Saturday, November 10, 2012

Achtung Panzer: Operation Star - bewilderment

I watched this video LKP ("Let's Kinda Play") almost a year ago, and the game, Achtung Panzer: Operation Star, looked like it might be a lot of fun. So I bought it last January, when it went on sale at GamersGate.

I struggled with the terrible tutorial (improved a bit since then) and with not knowing what, exactly, I was supposed to be doing, but it was a bug that really gave me problems, right from the start. So I gave it up before I'd even got started. But I always wanted to get back to the game.

Note that this is a wargame by Ukrainian developers who've created a game which hits very close to home for them, since it's based on World War II events in their immediate vicinity. (I hear the German troops yell things - in German - like "We're all going to die!" while the Soviet soldiers express nothing but confidence in the outcome. Funny, huh?)

Their English is very, very good, but it's not exactly as a native speaker would say things. And while I expected to be confused by the controls, at least at first, I ended up with more basic problems than that. But it still seems to be a very impressive game, if only I were determined enough to play it.

Anyway, I've got a new computer, and this game has gone through several patches since my initial purchase, so I thought I'd try again. I downloaded the game again from GamersGate, plus three earlier patches and two others I learned about on the forum,... and it wouldn't work. It wouldn't even start.

Apparently, this is normal. Or so other players told me. Following their tips, I uninstalled the game and tried again, testing it at each stage of the process. It worked fine until the very last patch, then it wouldn't start again.

But I just tried that last step a second time, without changing anything at all, and this time, it worked. I have no idea why it worked that time - and I don't know that I'll be eager to try any future patches - but at least the game would start for me.

Now, this is a very complicated wargame, and I'm not really a wargamer. But it looked like fun, and I've played complicated games before. Plus, although the tutorial is... really pretty terrible, still, there are tool-tips for all of the icons. That's really very useful. And I didn't necessarily have to be good at the game to enjoy it.

But before I started, I carefully read through the manuals. I thought I was about as prepared as I could get. Now, there wasn't any real indication of where I should begin, but the top campaign was open, and I figured that it only made sense to start with the top scenario in it, Taranovka, February 16-17, 1943. Great! So I started it...

... And on the very next screen, I was immediately confused.

If there's one thing I thought I had straight from reading the manuals, it's that my side was red and the enemy was in blue. I didn't really care whether I was playing the Soviet Union or the Germans, as long as I knew which was my side in the game.

But as far as I could tell from the instructions on that first page, I was supposed to command the "320 Inf," who were shown in blue! The red guys were the "6 gds. Cav. Corps," my enemies. As it turned out, when I got into the next parts of the game, the colors were reversed from this, so the color coding from the manual was correct. But it was a rather confusing way to start!

And that wasn't even the worst of it. I was told that my guys were encircled (though they didn't look encircled anywhere) and that my mission was to break out of encirclement and advance to the east, to join division "SS LSAH," whatever that is.

The problem with this was that I could see "SS LSAH" units on the map, and they were to the southwest, not the east. So how could I meet up with them by going east through the entire enemy army?

Indeed, most of my troops were at the far northeast corner of the map. They were already as far east as they could go. And as I say, "SS LSAH" was clearly visible to the southwest. (You're starting to see the reason for the title of this post, I hope.)

Now, in the south center of the map, I had a lone supply depot and three platoons, all of which said "encircled." Well, there were enemies to the north and east, but the map looked clear to the south and west. As I say, they really didn't look encircled, though they were clearly cut off from the rest of my forces.

And if my mission really was to meet up with "SS LSAH," I could see them just a short distance to the west. As it turned out, I could move my guys pretty much halfway there in my first move,... so why wouldn't I? But is that what I was supposed to do? I really had no idea.

And there were two problems with that (in addition to the fact that this would have been moving them west instead of east). First, I couldn't move my supply depot guys. When I clicked on the three platoons, I could move them a surprisingly long way, if I wanted, but I had no such option for the supply depot personnel.

Well, it made sense that they couldn't carry crates of supplies on their backs, but if I was supposed to break out of that encirclement, I was going to have to leave the supply depot behind anyway, wasn't I? But I couldn't seem to give them those orders.

The other problem was that my three platoons were very short of ammunition, while the supply depot apparently had ten crates of the stuff. At the very least, my guys should fill up their pockets before they left, shouldn't they? But how was I suppose to order that? I had no idea (and still don't).

Given all this, the lack of ammo, my inability to move the supply depot personnel, and my complete confusion about even which direction I was being ordered to go (neither Hitler nor Stalin being very forgiving of that kind of error, I suspect), I basically stayed put. And the enemy attacked me.

