Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 is a single player, Second World War, turn-based strategy game. An extremely well researched, military command operation that gives you the God-like ability to command and view your troops based on actual archival material, even to the point of eye witness reports and on the field testimonials: incredible to say the least. The battle of Kharkov was a series of operations on the Eastern front back in 1943, involving the German Army and the Red Army. Needless to say, it wasn’t one of history’s finest endeavours. I won’t get into the history of the battle here, if you want to know more, wiki it, it makes a very sobering read.
The game starts with a number of battles to choose from, each is, as aforementioned, historically accurate right down to the names of the actual units, topography of the terrain, morale of the units and available weaponry. Select a unit using a 2-D map of the area and its destination, then move to occupy and hold certain key points. Then the battle kicks off in glorious 3-D and is as intense and exciting as you can expect from a game of this genre. Control the area and try to avoid having your units surrounded by the enemy. The more key points and area coverage you control, the more victory points you receive on the current turn. The side with the most victory points wins the battle: simple really! Try to flank the enemy, set up an ambush and use the cover of the terrain to get an advantage. I have to mention that unless you are familiar with the historic outcomes of the second world war, then purely reading the manual and digging in is as futile as taking on the Red Army single handed. Be warned, the manual is like trying to comprehend Lobsang Rampa’s The Third Eye, the more you think about it and delve into it, the more cloudy it becomes.
The interface, by which you steer your poor soldiers, is difficult to get into. I have to say it took a good few attempts at getting the units to do what I asked them to, by which time I was ready to wave the white flag and surrender the campaign, which is an option if the battle is turning into a stalemate. A quick click on an icon and you can order a ceasefire, or a retreat if things are not going particularly well. This, added with a huge map and slow moving squads, can lead to a good hour of no action whatsoever, especially as much of the map is empty, barren land and utterly devoid of life. Not a good cocktail and one which can leave a decidedly bad taste in your mouth, more so if you are newcomer to this type of system.
As I said the graphics are represented in 2-D, when you are using the initial topographic map, when you start the action they take on a 3-D battlefield that I must say is exceptionally superb. It is atmospheric from the tracks the tanks make in the semi-frozen ground down to the dead trees that hide a unit from enemy fire, especially the closer you zoom into a unit . Sound is as in depth as the graphics. The gunfire, the thundering of the heavy tank diesel engines, the movement of the infantry and the, annoying, what seemed like constant, barking of a dog.
Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 is, without a doubt, an incredibly accurate, immense and hard game. I would recommend that those who are expecting the usual run-of-the-mill command and conqueror type, build, send out men and attack, take a minute or two to digest what they are letting themselves in for. This isn’t pick up and play, this is akin to the Total War series. Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 involves a huge amount of tactics, the resources you have are all you’re going to get. With very careful placement and deployment you order your men/tanks to any position on the map, but once lost, that’s it.
A few problems arose when playing. For instance, when trying to flank the enemy with as much caution as is humanly possible, you get more than one soldier who thinks he’s Captain America and decides instead to bravely, yet foolishly, charge into the considerably heavily armed enemy headlong and ruin any chance you have of winning the battle. Another problem I seemed to come across was the odd unit that decided to venture into the wilderness of the Eastern Front apparently without the go-ahead from me, which was infuriating, especially when I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle at hand.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 was an awesome game, I take my hat off the developers for the detail and accuracy which they have programmed into the game, even to the point that the current patches, which I recommend applying, have more historically correct Czech names. It totally changed the way I personally think about WW2 strategy-based gaming. Graphics are wonderful, game play is absorbing and addictive, but you have to get into it. There are very, very long bouts of boredom interspersed by the wonderful combat, so you will have to be patient. Overall, if you are thinking of parting from your hard earned pennies, and you’re not used to the intense interface or this genre of game, then I would recommend you spend them elsewhere, at least for the time being. By all means buy AP:K 1943 when you feel up to the challenge of a more in-depth, historically accurate and demanding game. The appeal of AP:K 1943 is for certain type of gamer, it is a good game, but not everyone’s cup of tea.
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