Steel Beasts Pro
Personal Edition
March 12, 2006

By Marcel ďSkybirdď Hoell

Page 8: Gameplay

GAMEPLAY

Itís a blast! Once you lead a storming armored assault from your lead tank, youíll be hooked to the "Geronimo!" feeling and will not give up on it again too soon. Immersion is very high, you will really become a part of the simulated world unfolding around you, and the team you are fighting in. Itís a kind of immersion different from that like in SH3, for example. There it comes from breathing the atmosphere of the 1940s, here it comes from the action directly. Both sims rank high in immersion, but both sims are very different, show immersion caused by different factors.

SB Pro is focused on tank warfare at company level but you can do battles on higher (battalion) and lower (platoon) levels, too. I nevertheless recommend you follow procedures from real armies: try small first! And do not try all tanks at the same, but specialize: learn one vehicle, and this one in-depth, before going to the next. One vehicle type and one platoon for us newbies! Good advice, believe me, the learning curve to master the tactics is steep and long. Commanding a whole company that is spread over a wide front easily can become a confusing experience once the enemy starts picking your units away. But the simulator can handle battalionĖsized battles, too, and some say even brigade-sized battles, but I havenít tried that Ė but it already is on battalion level were an adequate description necessarily must feature the word "bombastic" in it. Prepare yourself for the most brutal land-warfare action you have ever seen, itís harsh, unfriendly direct and most unforgiving, and when a major engagement with tanks, artillery and missiles has started, you immediately know why war often is described as pre-planned order turning into total chaos within just seconds of time, especially when the mission gives you a massive, number-heavy onslaught according to Soviet "wave"-doctrine. During fighting you see why this is a simulator, and no game Ė the design of the sim does not allow the smallest compromise in order to increase pleasure and survivability for the player. If you mess it up, you are dead, and no-one asks if it was a short match only or if you had pleasure from participating in it Ė period. There is a very "robust", very "critical", very "massive", very "heavy" and "serious" feeling in all that happens, may it be driving your tank peacefully, or letting loose a shot, or getting hit, or finding yourself inside an artillery barrage. Sound, graphics, immersion, realism, AI, gameplay all combine to give you a very impressive experience that is truly unique.

The sim has a nice representation of the "feeling to drive", the view slightly rocks back and forth and to the sides when you roll over the terrain and order sudden changes to the driving direction, or slam the brakes. It gives you a great feeling of actually riding something heavy, not just a pixel mask overlay over a 3D graphics-engine on a monitor screen. Although tanks still cannot turn over when sliding off a steep cliff, for example, different kinds of vehicles are limited in different ways to climb envelopes that are too steep for a vehicle of that kind to be climbed. Donít expect you can go everywhere you want simply because you have tracks under your chassis.

Like in SB1 you can play from "abstract" screens both for the TCís and gunnerís position, with command icons at the bottom (that I never use since I have the according keyboard commands mapped to my HOTAS setup), but for the Leo2A5, the M1 and the M2 you have additional 3D cockpit with instruments available now, giving you that flight simulator experience. The Leo2A5 has the most detailed and most functional 3D-interior. It is possible that in the future more major vehicles will get 3D cockpits, too. Think of these cockpits as "Il-2" for tanks, and boy, does it look good! Especially the Leo2A5ís cockpit is combat-efficient, you can really use them to play from, they are not static photographs. Plenty of immersion, plenty of atmosphere. You really want to survive the battle once you climbed into one of these metal cabins. But since it limits your situational awareness, it is more difficult.

 

A) Foliage, trees and vegetation

Foliage and leafs are playing a significant role now when hiding between trees or trying to shoot at an enemy with foliage blocking the view, it is very effectively implemented, and it really can be a pain in the ass, and you will see your tank almost "dance" to enable unblocked view on your target. High grass also effectively can hide vehicles from view or make sure for only a blurred image instead of a sharp one. It came as a very welcomed surprise to me that I needed to use not only the thermal view for aiming but in such situations the optical view as well, especially over longer shooting distances. Add to this that TIS no longer is a supervision with unlimited range and you can imagine that visual identification now will be very difficult. You will fire at targets that are only vague, hard-to-see shadows in TIS due to itís lower resolution and lower range, and optical vision also being blocked by vegetation and foliage. Itís a complete new game in this regard and has not much to do with SB1 anymore.

