Originally intended for release in the middle of last year’s busy season, Graviteam’s Steel Armor: Blaze of War will finally launch later this month. While the videogame is a unique and enjoyable experience in it’s own right, it must be said that delaying Steel Armor: Blaze of War – for whatever reason – has certainly done it a favour, as unlike the bombardment of action, adventure and family titles in the winter months of 2011, this earliest of releases in 2012 is not the type of videogame you can simply jump straight into.
And that facet is proven immediately upon beginning the videogame. Before even choosing a gameplay option, setting up your ‘Player Profile’ or any other such interactivity, a box out recommending the player opts to have the tutorial engaged appears. It’s a recommendation that’s pretty much essential for all but the most ardent tank strategy gamers, as simply working your way around Steel Armor: Blaze of War’s menu systems can take hours, let alone learning how to use them effectively. That being said, the tutorial itself isn’t the most exciting of endeavours, filling in the player with what every different button does, rather than simply those which are needed at this point in time.
Steel Armor: Blaze of War is a turn-based strategy videogame that works in three stages. Firstly, players can play the use of their forces, replenish fuel and ammo and repair vehicles during the ‘operational’ stage. Here is where the player gets the greatest assessment of the success or failure, as the control certain areas and push for dominance across the map. The second stage, ‘tactic’, sees the player deploy their units, assess the squad and resource arrangement and set basic tactical commands to be played out automatically by AI units. The third stage is actually taking part in the battle, which in itself can prove to be quite an ordeal.
Videogames built specifically for the idea of simulating tank combat have rarely had a good run of things. Console gamers eschewed them a long time ago and PC gamers often find that the genre is taken in one of two directions: fantasy mech style controls or realistic simulation. Steel Armor: Blaze of War is the latter. It’s a videogame that’s more concerned with turning arcs than raging combat, more demanding of the player’s thought processes when considering whether to open or close a tank hatch than it is in terms of reaction time. Players have to consider everything from time of day to weather conditions when panning an assault. Of course, once engaged in combat players will still receive the adrenaline rush of a kill-or-be-killed action videogame, but to consider it a cousin to the tank battles of Grand Theft Auto is missing the point by about a mile.
The technical clout of Steel Armor: Blaze of War is actually quite shocking, and possibly it’s greatest strength for those not enamoured with the slow pace of the tactician set-up. It doesn’t break any new ground but the large scale maps feature a lot of detail in that of their varying terrain types, and the tank models are frequently remarkable; which is why it’s such a shame that the same can’t be said for the personnel within them. The 2D presentation of the maps creates a quick-glance system for those well versed in what each signpost represents, and the distance between campaign map, planning map and 3D combat has been well judged.
Steel Armor: Blaze of War is packed with plenty of content, offering three campaigns, quick battle modes and much more besides, but it’s simply a lot of work to get the most out of these gameplay modes. Steel Armor: Blaze of War is a strategy videogame built solely for tank strategy fans, which is unquestionably a very niche market. There is plenty to enjoy here in Steel Armor: Blaze of War, but it demands so much investment on behalf of the player that many gamers will simply move onto something else before the real meat of the videogame reveals itself.