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When Mariya Oktyabrskaya’s husband was killed in 1941, she didn’t sit around the house moping about it. She enrolled in the Tomsk tank academy, became a T-34 driver and went off to pulverise fascists. We were reminded of the marvellous Mariya’s most famous escapade earlier this afternoon. Trundling through the gardens of a Ukrainian village, our T-34 (one of a trio of tank types crewable in this splendid WWII armour sim) came face-to-face with a dug-in German AT gun. The gun was too low for us to take a shot, so we rammed it, grinding weapon and crew into the soft spring mud.
Steel Fury is good at delivering dramatic, resonant moments like this. It might lack skirmish and multiplayer modes and have a campaign system as rudimentary as they can get, but when it comes to communicating the flavour of a WWII tank battle, you’ll struggle to find better.
So what is the flavour of a WWII tank battle? Well, it’s a Molotov cocktail of things. The panic that courses through you when you realise you’ve strayed into the middle of an occupied enemy trench network; the despair of sitting with a thrown track and an empty AP shell rack as predatory Panzers close in; it’s the deeply dark satisfaction of mowing down fleeing infantry with your coax MG; and the pleasure of executing a successful flanking manoeuvre; it’s willing your loader to load faster; it’s getting killed yet again by a shell slinger you never even saw.
Note that last one. Steel Fury doesn’t go in for ego-massaging or hand-holding. This is a true sim and, initially at least, a fairly confusing one. Some of the confusion comes from small tutorial bugs (already fixed by an unofficial patch), some stems from the unexpected fineness of the detail. After several days of play we still couldn’t tell you the difference between an F-350 and an OF-350 (two of the T-34’s five shell types) or explain the subtleties of the various sights. Is it better to communicate with fellow tanks via flags or flares? Haven’t a clue, comrade.
One thing days of tense tank combat has taught us is that the Kharkov countryside, though picturesque, does grow wearisome after a while. Graviteam’s choice of focus – the Second Battle of Kharkov – means we don’t get any urban maps, snow or sand. We’d pay good money to see the engine at work in France or Tunisia. If the makers can’t manage it, then fingers crossed the modders will. Creative souls have already added driveable half-tracks and SPGs.
Maybe modders can also do something with the three campaigns. Currently they’re nothing more than sequenced missions – no branching, no strat map, no crew management. Replay potential is boosted by random unit placement and the option to play from any crew position, but an IL-2 style DCG wouldn’t go amiss. Ah, IL-2. The parallels are too striking to ignore. An obscure Russian dev produces a very real, very vivid WWII sim with a weak solo campaign. Let’s pray Steel Fury grows and improves the way Oleg’s classic has. For starters, let’s have some female tank crews in the next instalment.
Mar 4, 2009