 

B) TIS (thermal image system)

The TIS (thermal imaging system) also has changed since SB1. Where it was almost unlimited in range in SB1 (fixed at 5 km), it now depends on the weather conditions and usually will produce maximum viewing ranges that will really confront you with a curtain behind which the enemy can hide. I havenít measured this detail precisely but by feeling I would say the viewing range varies between maybe 2 and a maximum of 4 km (under most optimal conditions) in TIS. That TIS is no more unlimited in range and that it depends on weather, is the important info to keep in mind. You will only see a light blip before slightly darker background, if the vehicle is letís say 3 km away. Identification via TIS is very difficult now and only possible at short ranges. In TIS you see that there is something but to know WHAT it is you need to switch to daylight optics or the target must be located closer to you. Textures of the background also are not given to the extent they were represented in SB1, instead a good amount of "white noise" had been added, further deteriorating your view. Also important is vehicleís orientation to you. Tanks do not have the same heat signature when being viewed at from different directions, their rear is much hotter than their front (with the tankís hull blocking the hot exhaust gas), so you will see a tankís frontal armor much later on TIS then you do see him when scanning his rear. In fact he can manage to remain invisible to your TIS even at a range where you would spot him when using daylight optics, especially when he is hiding with some vegetation in the background and around him. Possible you donít see him as long as he does not fire.

All this means another thing: if night ever will be implemented in SBP, you will often find yourself in situations were you cannot identify a hotspot that you have discovered on your TIS, neither itís vehicle type nor itís identity Ė you would need to make a reasonable guess depending on map positions and timetable for your own unitís movements. They had one thread in the forum some time ago that went deep into the TIS, saying that the quality of what you see in TIS also varies with monitor screen resolution, quality of gfx board and the AA and AF settings. I simply say that this thread was there, without commenting on it. I did no tests accordingly.

Generally: TIS is said to have become far more realistic now and much closer to the real thing, so best advise is: forget all the faulty behavior you learned by getting used to the wonderful super-TIS of SB1 Ė itís not like that anymore.

 

C) The tanks

The stars of the sim are of course the MBTs and the happy couple of M1AbramsA1 and Leo2A4 has been joined by the A5-variant of the Leo-2 and the Leo1. The Leo2A5 seems to be the most modern tank being used in the sim.

The differences between the Western tanks are much like what they were in SB1, the American tank has slightly better protection and armor than the Leo2A4 (not sure on the A5) and thus can survive more hits (at the cost of losing more and more of itís gunnery-supporting systems), while the German Leo2A5 features easier firing procedures and better situational awareness for the TC with his added periscope. The main difference between the A4 and A5 of the Leo2 is that the A5 has more frontal armor, and the tank commander has better options to raise his situational awareness. The M1ís fuel consummation is a nightmare, no matter if it rests or is at high speed Ė itís turbine always consumes the maximum amount of gasoline, where as the German Dieselís fuel rate depends on the level of activity and even at full speed is far less than that of the M1. The American tank has a slightly higher acceleration but the German tank outruns him in terms of maximum speed. The A1-type of the M1 does not have the IVIS system of later types, thatís why I say SA is better for the German commanders, for they have that periscope the M1 is missing, and the Leo2A5 also has a thermal screen for the commander now that the Leo2A4 and M1A1 are missing. But the use of the periscope has to be learned to turn it into a real advantage, else you find yourself wasting time spinning the view around and around without developing the mental image of the situation around your tank. In fact the Leo2A5 is my new love to be used in SB. I would love to see the A6 one day with its longer gun barrel (and added armor?).

