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Panzer Elite (Windows)

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Written by  :  Maury Markowitz (251)
Written on  :  Jan 07, 2002

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very good, but a few minor annoyances

The Good

Of the three WWII tank-sims that shipped in the late 1990s (iPanzer '44 and Panzer Commander being the other two), there's no doubt that Panzer Elite was the best of the crop.

The game focuses on you being the commander of the platoon, as opposed to a single tank, or as the driving force of the crew, jumping from position to position in order to get things working. You can spend almost the entire game in the commander's position and lose little of the gameplay or "comandability", while you crews handle the dirty work of running the tank. This goes so far as allowing you to tell your machine gunners to fire on their own initiative, which makes the whole "shoot at THAT!" problem largely go away.

As the commander your main job is to move your tanks about the battlefield to take objectives, which you do directly. That is, you tell the other tanks in the platoon to form up on you in a formation, and then give driving commands directly through the keyboard - so basically you're both commander and driver, at least for your tank.

When meeting the enemy you pull up the binos and point out targets to attack. At that point a simple space-bar press tells the gunner to shoot at it.

Now of course you CAN man all of the positions if you wish. Early in the game this may be important in fact, as the abilities of your crew are rather limited. However I found that as long as you don't lose them too injuries, they will get better at their jobs so quickly that they were better at just about everything than I was after a couple of missions. In general I left all of the details to the crew.

A small icon rose in the upper left of the screen allows you to control both your tank's movement and views, as well as jump to other tanks and give them commands. For instance if you would like one of your tanks to move over there, simply click on their number, and then click in the screen - this is very nice! Compared to most games where you have a 2D map or something for giving commands like this, Panzer Elite is a joy to use.

Between missions you see your platoon at a rally point, with the crews outside the tank playing a game of cards or having a smoke. Here you can refuel, rearm and repair your tanks. You can also replace them, if there are better ones in the reserves. As you might imagine, you give yourself the best tank you can find, and upgrade your platoon as soon as possible. This isn't always easy, as supplies - notably for the Germans - are limited.

The same interface allows you to replace crew if they are injured. This becomes a focal point for the game, as the experienced crews actually make a huge difference. I found that at the start of the game the other tanks in your platoons were largely good for nothing, but as time went on their started becoming excellent gunners and accounted for 1/2 our kills (still not that great, you alone account for the other half). The drivers and gunners seem to be the most important assets, gunnery is obvious, but the drivers get to the point where they will seek out hull-down positions instead of just stopping wherever you do. Note that since you drive your own tank directly, you don't need to have a good driver in your own tank.

On the downside this inter-mission interface could get a little annoying. When you clicked on a tank another icon rose appeared, allowing you to do various things (refuel, etc.). However these icons often layed on top of other tanks, so when you clicked you'd select the other tank instead of clicking the icon.

Other plus points of the game include superb terrain. The ground is rolling on about a 1 meter scale, giving you plenty of small hills to hide behind. In addition the details of the forests and towns is superb, and deformable - you can drive over the buildings for instance.

Finally the game also includes artillery and infantry. I found the later to be largely cannon fodder except when they are hidden already. If they have to move you'll quickly wipe them out. The infantry needs a considerably better selection of commands and attacks, I'd love to have seen them run up and shoot in the vision slits for instance (hey, you can do it in WWII Online!).

The artillery is another matter entirely. One well placed barrage can immobilize a number of tanks, and this is the key to getting anywhere as the US - notably earlier in the game where the Germans are better at everything else.

The Bad

Although the game was released after the other two tank sims, Panzer Elite's graphics are definitely ok at best. This is one area that should have really been improved. Of special note is the blocky sprite-based troops. Watching them run over the 3D terrain in their 2D glory looks downright dumb. The limited number of drivable tanks is another issue that I think should have been addressed, you basically get 3 tanks per side, with a few sub-models.

Another minor complaint is that the game includes options that aren't actually used in the game. For instance, you can add an AA gun to the top of the German tanks as an upgrade in the inter-mission screens, but there's no way to actually use this gun! You also have metals you can give out, but I don't know if it was simply not completed, or if the UI was wrong, but I was never able to hand them out as the game suggested.

As to the combat, this I generally found OK. However I would definitely have to say that the infantry need a better s

While the game boasted a very advanced ballistics system, I (and others) have found this to be one of the games weak points. In general a hit will mean either taking minor damage to an instrument (like the radioman's machinegun sights), or blowing you up completely. There seems to be little in between those two extremes. If one of those odd cases does occur, say a lost track, it's mission over anyway (you can't jump to another tank and continue, grrrr).

Now this just seems wrong. I haven't commanded a tank in WWII combat, sure, but if WWII Online and Combat Mission are anything to judge by, there should be a lot more pings and bounces. Early war tanks had punny guns, and enough armor to stop them, so their fights seem to devolve into battles of attrition (it often takes 4 or 5 hits from a British 40mm gun to kill a panzer in WWII online, and it feels right). Later war tanks tended to have much better guns, but also better armor (at least on the German side). Here I would suspect one-hit kills would be more common, but the ratio just seems to be way off in this game. In fact the feared Tiger seems like a pussycat in this game, as even early-model Shermans take it out with ease. Something is definitely wrong here.

Quick tip: the AI tanks don't appear to switch ammo to use the specialty types, so keep all of them for yourself.

Combine this with the importance in saving crews and you end up playing the same missions over and over again. I don't really have a complaint with that on it's own however.

What I do have a complaint about is the canned nature of the missions. They are the same, every time. Thus beating a mission simply means playing it over and over until you figure out "the trick". In that respect the game becomes more like a puzzle than a sim! Worse, many of the AI-controlled tanks blunder into the same problems every time, so you watch a set of tank-killers drive into useless positions every run, and there's nothing you can do about it. This largely defeats the usefulness of the great AI. With the exception of the changes in gunnery and spotting abilities, the AI controlled tanks outside your platoon are going to drive into the same place every time.

Missions are grouped into campaigns, of which there are three - North Africa (Tunisia), Sicily and Italy, and France. If you start in the first you can continue onto the next, keeping your crew and tanks. In fact this is vital for the German player, as the US forces continue to increase in quality so unless you come in with good crews and tanks, you won't make it.

Sadly the game makes two mistakes that I think kill the campaigns for playibility. One is that there is no continuity between the missions. You finish one here, and start the next in some completely different place and time. I would have much preferred some sort of system where the maps were linked, with the inter-mission "rally scenes" taking place in locations in the mission. The other problem is that that missions are the same as the "one-offs" you can select from the menu, so the campaign is really nothing more than playing the missions in order. I consider this to be laziness of the worst kind - note that Combat Mission has entirely different sets of missions and campaigns.

In general the missions felt dry and confining. It's perhaps the games only really sore spot. The game would be hugely improved if there was a branching campaign on a single larger map, so depending on how well you do in one mission, the next mission is not only selected, but your place on the map is where you left off. I think this would add greatly to the immersion.

The Bottom Line

Quite a good effort, and I hope they will try again with a sequel.