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 it’s 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 they’ve sat in the virtual driver’s 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 you’ll be up to speed. Tutorials and a detailed manual ease the learning curve, and in about an hour you’ll 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 you’re 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 you’ll feel in full control of your tank.

A lot of work obviously went into the sim’s 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 tank’s 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 there’s not much of a sense of immersion – the game never really makes you feel like you’re actually driving a tank. A large part of the problem comes from the game’s interface. When you’re in first-person mode inside the tank you’re presented with a simple dashboard style panel at the bottom of the screen when in the driver’s seat, and a simple circular sight view when in the gunner or commander’s 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 you’re sitting in a tank. There’s no sense of the cramped quarters and limited view, no feeling of claustrophobia. When you’re 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. There’s even less of a connection to your vehicle in the third-person view. From this chase camera perspective you feel more like you’re moving a model around than controlling a tank.