So the M1 is a bit more robust and has a better punch over longer distance, while the Leo2 is better in ergonomics and SA. In capable hands both tanks can deal with the other model in lethal fashion. While the Americans have copied the German tank cannon, a 120mm, both use different kinds of ammunition, and the US SABOT with itís DU penetrator of course makes a difference over the long range, while even as an Abrams driver you certainly wouldnít like to pick up a German Tungsten-Carbon KE ammo that got delivered from the same cannon that the Abrams is using. Both ammunitions are deadly if shot at ranges up to 1500-1800 meters, their differences come into play at ranges beyond these values. I cannot judge the differences between the various round models produced in different years, but the mission briefing always specifies them. This detail is beyond my knowledge and experience. At short ranges all SABOT ammunition types (of German and US design) tend to be of equal lethality, because their effectiveness at close range have penetration powers in the overkill range. As an Abrams driver you maximize the advantage of your tank when fighting over longer ranges, it appears to me (as I already thought in SB1).

I mean even as an Abrams player you have no reason to be over-confident, the plus in punch and armor doesn't make you invincible, and as Leo player you have almost as good a chance as your Abrams counterpart Ė you just need to play different. As tank commander I find my job to be much easier in the Leo2A5, especially when you restrict yourself to playing from within the cockpit only. I personally already preferred the Leo in SB1, not for national sentiments, but because I can make more advantage of the bonus in ergonomics and SA than of the better armor and uranium-ammo in the Abrams, and shooting in the Abrams also has a higher risk of a miss (the procedure differences significantly from the shooting in the Leo2s), the shooting procedure is also solved more easily in the German tanks, in my personal opinion, but it maybe is better considered to be a question of taste. I died less often in a Leo than in an Abrams (I think for most players it has been the other way around), but by psychological attitude I found myself fighting different in both tanks, more statically in the American model, accepting the higher chances of getting hit, and opening fire at a longer range; more mobile or from camouflaged positions that I quickly withdraw from with the German tank in order to avoid any hits at all, and waiting for the enemy to come a bit closer while keeping out of sight. Probably one can make better use of the Abrams than I do Ė admitted. I never said or wrote that I am the best Steel Beasts player!

So far the Russian-made T72 and T80 are non-crewable (but it is planned to make at least one of them playable), but appear in the game. Best advise is not to get lulled by the on-paper-superiority of the western tanks, both Russian tanks can be lethal if you donít treat them with the respect they deserve. Especially the T80 is a beast of an opponent, being protected by reactive armor and having an effective firing range that outclasses anything in the Western inventory, both cannons and ATGMs. Russian tanks have lightweight penetrators in their ammunition but fire them at higher muzzle velocity and traveling speed than Western tanks. The T80ís cannon also fires a kind of special ammunition that is effectively something like a laser-guided miniature missile with a range of 5 km, where Western tanks try to avoid combat distances beyond letís say 3 km). And the T72 was a worthy rival for the Western tanks in its time and was designed for to stop (Leo1, M60), it somewhat duplicated the design philosophy of the Leopard 1 (high speed, light chassis, heavy turret). That the modeled tanks in the sim are a bit more modern should make no-one believe a T-72 is only cannon fodder for a Leo2 or M1. Act foolish, and he eats you up. And the T80 time and again has proven to be a tough nut to crack in my testing, when it is hull-down and engagement is over long range. Donít underestimate these Russian-made tanks! The Russians may be crazy, but they surely have learned a thing or two about tank design.

Letís have a closer look.

C1) The Leopard-1

The Leo-1 actually comes in two versions that are slightly different, these are the versions that got delivered to the Danish and the Australian military (Leo1A5DK, Leo1AS). In general, all the crewable tanks have 2x3 main stations/sights available, three for the commander, and three for the gunner, exceptions are the "minor" vehicles like LAV, M113, and Humvee.

The Leo-1 TC has three positions to view at the world from when standing in the turret, these mean: different altitudes: fully erected, crouching behind the exterior sights, MG or whatever is mounted on top of the turret, and inside the turret (hatch closed). He can use binoculars from all three. He can also switch to the GPS extension sight, monitoring what the gunner is seeing through his sights, and override him from there to make him fire on a specific target. Daylight and zoomable TIS is available for the Danes, for the Australians it is daylight only. He also has the so-called pano-sight. I am not sure, for the sim currently ships without documentation or tutorials for the Australian vehicles (tutorials are in the works), but to me the pano-view very much seem to be what the periscope in the Leopard-2 is.

