who are comfortable with concepts like 3D terrain meshes and height-maps. The good news for everyone is that Kharkov comes with plenty of maps out of the box. These locations are hand-crafted and do not have to conform to a grid; all of the battles are fought on terrain that looks and feels like real places.

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The AI opponent is dynamic and not scripted. In set-piece scenarios, the robo-player does pretty well, since the engagements were built with him in mind. After this reviewer’s virtual troops punched through the middle of the Russian line in one game, it was horrifying to see Robo-Ivan take surviving units from the flanks and attempt to cut off the German bulge at its neck. In random fights however, the computer often seems a little confused and sluggish, but can still be counted on to put up a fight. For those players ready to move past the computer opponent the game also supports PBEM play.

Modders will be very pleased that Kharkov is wide open for full tweaking. In addition to building battles and campaigns, the editors also allow for changing unit data. If you don’t like the penetration values of the 75mm/L24 for example, go ahead and change them. Most of the data used in the game comes in documented .xml file structures, so that the truly ambitious could build third-party utilities, like a dynamic scenario generator. The 3D models are also built in industry standard .x format, so the digital artists among us will be able to build their own vehicles and equipment. Unlike many games, all of this under-the-hood stuff is well documented; Koios definitely walks the walk when it comes to supporting the mod community.

While there are many things to be excited about in PCK, graphics and sound are somewhat of a step backward. While solid and functional, the 3D models, map objects and textures are not as rich as in other games. Sounds are sometimes over-used and repetitive; the same MG burst and ricochet sound are used for every infantry volley in the game. Still, the graphics are good enough that after a few hours of carefully mothering a company through some desperate fights, most players will forget that they have seen better.

Kharkov has a few other issues as well. Artillery fire often seems anemic when infantry units in the open are caught in barrages. Also, vehicle pathfinding can be frustrating when tanks cross paths, then lock together like two camouflaged sumo wrestlers. The player quickly learns how to space platoons out to avoid the situation, but it does stifle creative battle plans. Finally, players using a browser other than IE7, may have trouble running the editors. This was the case on one of the review machines. However, it only took a quick trip to the support forums to find the tweak necessary to fix the problem. Overall, none of the issues with this game detract much from its high fun factor.

As expected, PCK plays very nicely on a higher-end machine, e.g., Intel Dual Core, 2GB RAM, GeForce 8600 on Vista. The game is stable and has no easily discernable bugs. On a mid-range machine such as a 3.4 Ghz P4, 1GB RAM, GeForce 6500 on XP, the interface is somewhat sluggish, and turn resolution in large battles can take almost a minute. Still, most of this review was done on the mid-range machine, and despite the hint of sluggishness, the game was a blast.

In the final evaluation, Panzer Command Kharkov is a great addition to any wargamer’s hard-drive. The interface and mechanics are straight-forward enough that even beginning gamers can quickly catch on. But the action in Kharkov is realistic and pure wargame; players ignore real-life tactics at their peril. The endless replay value and open game engine promise to keep gamers happy for a long time to come. Koios and Matrix Games have given us a great game that is easy to recommend. So, load up your T-34s and Pzkw IVs and head for the open steppes of Panzer Command Kharkov.

Armchair General Score: 89%
 
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2 Comments

  1. Gameplay 4
    Graphics 3
    favour 3

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