Armored Fist 2
DOS - 1997
Description of Armored Fist 2
It seems like with tank sims it's a case of feast or famine. The last big year of tanking was back in 1995 (Micropose's disappointing Across the Rhine, Domar's Tank Commande r and HPS' Panthers in the Shadows). This year (with a probable carry-over into the spring) will see Interactive Magic's****iPanzer '44***, DID's ***Tank ***, SSI's ***Panzer Commander*** and Micropose's sequel to the venerable and much-beloved*** M1 Tank Platoon***. First up though is Novalogic's**** Armored Fist 2 (AF2***), showcasing the omnipotent M1A2 combat tank.
Be All That You Can Be
AF2 has two modes of play, easy and realistic. Playing in easy mode is an arcade hoot - just point and click and things go boom. The interface comes with a handy autolock feature that cycles through all available targets and as soon as an enemy pops into view you can get the first shot off and kill it. The realistic mode is for the more seasoned tank simmer. In this mode you can only control those features of the tank relative to the crew position you are in. That means switching between gunner, driver or tank commander, and it is a good balance between realism and gameplay. With the exception of the tougher T-80s, most targets were destroyed with one shot, which proves that my gunner is either the best the US can produce or is the luckiest digital dude on the battlefield (or that the realism of the game is skewed, but more on that later).
In either mode AF2 can be played from four tank perspectives (gunner, driver, tank commander buttoned or unbuttoned) or from one of the four external chase views, the latter allowing for the broadest perspective of the battle. Helping you out is a tactical map/GPS monitor and a display that shows your waypoint markers and goal indicators, which is relayed from your Inter-vehicular information system readout (which gives you an overview of the terrain and the location of spotted units).
Most of your action in realistic mode (assuming you forego the chase views) will take place in the tank commander seat. Unbuttoned allows you to survey the battlefield while the buttoned view allows you to access the commander's independent thermal viewer. Once you spot an enemy you can relay the position to the gunner who can send a high-velocity greeting their way. As with most sims, getting the first shot in is crucial, and it is here where the Abrams shines.
The Abrams is really the ultimate battlefield machine. During the Gulf Police Action (seriously now - the USA vs. Iraq: calling that a War is stretching the imagination into Monty Python-esque territory) the M1A2 pounded the tar out of Iraq's T-72s. It was designed to kill at high speeds without being hit. In most cases the enemy is only aware of its presence when they wonder "hey - what's that whistling sound...." just before a round from the Abrams' 120mm cannon gets acquainted with the interior passage of their butt. Unfortunately, it is this ability to kill without being seen that poses a serious challenge to sim creators: balancing the tank's overwhelming kill power vs. the need to create a compelling game.
Realism is spelled with an R
One of my biggest disappointments with AF2 came with the dynamics of the scenery. I am driving a 60ton vehicle that Novalogic themselves describe as the "ultimate off-road vehicle" and I can't run over a tent or a tree? C'mon. I should be able to chew though scenery like Oprah at a buffet table. Sadly, the best I could do was run over a few cows and go through a fence or two. When you come up against hard targets - ruined hulks of tanks, buildings, trees, concrete fences, large boulders, etc - the tank is stopped cold in its tracks.
The second major realism problem came with the use of the .50 caliber machine gun and the coaxial 7.62mm machine gun. With both I could take out buildings, trucks and aircraft. I never knew that a bullet could destroy a hardened bunker (though I can't run over it). That's some bullet.
I also had a realism question in regards to targeting and fire control. In arcade mode (with autolock on) AF2 becomes a point and fire free-for-all. In realistic mode, though there are a few more steps to take, it's the same thing - if I can see it I can kill it. In Novalogic's defence the manual states that this is an accurate state of being for the Abrams: "the gunner first uses the targeting laser system to determine the target's exact range. The tank's target computer then calculates the proper bearing and elevation for the cannon and brings the tube to bear. The gunner can then fire, with an excellent chance of a first-round kill". If this is true then this is one hell of a killing machine.
