M1 Tank Platoon (Third Review)

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

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!

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