OK, the briefing indicated that I was being attacked from the north, and I needed to set up my troops to defend myself. However, there was a solid mass of blue (the colors were correct in this part of the game) immediately to my east, as well. So,... shouldn't I expect that they might attack from that direction, too?

I really had no idea, but I put one of my three platoons to defend a likely line of attack from that direction. (As it turned out, they had one enemy show up, I think, so it was mostly a waste, but not entirely. But I guess I do need to defend in other directions, too, if it makes sense to do so. And I must admit that I like that part of the game.)

My platoons were still desperately short of ammo, and I still had no idea how to tell them to get any more. I mean, for chrissake, they were right beside an ammo stockpile! But they were still going into battle with only 30% of their usual supply of ammunition.

 (I still think I should have run like hell to the west, and left the supply depot people to be captured, if they were too dumb to come with the rest of us. Of course, it probably wouldn't be much of a war game if I just ran away from battle all the time, huh?)

Anyway, the enemy attacked from the north, with infantry and tanks. Nasty! I had a second platoon just a little out of position, expecting maybe a flank attack from the northwest, where there was better cover, so the bulk of the attack struck one platoon. They were hit pretty hard, but they did OK until they all ran out of ammunition and their commanders got shot. Then they panicked (reasonably enough) and ran to the south.

I tried to do a pincer attack using the two platoons that still had some ammunition, but then I got a notice in green letters that said "cease fire." Note that it didn't say I was being offered a cease fire, so I was a little confused by that. I didn't think a cease fire could just happen, without my input, could it?

The manual said that, if I were being offered a cease fire, there was an icon which would turn green, and I should click on it to agree. Well, sure enough, the icon was there, but it was highlighted in red. So,... what did that mean?

Again, as throughout this game so far, I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I really did want to accept a cease fire, if I was actually being offered one. After all, most of my guys were out of ammunition! So I tried clicking on that icon, to no apparent effect.

I tried clicking it again, and I apparently either declined the cease fire or violated it. At least, I got a message about the battle resuming (though it hadn't appeared to ever stop). I tried clicking on that icon yet a third time - maybe I could offer a cease fire myself? - and, eventually, I got that green message about a cease fire again.

Well, I was completely lost at that point, so I bailed out of the game entirely, without saving it. Now, I still think that this would be a neat game, if I could ever figure it out, but I'm not sure I'm willing to go to that much work.

It's not that the game is complicated. It's not even that the controls are arcane. Heck, I play Dwarf Fortress! I've even played Aurora, which makes Dwarf Fortress look easy. I'm quite willing - even eager - to play complicated computer games.

No, it's mostly that I never really understood what I was supposed to be doing in Achtung Panzer: Operation Star. Maybe I shouldn't worry about it and just enjoy the battles. But when I can't figure out such simple things as re-arming my soldiers or telling whether or not I'm being offered a cease fire (and how to accept it, if so), it's more frustrating than fun.

I still want to try it again (fans of the game really love it), but I'll need to recover my ambition first. Frankly, there are three steps to the game - all of which involve setting up your soldiers just the way you want them - before you even get to a battle. So you spend most of your time just preparing for a fight (or I do, at least, although I don't know the game yet).

It's just not the kind of game you can play casually. And I'm already playing more games than I have time for (with still other games waiting on the sidelines). So we'll see. Someday, I'll try it again.

PS. Here's a very brief - less than 2 minutes long - video of the graphics in the game, at full zoom:

Neat, isn't it? You can lock the camera to a tank or infantry unit and follow along. Also, note that all of the equipment, uniforms, etc. is authentically detailed, if that matters to you.

However, I should also point out that you're in charge of the overall battle, and you can't see what's going on anywhere else when you're zoomed in like this. So, as a practical matter, you really have to play the game zoomed out. (And this isn't like Combat Mission, where you can replay the battles afterwards to enjoy the view up close from multiple angles.)

And your first battle - my first battle, at least (as I say, it wasn't overly clear where to start) - was fought at night, in the snow. It was pitch black, so I didn't get to enjoy the graphics much. (On the other hand, at night, from the gun flashes and the tracers, you can clearly see who's shooting at whom. So that's probably very useful, if not at all as pretty as this.)


Dane Rogers said...

I guess if your suffering from ADD this isn't the game to delve into.

WCG said...

Heh, heh. No, but I'm not sure anyone else should, either. Fans love it, but the bugs and the terrible instructions really put me off it.

I love complicated games, and I'm used to terrible interfaces and poor instructions, but this game takes that to a whole new level. It's a shame, too, because I'm sure there's a great game in there, somewhere.