The gunner has the primary sight (GPS), which shows the world in daylight optics (fixed magnification), and TIS (zoomable, again the Australians are handicapped and have daylight optics only). There also are the auxiliary sights (GAS) for use in case that the primary systems fail and stabilization is gone, here some scales and sights help to aim manually, like they did in WWII.

The tank has a simplified driverís station, too. Donít expect complexity here.

The differences between the Danish and the Australian Leo1 are minor, and seem to affect only the sights. The Australians have two different daylight sights where the Danish combine it in one but have an additional TIS. Gameplay-wise, the difference in daylight optics did not make too much difference to me, but the TIS is an important feature, of course. Itís possible that I have missed something here. The Leo1 I explored by my own attempts only, as I said, there is no documentation on the Australian vehicles.

The firing procedure for the main gun is very similar to that of the Leopard-2, although the crosshairs look a bit different.

C2) The Leopard-2A4

The TC has three viewing heights inside the turret (and binoculars) and there is no 3D interior for this tank. The GPS extension allows overriding or monitoring the gunnerís views in fixed daylight and zoomable TIS-optics.

The gunner has only a GPS (daylight, TIS zoomable), and a GAS for emergency operation, and last there is a driverís seat.

C3) The Leopard-2A5

It matches the model that was delivered to the Danes. It is the most superior tank modeled in SBP, in my personal opinion.

The TCís station has two viewing heights when standing in the turret and looking outside the hatch (binoculars available), the third one enters the 3D interior from perspective of the commander being deeply hidden inside the turret. Via mouse you can turn your head freely and explore the tankís cockpit from there. The commander also can access the GPS extension (TIS), which in this tank is not necessarily being shown in full screen, but also in form of the monitor being embedded in the 3D interior graphics Ė and it works. The Leo2A5 also has a zoomable periscope which is used for scanning for targets by use of daylight optics, independently from what the gunner does. The periscope can slave the gun to the commanderís view, or the other way around, the periscope follows the gunís movement.

The gunner also has a 3D-interior cockpit which can be explored via mouse-view. His GPS offers daylight optics and fixed magnification, and zoomable TIS. And for emergencies, of course there is the sturdy GAS. The Leo2A5 has a simplified driverís station.

C4) The M1A1 Abrams

The American MBT has two viewing heights for the TC outside the turret, the third enters the 3D-interior mode, like in the Leo2A5. Unlike then German tanks, American Abrams have both the TIS and daylight optics with zoom-functions, so is it with the commanderís GPS extension as well. Another difference is that the M1 has no periscope but allows the commander to man the top-mounted heavy machine gun himself. Its side-movement is controlled with mouse- or joystick-movements, but its vertical movement must be done with the up- and down-arrow-keys. This mimics the need in the M1A1 to handle that weapon via some internal hand cranks which gives the commander better protection but makes the handling more complicated. This sight is called CWS Ė commanderís weapon sight.

The gunner has a GPS with zoomable daylight and TIS-optics, and a GAS whose helping scales to assist in judging distances is very different to the way the German visors are done. I personally find the German method more precise but it needs one or two additional working steps. The scales must be adjusted, while in the American design they are fixed. The Abrams has a simplified cockpit for the driver.

D) The IFVs

The Bradley also is available now, both the M2 and M3 variant, and that is a whole new ball game. Both vehicles are equipped with 3D-interiors and both share the same station design.

The commander is allowed two viewing heights outside the turret, and the third option is inside. The M3 produces a massive clipping error here that is not present in the M2. The developer is aware of this problem and has already promised to address it. The commanderís GPS extension can remain slaved to the gunnerís sights or he can override the gunner. The GPS of the gunner allows zoomable daylight and TIS images. There is a GAS, too.

