The iPad-exclusive spiritual successor to the classic PC war game Panzer General proves out the theory that tablet gaming can be just as deep as that of PC and console games, but a lot more accessible.
When I helped found TabTimes back in 2011, it seemed clear that games were going to be a driving force for tablet devices. No genius ideation required there, right?
As a quote-unquote “core” gamer, it also seemed clear that over time, the confluence of hardware evolution and console gamers beginning to own tablets would result in tablet games that would previously be found only on gaming PCs and console systems like the Xbox and PlayStation.
We are rapidly arriving at that point, via an important intermediary step.
Big huge, premium price games are rapidly becoming the rage on tablet devices. Most games continue to also be available on iPhone, but it’s hard to imagine playing a deep, engaging title on such a small screen for extended periods.
For now, most of the biggest, deepest tablet games remain ports of existing console and/or PC releases. For the most part, these ports are all impressive in size and scope. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for example, is a faithful recreation of Rockstar’s 2004 great work. In terms of scope and size it’s enormous, and it has been transported entirely to the iPad.
Panzer Corps: Nerdy, but accessible
Panzer Corps, this week’s tablet game of the week, is a similar story because it too, was originally a PC game. But there’s a deeper story here. In the 1990s, a company named SSI released an award-winning, best-of-all time PC war game named Panzer General. Slitherine, the publisher of Panzer Corps, calls it the spiritual successor to Panzer General.
I was lucky enough to play a lot of Panzer General (and I mean a lot) way back when, so I can verify that Slitherine’s claim that Panzer Corps is the descendant of SSI’s classic is legitimate.
In Panzer Corps, you take command of the axis powers in a campaign that consists of 26 linked-together missions that take you all the way to Paris. The goal is to leverage the Germans’ armored superiority and blitz your enemies with fast, powerful tanks. Infantry units, artillery, and even bombers and fighters support the effort.
Each turn, you maneuver your units into action. As these units succeed in the field, you can upgrade their capabilities, based on the amount of credits you’ve earned with your actions. (If your units absorb too much damage, you can call in replacements, again using credits.)
Every mission has a number of objectives, ranging from capturing towns to eliminating enemy units to holding choke points and/or preventing the enemy from doing the same. The game’s AI is wickedly delightful, and quite capable of luring and flanking your strongest units into traps. And, once you’re finished with the first single-player campaign, you can buy additional multi-mission campaigns in the app.
The secret to Panzer General’s success was that as deep as the game was strategically, it was designed in such a way that anyone—even non PC war game nerds—could quickly learn how to play it. To quote a guy I used to work with, it was classic “beer and pretzels” gaming. Panzer Corps is no different—it’s the kind of game your dad or granddad can pick up and play. (As such, it would be an ideal holiday gift for history and war buffs in your life.
I remember being originally weirded out that I was playing the German side in a World War II war game, but over the course of playing Panzer General and this spiritual successor, I found myself gaining insight and understanding into what exactly made the German ground attack such a force to be reckoned with. Not too many games can make this claim.
At $20, it is not cheap, but it is quite literally a full-fledged game, remarkably designed for touch, that transcends the depth of 99% of all other tablet games available today. If you like intelligent games, you'll appreciate Panzer Corps' serious, straightforward, decidedly non-ironic approach.
Ports today, original IP tomorrow
Game publishers are going to be able to make a lot of hay over the next two years by porting existing games over to tablet devices. When you consider the libraries that companies like Electronic Arts and Activision and Nintendo have, this path seems pretty clear…and lucrative. (As an example: Nintendo CEO Reginald Fils-Aime spoke candidly about the company’s desire to experiment with iPad and iPhone games, even though he landed just short of saying that we’ll see Mario on tablet devices.)
However, by this time next year, I predict the conversation will have begun to shift from large-scale ports to original development that rival the ambition of these conversions while preserving the more sophisticated play mechanics of console and PC gaming.
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Other tablet games I’m playing
1. Walking Dead: The Game – Season 2: One of the most interesting tablet experiences of the last three years is back with a new season of episodes, starting with Episode 1: All That Remains.
3. The Shadow Sun: This original, shockingly huge open-world RPG supports my above point. It is a brand new universe in the vein of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, the classic RPG of the last 10 years.
4. Colossatron: Massive World Threat: This match-three game made by Halfbrick (Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride) has a unique premise—you control a giant snake intent on destroying cities. Also available on Android.
5. Arena of Heroes: MOBA: Provides some interesting tweaks to the well-established MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) category. The big twist? First, it’s turn-based. Second, as TabTimes Games recent interview revealed, you can play on your iPad against Android-using opponents.