Review - Tigers on the Prowl (DOS, 1994)

Tanks aren't usually paid proper attention in computer wargames, unless the game is specifically dedicated to them. The real ins-and-outs of tank warfare – which center on visibility and armor penetration – are lost in general abstractions of offensive and defensive strength, and a the potential for a very entertaining tactical exercise is lost.

But, at least, there ARE a few games dedicated specifically to tank warfare – games that let us flex our tactical muscles in ways slightly less abstract than the other games offer. On the level of the realistic simulation, Tigers on the Prowl is probably the best ever made available for the PC. Whether or not it really succeeds as a GAME is another question, and one likely to be more subjective than is usually the case with this sort of thing.

I'm a gameplay-over-graphics man – no question. But even I have lines, and Tigers on the Prowl crosses them. I don't need blinding photo-realism and sound-effects that strain the abilities of my SoundBlaster card, but if I'm going to be looking at a game screen for a two-hour stretch, I want it to be at least semi-nice to look at and I want the graphics to be as informative as they are pleasant. And as a game customer, I don't consider this too much to ask – decent graphics are the industry standard, even in hard-core wargames.

Tigers on the Prowl requires VGA capability, which strikes me as incredibly asinine. The graphics look like an ANSI door-game that I might play on a local BBS, not a VGA game. And if the graphics are going to be that simple, why not use a more standard palette and allow the game to dummy itself down to CGA? There are still a few folks out there working with more primitive systems, and if you're focusing entirely on gameplay, you might as well make the game accessible to them. If you're going to require VGA, then by God make a little use of it.

So, presentation-wise, Tigers on the Prowl is a failure. And it's ugly enough to make that a significant point – it was painful looking at the game long enough to learn to play it.

The good news is the payoff. Those with the stamina to withstand the graphic problems with Tigers on the Prowl are going to find the most realistic simulation of Tank Combat yet offered for the PC. And as a help to get into the game – the manual is so clear and well-written that it deserves special kudos. Like the game itself, the manual is ugly and plain, but the information is orderly and clear. But I even found myself able to forgive its use of case format, which I despise.

When I say realism I mean the whole deal – scenarios and hardware have both been researched exhaustively – the manual even gives a good partial bibliography. Tank facing and relative armor thickness and slope are considered – hitting a tank in it's front arc is a losing proposition, and establishing clever killing zones to exploit weaker side and rear armor is necessary for victory. The AI seems pretty competent at this sort of thing itself, although email play is probably a better option.

Dust trails are left by vehicles, affecting visibility, infantry remain fairly useless until the development of anti-tank weapons in the late scenarios, line of sight is realistic and easily accessed . . . for realism, Tigers on the Prowl is absolutely second to none, and real-life tactics work in the game. Bravo. Anyone that appreciates a game in which the tactics that they've read about in history books and tactical manuals can come to life in the game – and really be valid – will appreciate the effort put into this design.

The game suffers a little in friendliness – don't buy the claims on the box. It takes several mouse-clicks to get anything done, and while playing the game I thought of several easy shortcuts that apparently eluded designer Scott Hamilton – but that's what you get when the same person designs AND programs games. This isn't the movies, folks – it works best to keep the code-guys doing code and the game designers doing the games. Still, Hamilton is a fine writer and – even if he isn't too concerned with the user-as-a-person (typical of programmer-designers), he is clearly very concerned with producing simulations that don't compromise on tactical and hardware realism. For that – and, in general, for Tigers on the Prowl – he deserves praise.