T-72: Balkans on Fire! Review

Sims have been pretty scarce of late, especially for anything that is not covered with ads and drives in ovals. Battlefront has stepped up to fill this void, not only releasing a sim, but an even more rarely seen armored sim. And itís not even set in the Middle East.

T72: Balkans on Fire takes you to the Yugoslavian civil war in the early 1990s and puts you behind the armor of three Soviet-built tanks: the T-34, T-55, and T-72. The game is certain to appeal to sim fans, especially since it probably has been a while since theyíve sat in the virtual driverís seat of a 60-ton vehicle, but it is not accessible enough and is too rough around the edges to appeal to the general gaming population.

As can be expected for a sim, T72 requires some time at the controls before youíll be up to speed. Tutorials and a detailed manual ease the learning curve, and in about an hour youíll be familiar with the controls and find that the key layout is pretty well-designed. Many of the keys are context-sensitive based on whether youíre currently in the driver, gunner, or commander position, so you will still need to keep the reference card handy during your first several play sessions. Overall the controls are nice and responsive, so once you get your keys straight youíll feel in full control of your tank.

A lot of work obviously went into the simís behind the scenes engine and this work manifests itself in the realistic manner the game handles weapon types, ammunition, and damage. Damage is realistically modeled, first in accounting for factors such as range, angle of impact, ordnance used, and armor, and then in damage effects. Individual systems and components can suffer from the effects of taking a hit and your tankís operation will suffer accordingly. You can lose a weapon, have a sight damaged, or throw a track, and your tank will be correspondingly disarmed, blinded, or relegated to driving in circles.

This attention to detail is sure to please the number crunching sim gamers out there, but T72 ultimately fails to deliver a compelling sim experience. The problem is that thereís not much of a sense of immersion Ė the game never really makes you feel like youíre actually driving a tank. A large part of the problem comes from the gameís interface. When youíre in first-person mode inside the tank youíre presented with a simple dashboard style panel at the bottom of the screen when in the driverís seat, and a simple circular sight view when in the gunner or commanderís position. The speedometer and tachometer dials work and the gearshift reflects your current gear, but the pedals and levers remain static. Because of this you never really feel like youíre sitting in a tank. Thereís no sense of the cramped quarters and limited view, no feeling of claustrophobia. When youíre hit your heart does not skip a beat as your tank shakes around you. Instead you receive a text message and an indicator on a top-down status view of your tank. The sound is not much help either, as it is pretty subdued and pedestrian rather than an attempt to simulate the clanking cacophony that is a tank moving at speed. Thereís even less of a connection to your vehicle in the third-person view. From this chase camera perspective you feel more like youíre moving a model around than controlling a tank.