Title M1 Tank Platoon (Third Review) Game Type 3D Combat Sim Players 1 Compatibility All (Patch available) Company Microprose, 1990 HD Installable Yes (Patch available) Submission Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer Review My first encounter with M1 Tank Platoon would have been around the time of its initial release in the UK in 1990. Although the prospect of a game involving contemporary Soviet versus Western armoured warfare in a realistic 3D environment seemed very interesting, my enthusiasm was quickly dampened by what appeared to be a restrictive degree of control and an awkward and complex method of employing it. In short, I dismissed the game as poorly designed rather quickly. Some years later however, when Amiga games were fewer on the ground, I saw a copy at a very fair price, wondered if my earlier opinion had been justified, and decided to risk a purchase. After all, it wouldn't be the first time my casual attitude towards various games, in the Amiga's golden days, had been misplaced. The game was very nicely packaged with a large and attractively produced manual, various keyboard overlays, an Amiga specific Technical Supplement, and a single floppy disk for the game itself. After a bit of experimenting I found that the game was highly compatible, installing to hard disk easily, although needing an OCS display, and appeared to have a lot more going for it than my original hasty analysis had supposed. To be fair to myself though, the game looks a lot better running on an 030 or indeed an 060, than it ever did on my one megabyte A500 back in 1990. The title sequence certainly isn't up to the Psygnosis standard though, being simply a low resolution picture of an M1 firing straight at you, with some forgetable accompanying music. You are then presented with a choice of available tank platoons (or the option to create your own) with which you might just possibly secure your place in military history. Having selected your platoon, you can choose between one of the two training scenarios (static or moving enemy) or risk real conflict in the single engagement or campaign scenarios. Having already been baffled by some of the controls I cautiously selected the static target training mission, keeping my copy of the manual close at hand, and a finger hovering over the pause key. Here, you simply lead your platoon around the gunnery range, destroying the various vehicles that you encounter. At all times in the game, you may access the map of the current scenario. This is essential, and gives you the ability to regroup or disperse your platoon, sending each vehicle wherever you want. You can tell them which way to look, whether to fire at will, to generate smoke etc, etc. It also provides you with vital information about the 64 square kilometres of terrain, allowing you to move your tanks on to the reverse slopes of hills, where they can fire from hull-down positions, making it much harder for them to be accurately fired upon. You can zoom in to increase the detail substantially, and it is immediately evident just how important to your success the map screen actually is. Bear in mind, however, that many soldiers are of the opinion that the most dangerous thing known to man is an officer with a map, and you may have more sympathy with this viewpoint after you have led your platoon to its death a number of times. The Training scenarios should prove harmless to all but the most inept players, however, and serve as a useful and safe way of learning to effectively control your platoon. After a gentle cruise around the the static range, I attempted the moving targets in the next and final training session. Here a fair number of enemy vehicles are moving towards an objective which you are attempting to protect. You have to act fairly quickly, as the enemy doesn't hang about, so you rapidly direct your vehicles to a suitable ambush position on the nearby hills that overlook the enemy's most likely route. Once I'd arranged my force I looked around for the expected attack, though the word "attack" is really poetic license as there is no enemy fire in Training missions. Sure enough, looking highly realistic, (if you overlook the enemy's red colouring), there they were, bearing down on my position in a scattered formation. Clicking on the 10x magnification button from the Gunner's position of my number 1 Tank, I tracked the leading vehicle and then tapped the space bar to use the laser rangefinder and engage the computer targetting system. The computer then tracked the vehicle automatically, and in theory, all I had to do was click the fire button to kill the enemy. Conveniently, there was a small river just between myself and the Russian force, so I waited until they began to cross, and then fired. A miss! I waited for the Loader to reload, lased the vehicle again, and fired. Another miss! I thought these M1's were supposed to be good! Where's my Challenger 2? "Clunk", another shell slid into the breech, I fired again, and to my delight scored a direct hit. As I panned left to hit the next enemy, the ammunition or fuel tank of the first vehicle detonated in a secondary explosion. Impressive. The rest of that particular tale was a very one-sided affair, and over quite quickly. It had not been much of a challenge, but it had been a lot of fun. I should explain that M1 Tank Platoon allows you, as well as controlling vehicles from the map screen, to actually go to a first person perspective viewpoint of each of the crew positions of your M1's (apart from the Loaders) and either passively observe, or physically become that crew member, responsible for their duties and actions. I should probably also point out, that when you start playing M1, your crews have no combat experience, and therefore lack any real tried and tested skills. Hence the rather