Of course you will use very different tactics when riding a Bradley. You have TOWs available and a nice rapid fire cannon to deal with anything in your class, but at no time your armor can deal with the monster penetrators an MBTís tank cannon is spitting at you. The cannon is stabilized but has no computer assistance to apply lead. Firing the TOW is more tricky than one might think, keeping the simple, unmarked crosshair on target while it goes at high speed and bushes and trees may interfere with line of sight is by far no self-running business. I find myself switching to mouse control for that, like sometimes I use mouse for normal tank gunning as well. You also need to plan the firing sequence some time in advance in order to avoid the target reaching LOS-blocking terrain Ė I fired several missiles just to see them streaking the empty air or falling out of the sky when my target decided that it was time to play submarine and disappeared behind something. In rugged terrain it can be a challenge to handle this weapon against a rapidly maneuvering, maybe even zig-zagging target with high angular speeds (means: a target passing you so close that probably it already is too close for a recommended shot anyway) or blocking terrain around, and maybe even more so to judge when a good firing opportunity is, and when not. It is easy to waste a missile when you did not calculate the targetĎs movement and the missiles traveling time correctly, so that the intended receiver of the surprise finds time to take cover behind an obstacle, for example.

Currently the flight characteristics of the TOW is simplified, so insiders may question its details but for the purpose of this sim it doesn't matter. It is believable for the purpose this sim is aiming at. Chances are good that the flight model will be fixed anyway later on, said the sound wizard of SBP in one thread.

The thermal images in the Bradley are that old system, not green/white, but red/black. Nice visual change adding to the atmosphere factor but unfortunately a little low in contrast. Reloading the TOWs will take your Bradley out of action for quite some time, giving you the opportunity to count seconds in which you are almost defenseless for the procedure will require movement of the turret that makes the cannon unusable. The sequence also is animated. After you shot your two missiles from covered position, it is ducking behind some massive obstacle, and reloading, before driving back into firing position.

Since you also have a set of highly motivated, well-trained and never complaining grunts aboard you enjoy the pleasure to command them to disembark and join the action whenever you see it as a good idea.

The APCs
E1) The M113AS4 / M113A3 / M113 MICLIC

General design is the same for all three. The MICLIC is used to breach passages through minefields by use of explosives. The M113 combines functions of the TC and the gunner in one position.

The A3 allows the TC/gunner 3 height levels of viewing from the turret, and a separate CWS for firing the top mounted machine gun. Instead of the CWS, a GPS/GPS extension with zoomable daylight and TIS optics is available in the AS4. The MICLIC has instead of the GPS a CWS for manually firing the machine gun, like the A3, but it is a different weapon. All three versions have a driverís station

E2) The ASLAV-25/ASLAV-PC

These vehicles are not documented and have no tutorials, since they were part of the Australian upgrade of SBP. They also combine TCís and gunnerís positions. Additionally to 3 height levels of viewing from the turret, the 25 has a GAS with zoomable daylight and TIS display, whereas the PC has a separate CWS for the machine gun. Both vehicles have a driverís station, simplified.

 

F) The M1025 Humvee

It combines functions of the commander and gunner in one position. You can sit, stand low, or stand high, and you can arm the MG on top and let bullets fly. You also can take the driverís seat and drive a Rally.

G) Onboard a modern MBT

When you jump into a mission, you usually board a vehicle and in most cases this will be one of the MBTs available. Once you are inside, most of the time you do three things: you drive around, you scan the landscape, you fight and shoot. Additionally, you occasionally check the map.

As a commander you will need to tell your driver how to drive as long as you do not follow a route automatically that had been previously set up on the map, or during the briefing screen. The sim has several keys available, by which you can order the driver to accelerate (3 speeds), to decelerate, to reverse, to stop, to constantly turn to the left or the right, or to do that in intervals of 22į. You also have rapid command keys to order the driver to find a hull-down battle position or to continue with a previously set route.

(These keys can also be used to command vehicles and units that you cannot board, but that are allowed to be controlled by the scenario designer. This must not always be [but can be] all units of your side.)

