It would seem there are two options when it comes to putting a scenario to a real time strategy war game. You can go historical on it, or you can make it a fantasy war.

Historical wars deliver their own sense of grandeur and power, since we know what happened, where it happened and the impact it had. But the developer must take care to produce an accurate digital recollection of that time period, or face the wrath of purist strategists.

The fantasy war offers much more flexibility, but cramming in the credibility and the scope isn’t easy, since alternate realms don’t easily purvey the impact of massive conflict.

Codename: Panzers – Cold War makes a bold move to forge middle ground between these two types of RTS sub-genre, and sadly fails. Here we’re seeing a fantasy war set during the 1950s, when a Soviet/Chinese alliance attempts to dominate the West, though we’re not given much understanding as to why. Fair enough, the purpose of the real cold war was political grandstanding, which is true of most wars, only no one ever actually got around to firing any shots.

So where does that leave Cold War? Well, this isn’t Stormregion’s first outing for these fictional warmongers, as we’ve already seen the heavy artillery and dimwit infantry of Codename Panzers: Phase 1, Rush To Berlin, and Rush For The Bomb – each of which has thrown a few gaming elements into the cheaply forged steel of Cold War.

Despite the unique (and potentially fascinating) concept of a united East sending its massive forces toward the setting sun, what Stormregion didn’t calculate was that the path pretty much takes them on the exact same route the tanks of World War II already ploughed. They begin in Germany, then follow the caterpillar tracks of ten years hence almost exactly, and although a couple of factions are now on the other side (the Germans, really) it’s the same European capitals that are having the rubble of WWII blown into smaller pieces.

As an RTS, Cold War is up against some damn stiff competition. This is a gaming genre that’s been fully revived and explored in pixel-sized detail, with some epic battles of every type already available for strategists to pour their military scorn upon, so Cold War needs to offer something spectacular to this breed. The premise suggests the potential for just such a unique new war, but the gameplay doesn’t deliver on that premise.

Essentially, this is a tank battle game. The tanks are actually pretty awesome, with some mild evolution of the year’s heavy machinery tweaked and multiplied to make a rolling army of mechanised mayhem capable of levelling Berlin and the town of the Rhine within a couple of hours.The infantry aren’t quite so adept, however, and seem to be present just to emphasise the menace a brigade of unstoppable tanks is capable of. With no real resource gathering or base building (the point of Cold War seems to be one of taking buildings down – not putting them up) infantry is only useful against other infantry, but when you’ve got more tanks than a tropical aquarium supplier, why bother to send in your men at all when you can roll right over the idiot enemy?{PAGE TITLE=Codename: Panzers – Cold War [PC] Continued}The engineering corps is quite vital to your war effort, mind you, and the best aspects of Cold War’s strategising comes in defending these gooey-soft targets as they attempt to do their job in the heat of battle. This part actually works very nicely, as your mechanised war machine moves and positions to provide safe passage for the few foot soldiers who actually make an impact on gameplay.

Air strikes are pretty much just smart bombs – the kind you’d see in a classic shmup – though on occasion you’re rewarded with troops zip-lining from hovering choppers, or a flaming carpet of napalm first thing in the morning. But these are fleeting moments of action amidst a sea of rolling tanks, and with gameplay that’s as tragically linear as a snake eating a broom handle, this is unlikely to be enough to sate the hunger of today’s very well-fed RTS fans.

There are a lot of clever objectives, both primary and secondary, that begin to build a picture of how this concept of World War III would play out – and clearly there’s been a lot of dedicated effort into coming up with these ideas – but almost every one is achieved by an all out tank rampage. You can make it deliberately difficult for yourself, if you really feel the need to get your money’s worth, but after a couple of handicapped missions you’ll undoubtedly build up an unstoppable force and simply set it off rolling into the unintelligent enemy walls.

Switching hats for a moment, I feel it’s worth pointing out that arcade game fans might actually gleam more pleasure from Cold War than RTS players. The unintentional simplicity of the game and its massive reliance on pushing tanks into crumbling cities boots-first kind of makes for a complex, slow moving shoot-‘em-up. I know this isn’t the sales pitch Atari would ever choose to employ, but dispensing with much of the strategy, and concentrating on the real time aspect, Cold War offers an accidentally unique take on the shmup that, if I were a game designer, might plant the seed of a new concept in arcade vehicle shooters.

But we have to remember that Cold War is aimed at the RTS brigade, and in that respect it comes up a little… well, cold. Perhaps if you’re unavoidably smitten with the idea of rolling tanks through an alternate 1950s, or your completionist nature demands you continue your Panzers game collection, you won’t have to kid yourself too much to find the entertainment buried beneath the rubble of Cold War.

But if you’ve just come off a long stint on, say, Empire: Total War, or Men of War, then you’ll pan Cold War in no time and never look back.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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