poor accuracy of my gunnery. This changes however, and depending on results of real engagements you are awarded a number of promotions and decorations that you can, at your discretion, bestow upon your crews, improving their skills as you do so. So far so good, but how will I fair in real combat? Rather than embark on a fully fledged World War III campaign, I decided to try out the single engagement missions. As you would expect from a Microprose game, you can select the quality of the enemy you are up against. I went for the easiest option of Second-line troops, but you can take on First line troops, Veterans or, if you're really good, the Guards (an elite force). There are basically six mission types ranging from an Assault against an enemy force dug into well prepared positions, to a desperate Rearguard action where you must delay the enemy advance as long as possible whilst preserving the majority of your own forces. Night missions are included, and these ought to work to your advantage, given the M1's superior thermal equipment over its Soviet adversaries. Although I mentioned just six mission types, the terrain, time of day, and assets available (to either side) vary every time you play, so there are actually thousands of variations. Sometimes there is even snow on the ground. As you might expect, a few live rounds flying around make things a lot more of a challenge, and I soon found the confidence inspired by the training missions to be somewhat misplaced. No problem with that though, this is supposed to be a simulation of armoured warfare against a tough and numerically superior adversary, so I wouldn't want it to be a picnic. After some refinement of my technique I completed the six different single engagement missions and moved on to the War Campaign with a platoon that was far less green than when I'd started. In the Campaign part of the game, your platoon of four M1 Tanks is obviously just a tiny part of the Western Allies war effort. Because of this, a defeat or a victory on your part of the front does not immediately effect the big picture, but it does eventually influence things, and a victorious peace will not come unless you are a successful commander. It is rather nice that the briefing for each mission refers to your last battle, and there is an impression of a multiple branch storyline that you are fighting your way through. While I suspect the system is actually slightly less complex than this, the effect is what matters, and that works quite well. As I mentioned, with all the variables involved, no two missions appear to be identical. Both you and your Soviet opponents are often in possession of extra battlefield assets, like artillery, scout and attack aircraft, and a variety of armoured vehicles, some with infantry units. You have varying degrees of control with these extras, in the case of aircraft you can simply request a sortie, but what they then do on the sortie is completely in their hands. On the other hand you can send a group of IFV's (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) to a location of your choice and tell them when and whom to engage. Similarly you can call down a smoke or high explosive artillery barrage on a location of your choice, but the guns are then unlikely to be available again for some time. On some missions, particuarly those where the burden of attack falls to you, you will take heavy casualties and often fail the mission, particuarly if you have no support to call upon. This is not a weakness in the gameplay in my opinion, but rather an accurate reflection of warfare. You can always retreat to the West or 'end the battle' and sometimes it is obviously better to live and fight another day than committing yourself and your troops to a hopeless and costly cause. So, where does that leave us? The game's graphics work very well despite clear indications of their PC origins, the sound, while not quite spectacular is highly effective, and although the control method, which has been somewhat upgraded for the Amiga, is not as intuitive as that in Carrier Command (but what is?) I found M1 to be a very worthy game that is also a lot of fun to play. Let me just say that again, once you understand how M1 works, it is a lot of fun to play. There is also a great deal of depth to be found in this single floppy disk game, and what other Amiga tank game includes that factor that is so essential to any serious armoured warfare simulation: proper terrain; with the ability to use hull-down positions? Arguably Jonathan Griffith's Conqueror does this, but that is far more of an arcade game and in my view has serious problems in the gameplay department. Team Yankee, on the other hand, released at pretty much exactly the same time as M1, doesn't really get a look-in in the reality stakes. Although its a very fine game, with perhaps a more intuitive control method, its sprite based engine, flat battlegrounds, and non-randomised scenarios are all eclipsed by M1's better looking polygon system, its variable topography, and its thousands of possible situations. Having said all that, back in 1990, with my 68000 based A500, I disregarded M1 and embraced Team Yankee. Its funny what time, limited software, and a faster processor can do to your perspective. It is perhaps a shame that Microprose didn't use their later and more advanced landscape system from Gunship 2000, (complete with valleys) to improve things even further, in perhaps an 'M1 2000' game, but as they didn't, and M1 is pretty excellent already, I'll stick with what I've got, and be very happy with it. Incidentally, during the writing of this review, the talented Jean-Françoise Fabre has graciously produced a WHDLoad patch for M1 Tank Platoon that makes runnning the game from hard drive, with a modern Amiga, simplicity itself. Merci beaucoup Jean-François!