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Steel Beasts should come with a warning label stuck to it's manual/CD case: WARNING, REALISTIC AUDIO LEVELS. That being said, the audio is not the only thing that sets this sim apart from the competition like M1 Tank Platoon or Armoured Fist 3 etc. etc. No, that's the least of it's glories. I must start this review of by saying that this game cannot be found in retail shops no matter how hard you look. It's sold on the company's website only and it's a bummer because the US postal charges add so much more to the base cost of the game, which is not cheap to begin with. And there's the problem of on-time deliveries via post. In light of all this inconvenience, we should ask, is it really worth it? Absolutely! Firstly, Steel Beasts is the first sim that models the German Leopard tank. To my knowledge, it's never been done anywhere else short of a military simulator. The venerable M1A1 Abrams is the other tank on offer and after playing through the tutorials alone, you will begin to discern a huge difference in performance between the two vehicles. I'm still trying to get to grips with the M1's intricacies especially with firing in emergency mode. Secondly, Steel Beasts is a hardcore (if not the hardest) simulation of modern armoured warfare and tactics. Seriously. Impatient gamers looking for a quick fix need not apply. To give an example of how steep the learning curve is, consider that each tank has about 20 (!) tutorials on how to operate it alone. 10 of those tutorials teach you how to aim and shoot the big metal tube sticking out of the top of the tank. Of those 10 tutorials, 4 are about what to do when your fire control computer goes kaput and you have to manually scope out the opposition (who's standing still, mind) with a gradiated rangefinder and type in the range for a manual firing solution. 1 tutorial teaches you how to manually turn the crankshaft to turn the turret if every sy
stem dies and you need to quickly guesstimate a shot. That particular tutorial involves banging a couple of cursor keys at immense speed, much like the old Olympics games on the PC, only to see the gunsight inching towards that T-72 coming your way. Still awake? Well, then there's the Tank Commander tutorials on teaching you how to assign targets to your gunner (in case you don't feel like shooting yourself) and calling in artillery etc. etc. etc. Thirdly, Steel Beasts boasts an incredibly rich and complex interface for it's missions. You start off normally with a planning phase for all your units, checking line of sight etc, and then you hit the options button for the unit. What comes out is a massive menu full of Boolean strings that allow you to be incredibly exact in your orders. This allows arm chair commanders to stage very precise formations and time attacks. Of course, that's assuming the enemy doesn't do you in first. All the missions are scripted by the programmers and mission designers using the same robust options so that even if you play the same mission twice, and remember where the enemies were the first time round, they may not always react in the same way. To give a very brief example, you could tell your M1 platoon to advance through all the checkpoints cautiously, returning fire only when fired upon except when they spot scout tanks whereupon they are to kill it as quickly as posible and pursue it if it runs away but only up to 2 kilometers from their original route, at the same time requesting fire missions from artillery. You get the idea. Fourthly, Steel Beasts can be played like a real Army style wargame, with you not sitting in any tanks at all, but seeing Nato symbols move across a relief map and trying to send out orders as quickly as possible. It's a huge rush to see multiple requests coming in from your guys on the battlefield asking for various type of artillery allocations. This portion of the
game is also exhilirating in it's own right. Last but not least, the audio in this game is incredible. The best way to experience it of course, is to have surround sound, four small speakers placed in strategic positions around you and the subwoofer turned up to the max. The sounds were recorded inside real tanks and when you hear a round being taken out of storage and slammed into the chamber, that's exactly what you'd hear if you sitting in the vehicle itself. The engine noises, track noises, gunfire, and the ROAR of the main gun firing are all so evocative, it's easy to forget that the only things missing are the true claustrophobia, smell and vibrations of a lurching tank under your feet. Just be careful to get permission from your neighbours though, or you might find the boys in blue knocking on your door. Here are the downsides of the game. The graphics are only scaled up to a max of 800 x 600. There is no hardware acceleration, infantrymen are sprites, and no campaign. That being said, it's hard to imagine any game currently out there with such beautiful 800 x 600 graphics. The things that Steel Beasts falls short of are merely cosmetic thankfully but even so, in the heat of battle, when you score a direct hit on an enemy tank and see the detenotions rip the enemy apart and blow his turret flipping into the air, you fail to notice these things. It really can't be helped though, considering the game is mostly the work of one very dedicated programmer. The nice thing though, is that a full install of the game (no need to run off the CD) is only 250 MB. This game is a lot of fun. Hell, it's even better in multiplayer where you and a friend do gunner and commander duties together. Be warned though, it is not for everyone. It takes a very long time to get proficient in it, but the rewards are long lasting.It's heartening to know that there are independant programmers out there who can work out of their
garages or basements and still come up with a game that stands heads and shoulders above the more flashy games on offer from bigger companies. Eat your heart out Microprose! Well, don't take my word for it. Do a netsearch and see how many glowing reviews there are for this baby. I'm just proud to add mine to that fraternity.