Friday, December 9, 2011

Achtung Panzer: Operation Star Impressions

Achtung Panzer: Operation Star is the sequel to Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943, a WWII real time strategy game by Paradox Interactive that came out in 2010. Operation Star has been created by a different developer, Graviteam, and it has been released under the radar to most gamers. It came out on November 1st and I wouldn't have even know about the game if it wasn't for Rock Paper Shotgun's recent review of the game. Operation Star looks to be based off the same engine of the original game, which I also hadn't ever heard of, and seems to use it pretty well for the most part. Operation Star is very easy to compare to tactical greats like Men of War or Combat Mission, god how I loved Combat Mission Beyond Overlord due to it's emphasis on grand tactics and it's detailed menu's that allow you to select anything from an individual solider to a whole company. Operation Star has a similar kind of muddled menu that allows you to view everything in great detail, but at the same time can easily overload you with options and clunky menu's. One really interesting thing that Operation Star does that I haven't seen in much of anything else is introduce a strategy map that has you go from moving companies/platoons strategically to quickly throwing you into in-game realtime battles. My impressions are based off on the lengthy English demo from Graviteams page.

So as you can see from the screenshot below, you use the campaign map to move your troops and inspect their unit statistics. The map is turn based and gives you the basic options of moving, attacking or defending. Once one of your troops encounters enemy troops there will be a battle indication and once you select that it will pull you into the real time combat.

The real time battles allow you to position your troops through a wide area of deployment, that is if you are defending. When you attack you get a smaller area of deployment but it is still pretty large. The combat maps in general are pretty huge, allowing for some pretty interesting strategies that require you to spread out forces and try to predicate where they are going to attack or predicate where they have bundled their defenses. For instance on the last battle I did the Germans only had two of the objectives, out of maybe five or six, but their area of operation was a good 25% of the map of open ground and forests.After deploying my forces I waited patiently to see where they would attack and they actually ended up at my weakest point of defense. You can see the map a little here and how the lines were separated ( blue is German, Red is Soviet). You can see how it said they were probably going to attack up at the top there, but if you can see it there is a blue unit on the very bottom moving in on my guys.

All the different icons represent different types of units. On the top right of that screenshot you can see different companies, each of which have different platoons symbols that represent specific unit types. The demo doesn't really give you any armor to command or put you against any as far as I can tell, but infantry battles play out pretty well. You generally use basic ideas like flanking, cover, building and gun support. You get to use AT guns and machine guns in the demo, both of which tear infantry apart, but obviously the machine guns do a better job. Like many other tactical WWII games your units have a variety of factors that affect them, like fatigue, distance from leaders, moral and quite a few other factors. Each company generally has one main commander and if they are taken out it you will lose a lot of bonuses to all the platoons in that company along with any other nearby units.

I wish those were in the demo

Every battle I've fought so far has been a defense, where I waited out the enemy and then struck back. Waiting isn't a big deal since the game gives you multiple times options, like 4x speed, which makes things go by very quickly. It also helps that the game slows down speeds to normal and alerts you whenever anything happens, like enemy contact or a leader is killed. You control units in a familiar RTS style, moving them and directing them them all with a mouse click, but you can make them do specific things like defensive movements, attack moves, move along road only or forced movement. I wish movement was super clean and easy but it isn't. Much of the UI in general doesn't work like you would want it to.

There is a tutorial in the that you can turn on, which will pop up and show you things when they become relevant, which sounds nice but it's actually a little bit annoying. Unlike most tutorials you cannot skip descriptions and a lot of times it will tell you try something and the only way to move forward is by doing that, even if you don't want to. Then again you can easily turn off the tutorial. Many of the buttons in the game remind me a lot of Skyrim UI, in a bad way. Something will say you can press escape or enter to do this, or you can click it, but really only one of those options will work or sometimes both. This finicky behavior spreads into the way units move as well, you will often tell them to move in a particular direction, facing a specific area and find them facing an entirely different direction. The infantry pathfinding works pretty well, but the vehicle pathfinding is painful. My first battle in the game was partially lost due to the fact that all my damn light vehicles got stuck behind trees and not only did they get stuck but for some reason they couldn't reverse out of the situation. With infantry you can tell them to go somewhere and you will likely find them there with few problems, with vehicles it seems a far different issue, but I suppose that's where that roads only movement option comes in handy.

There are planes, artillery, tanks and plenty of other units I didn't get to try, mainly because they don't present themselves in the one demo scenario, but the game has some really good things going for it. I must say that I love the idea of the scenario map, but it is unclear how it will work out in the long run. It just seems as if it's mixing a boardgame map with real time strategy in a splendid way. The graphics, if you can't tell from the screenshots, is kind of all over the place. Sometimes the game seems to look pretty good but then other times it seems fairly dated and rough, although that shouldn't be too much of a problem for people who would like this type of game. Achtung Panzer Operation Star is really only for hardcore strategy/tactical gamers, the kind that love games like Hearts of Iron, Combat Mission or Close Combat. It seems to have a pretty tough learning curve but once you get past the initial hump there is quite a bit to enjoy. Check out this trailer below and also check out the demo from the location below if you want to check out the game yourself. It is available at Gamersgate for $30.
Demo Download:
Main Website:

-Written by Sean Cargle


  1. I have this game and I gotta say it sucks bad. Getting tanks and arty to do what you need is like pulling teeth. I would not rec amend this game and it is not worth the 30$ I paid for it.

    1. I felt like that might be a possibility from the demo, especially when I sent some tanks into trees and they all got stuck, but it still had potential. Thanks for saying something about it.