The AI for my tank was top-notch. A shame it can't be said for the others in my platoon. Even though you can give your platoon formation, spacing and engagement orders, if left to their own devices (i.e., given the order to fire at will) they expose themselves to enemy fire and miss their targets with all-too alarming frequency. For a tank with a perfect combat record I was pretty amazed to see my platoon destroyed because they wanted a nicer view of the carnage.
"You are a Killing Machine"
That's not to say that battles were not fun. Graphically things have never blown up any better (seeing a T-72 turret get blown off its chassis, do a half-pike in the air and then land was so cool even the Hungarian judge gave it a 9.2). The graphics do tend to get a little chunky when there's a lot going on, but that's to be expected given the limited nature of the Voxel Space2 engine. While the Voxel Space2 engine may not handle pitched battles well it does create photo-realistic terrain rather nicely. It's a shame that everything looks the same after a while and that more terrain choices were not included.
One of the highpoints of AF2 is the audio. The sound (in Dolby SurroundSound) is authentic and convincing and the battle chatter lends a lot to the gameplay. Battle sounds are particularly well done, and weapons firing and turret movements never sounded so good. The voice of the drill sergeant in particular must be pointed out as exceptional - listening to him spout off is almost worth the price of admission in itself. Novalogic should make the .wav files available because phrases like "you will not soil my beloved corps" are worth keeping.
The game is touted as having 50+ missions, though I counted only 44 (four campaigns, 8 solo missions and a four-part tutorial). Unfortunately, the missions can be played out of sequence which negates the whole point of having campaigns. The tutorial has very well done FMV cut scenes (with actor du jour Ed Lauton). Too bad Novalogic did not use FMV to distinguish one campaign from the other. The missions themselves are fairly decent in terms of toughness, though this is due to having so much to see and kill rather than any intelligent opponent facing you. Overall, the AI of the game should have been 4Fed. Besides the above-mentioned problem with my suicidal platoon, the enemy AI shows no initiative and will sit and wait to be killed, acting only if you cross a certain point. If you flank them they willingly die. What gave me the biggest chuckle were the escort missions. The vulnerable trucks and APCs that I was supposed to protect raced out in front with no regard to their own safety and got cut to pieces.
There is no learning curve to AF2 or difficulty playing it. After the four tutorials you are a killing machine. If you plan wisely (i.e., do not follow the waypoints given to you and actually look at the terrain) you will stomp the AI in their puny T-72s and T-80s. If however, you accidentally trigger the enemy (by crossing over some pre-determined line) you will be in for a hell of a firefight. While not realistic in any stretch of the imagination, there is something to be said to being on the giving end of a good ass-kicking.
In terms of replayability, the game suffers from a lack of a mission builder or random mission generator. After the game is completed the only option is multi-player and the full slate (serial cable, TCP/IP, IPX) is supported, and up to 8 players can compete in cooperative, team or deathmatches. A joystick is not only recommended but a necessity. Playing the game using the mouse and the keyboard can be accomplished, though only for those who want carpal tunnel syndrome for Xmas.
If you are looking for a good-looking entry-level tank sim (or an arcade hoot) then AF2 is the game for you. Excellent sound, great graphics, a good manual, comprehensive tutorials and lots to see and kill combine for a great combat experience and as good a showcase for the Abrams as you will find. The lack of a mission builder or a random map/mission generator limits the replayability, but the multi-player options should keep the blood flowing. Hopefully Novalogic will add a builder/generator in a patch or as a cheap add-on. If however you are looking for a mid-to-serious level sim then AF2 as it stands is not the sim for you. Questionable realism, a 4f AI and an irrelevant campaign mode all impede the game's potential. If/when the AI problems (particularly the platoon suicidal tendencies) can be fixed and the other realism problems can be ironed out or minimized then this could be the lean, mean killing machine that we have been waiting for. If not, then hopefully it will be a short wait until the other titles hit the stores.
Review By GamesDomain
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