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  Steel Panther 3
..........Entrenched in the hills we awaited the Soviet assault. Stinger teams mixed with Abrams and Bradleys, the first bombardment took its toll on us. We responded with MLRS and FASCAM to slow them down. The first Reds showed up and were taken out with TOWs and HEAT fire............
(Software development by SSI and published by Mindscape)

Preamble:
SP3 is a game full of acronyms that military is famous for. It's something that you will get used to as you become embroiled in modern warfare that makes SP3 the strategy war-game that sets the pace. This evolutionary game is a decent upgrade to the first 2 versions and more. Like the previous games, SP3 has a lot going on. There are more units than I care to know about. I played all 6 campaigns and a number of the 40 scenarios and actually enjoyed them all even though they were sometimes repeats from 1 & 2. When you're done with these then it's time to use the scenario and campaign generators that keep you coming back for more.

So what's so different about SP3 that wasn't around in the others? Well, the scale has gone to 200 yards per hex which allows you to place more (many more!) units on the map as well as all of your artillery. Conflicts get much more interesting this way with battles stretching over great distances and commanding fields of fire are more difficult. In fact, your artillery is subject to counter-fire as the enemy spots your units after bombardment. Combining SP1 and SP2 in one game is a real handful that will have you digging through the manual several times (or go on the net) to find out why's and why nots that will crop up. And a Campaign disk is slated to be released for SP3 shortly. Just no end to the fun you can be having with this! SP4 is to be released in 1999 sometime as well.

Companyline:
Volume III in the Steel Panthers series features larger tactical combat - and much more!

The latest from Gary Grigsby and Keith Brors, Steel Panthers III lets players fight larger tactical battles using the same easy-to-use interface featured in their critically acclaimed Steel Panthers I and II. This brilliant tactical wargame includes 6 campaigns and over 40 scenarios. Players can engage in brigade-size battles from every major historical conflict from 1939 to date, plus hypothetical battles, such as NATO 1998 and Holy War 1999!

New 200 yards-per-hex and platoon-size units allow players to control entire brigades - even divisions! Get key reinforcements during gameplay. And be assured of limitless armored conflict with the improved Random Scenario Generator, which includes more powerful scenario editing features! Features: New! 200 yards-per-hex and platoon-size untis allow players to fight larger battles and control entire brigades - even divisions. New! Command multi-national forces. New! Auxiliary units enhance your core command. New! Key reinforcements available during gameplay. Includes weapon and unit information for 20 World War II era and 40 post World War II era countries. Comes complete with 6 full campaigns (3 WWII and 3 post WWII) and over 40 individual scenarios. The improved Random Scenario Generator, along with more powerful scenario editing features ensure unlimited gameplay. Convenient opponent replay feature when playing via email. Impressive SVGA graphics, superb animation, authentic combat footage and digitized sound effects put you right in the heat of the battle. New! Campaign Editor allows you to link up to ten user built scenarios into a campaign - with core units that transfer from scenario to scenario!

Gameplay and Replayability:
The first thing you generally do is deploy your units in order to begin the scenario. Units are generally aligned along one side of the screen with blue flags showing the limits of the deployment. Depending if you are assaulting (advance) or defending (delay), units are placed close to the limit or set back.. In the case of advancing, you will generally get up close to the limits while the opposite is true with defending. After all your units are put in place, you may order a bombardment with artillery and/or aircraft. Quitting deployment will start the bombardment and the battle begins. There is a fair amount of consideration of how well some units can travel and if they can be loaded on transport. You don't want to have infantry too far ahead of the armour when things heat up. Spotting the enemy and concentrating fire is a big concern that will use a lot of your time figuring out the best route to get to your objectives (or hold them). Units may be configured to use only some weapons (e.g. machineguns on infantry vs. cannon on armour) and shows the detail that SP3 is capable of. Strategies in cities is also quite different from in the field as infantry units can take out armor quite readily while entrenched in a building while ineffective in a field. Friendly fire can also be a problem as your own aircraft or artillery can hit your units if you don't pay attention. You can use airburst artillery (in modern scenarios) to damage the enemy while leaving the terrain untouched and easily traversable. All of this makes the 'combined arms' philosophy in warfare a necessary component of SP3.

Upside:
SP3 is definitely one of the top strategy war-games of the 90's. It gives you so many options and capabilities that make it easy to return to constantly. The manual is well laid out and the back page has handy 'hotkeys' that are easy to refer to. The Campaign Generator and Scenario Editor give the game tremendous replayability. The Preferences screen allows you to adjust performance issues, realism and unit quality. The Play By Email is something that is taken for granted these days but still a great enhancement. The button control is simple and intuitive so you don't need to be digging through menus to find that one feature.

Downside:
I found a few things that seemed out of context in SP3. There appears to be no weather to prevent aircraft from flying sorties (such as the Market-Garden campaign that was socked in by bad weather) which seems unrealistic.

Campaigns can only be played from one side and replayability is therefore diminished.

It would be nice to combine units during battle as one unit even if the experience was downgraded (e.g. elite to veteran), especially if the unit has suffered a lot of battle damage.

I found the 'Command & Control' feature hard to comprehend in regards to how units handle orders and change stance. This could be improved and/or simplified.

The SP game engine is getting a bit old by current standards and is due for a sprucing up.

And there is still no 'Internet Play' available, something that you even see with SSI's Panzer General 2.

I'm not a grognard by any standard but I like to see stats on units that I encounter or use. The Weapons Encyclopaedia gives some of this but could be enhanced. The game AI is pretty decent when handling the enemy or your own units. I found that flying units would avoid AA at times though at other times it would fly into the face of fire.

In the Long Run:
SP3 is a game that may be criticized for its' shortcomings but is still one of the best in it's genre. It has features that many others fall short on and is likely to improve even more in SP4. The sheer amount of stuff you can do in SP3 makes it one of my favorites and will remain on my hard drive till SP4 arrives.

Review ID Number: 217
  Product Details
SSI
Review Date: 2001-04-19
Reviewer: Nick Sardy
Rating: 9 out of 10
 
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