Review - Armored Fist (DOS, 1994)

When NovaLogic released Comanche: Maximum Overkill in 1992, they redefined the modern military combat simulator. With a revolutionary new pixel manipulating process called Voxel Space, Comanche allowed pilots to fly over unbelievably realistic terrain, bringing nap-of-the-earth flying to an all new level. A few hardcore military types complained that Comanche was more of an arcade game than a military simulator, but the public's general opinion was that there was something very cool here.

Two years later we now have Comanche's sequel, another military simulator implementing ultra-realistic terrain via Voxel Space. It would have been easy for Nova Logic to rest on their laurels and let their technology carry them for a few more titles, but that's not the case. Instead, they have used their previous success to bring us another high-quality game of armed combat – Armored Fist.

In Armored Fist you'll command high-tech tanks in real time combat. You'll have a choice between playing for the East or West. This will pit American units against Soviet-made units. The campaigns are set in the Middle East – fitting, since the first time American and Soviet tanks faced each other in battle was in Operation Desert Storm. As the default you will be fighting for the US, but you can play any campaign or battle from either side. Most people will tend to gravitate towards the American hardware, which is technologically superior to the mostly mass-produced Soviet units. The advantage the Soviet machinery has lies in their numbers. There's an awful lot of those darn things.

You'll be able to pilot two vehicles of each nationality. The American tank is the M1A2 Abrams, a tank designed primarily for the destruction of other tanks. The T-80 is its Soviet counterpart, one of the first Russian military units to rely on advanced technology rather than overwhelming numbers obtained through mass production. The American Bradley M-3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle is also available to take out smaller enemy targets. To counter the Bradley there's the Soviet BMP 2 IFV, a mass-produced cold war unit which relies on outnumbering opponents. For air support there's the American AH-64 Apache and the Soviet Mi-24 Hind helicopters, both of which are very effective at making large holes in tanks, artillery, bunkers, and anything else they feel like targeting. You don't control the 'copters directly, but you can call in air strikes in missions where they're available.

Much like in Comanche, play here is initially confusing but very logical once you sit down and read the manual. There's a lot to think about when piloting an advanced tank, but Armored Fist has a surprisingly gentle learning curve. The game also makes excellent use of advanced joysticks like the CH Flightstick Pro and the Thrustmaster Flight Control System, and a stick like this is practically a necessity to keep yourself from going boom. With these sticks the hat switch controls your turret, and the extra buttons are used for selecting targets, dropping smoke grenades, and other commonly used features. You'll still have to use the keyboard for some features, but the controls are laid out sensibly enough that you shouldn't get blown up while looking for the key to call in the air strike.

Once you get the feel for your vehicle, you'll find Armored Fist every bit as engaging as Comanche. I initially thought that a fast action tank game was an oxymoron, but piloting an Abrams definitely changed my mind about that. The battles take place in what the military calls a "target rich environment." In English, that means that you'll have more enemies than you'll know what to do with. Also, you can hop into the cockpit of any other friendly tank by hitting the Tab key. Between maneuvering into a good defensive position, dropping smoke grenades, taking out bogies as fast as you can, calling in air and artillery support, and defending against enemy helicopters, you'll have your hands full to overflowing. There'll be time to rest when the battle's over.

As much fun as the action is in Armored Fist, I wouldn't be doing my job if I neglected to mention the strategic element of the game. Unlike Comanche, where you were given your orders and then went about blasting away, Armored Fist gives you the opportunity to issue orders and change the tactics of the mission. You are in command of up to four squadrons, each of which can have up to four units. By hitting the escape key in battle your view is transferred to the Command Control Vehicle. This gives you an overhead view of the battle, and lets you change your units' orders by assigning different waypoints. From this screen you can even edit missions or construct your own. This is a great addition, and should go a long way to pleasing those who demand some strategy and tactics to go along with their carnage.

I've had a lot of fun over the past few days playing Armored Fist. It's one of those rare sequels that manages to capture the appeal of its predecessor while standing on its own as a unique game. Armored Fist should have a much broader appeal than most military sims. The white-knuckled action of the battles combined with the tactical aspect should please both action gamers and sim freaks. Armored Fist is a shining example of the thinking man's action game.