Alternatively you can mark a spot in the landscape from the turret view, and then the driver will drive there and come to a halt right on the mark. Fighting includes interaction of the commander, the gunner, and the loader, and the sim reflects this interaction to some degree, by implementing voice commands. Both commander and gunner can scan the environment, the commander using his extension sights, the periscope (in the Leopards) or the binoculars. The gunner always uses his primary sights (as long as they are available). Once the gunner sees a target, he may tell the commander so ("Target!"), and then waits for the commander checking what the gunner currently sees on his own sights and eventually issuing a fire command ("Fire!"). The fire-command would be followed by a command on what kind of ammo the loader should load next ("Load HEAT/Sabot!"). If the hit was lethal, the commander will order to fire at a different target, or to cease fire. If the target is still alive, he will order to shoot at it again. He will also confirm misses, or urge the gunner to get his job done faster.

The commander also can override the gunner via GPS extension or periscope and forcing the gun to swing to where the commander currently is looking and then issuing a fire-command. If the gunner does not see the target, he will ask the commander to aim the sights again, or more precisely ("Identify!").

The commander finally has the option to override the gunner completely and operate the gun himself in slave mode. The commander finally can order the gunner to use battlesight range, which means the gunner will not check the distance to target via laser but will put the crosshair onto the target and then immediately pull the trigger. All these working steps and their voice commands have their keyboard pendants in SBP.

In some tanks the gunner can toggle two laser modes, called first and last return. First return means the ballistic computer will calculate with the value of the first reflection he gets. This is used for targets far away and with no blocking terrain between them and the shooter, the laser beam eventually will not be entirely blocked by the targets silhouette, so second reflections from the background of the target can occur and thus are filtered out. In this case the gunner will aim a little higher so that the laser will not bounce off the ground in front of the target. Last return is for targets that close (or big) that they will block the entire laser beam. This setting makes sure that a reflection of an obstacle between target and shooter, a piece of foliage for example, will not be entered into the ballistics computer. Laser range finders can overheat and burn through (Leopard: shut down for a while to cool down again), if fired too long or too often.

By accumulating hits, the tanks can receive so much damage that gun stabilization, laser range finder, ballistics computer, and turret servomotors could fail to work. So despite the normal, fully operational working state, there are two emergency states that are switched to. Here the value of the laser range finder must be entered manually into the ballistics computer, or the range must be estimated by using the aiding scales in the gunnerís auxiliary sights. In worst cases the turret even must be moved by using hand cranks (hitting the arrow keys). To compensate for the movement of targets, lead must be added to the calculation of a firing solution. This usually is done by the computer, but in emergency it will have to be added manually by the gunner, by estimating it in the sights. Gun elevation also may fail to be calculated by the computer and then needs to be done manually.

Disabled crew members will increase the time periods that actions will consume that are related to that crew memberís position.

H) Infantry

Important note: please do not roll over your friendly ground troops. They are said to be stunned by this impertinence for the rest of the session. Trying to roll over enemy soldiers is not such a good idea either, for it brings you into range of their AT-missiles. If rolling over someone, no matter if friend or foe, donít be surprised that he will not rise from the ground anymore Ė a tank weighs between 40 and 70 tons.

Infantry in SBP is not omnipotent but it gives you more things to think about than in SB1--it can be quite lethal. They know how to set up a fight. An engagement in woods with infantry carriers on both sides can easily become a hair-raising affair. I even set up a sort of skirmish with no MBTs at all, only BTRs and Marders and Bradleys, and some Jaguars and M901 far away, and had a lot of exciting things to see, plus plenty of infantry engagements. But casualties amongst infantry in general are high. So far no fatigue model is implemented, neither for vehicle crews nor for foot soldiers, and the pixel buddies also do not know different movement speeds. While for longer marching they seem to walk a little bit too fast, they definitely walk too slowly for situations where a soldier eventually would prefer to run (to jump behind cover, for example). But these details are minor details only and really not the true scope of this simulation. And the developer indicated in a thread in autumn 2005 that infantry is likely to be focused on in the first addon/improvement they plan to bring out later this year. So far the developer described infantryís abilities as being "basic", and generally high casualty rates should be expected. In terms of weapons it has the punch to defeat armor, so it needs to be treated with respect, especially in woods and at short ranges, but itís efficiency very much depends on the way the player controls it.

I found attacking with infantry to be suicidal, it is better to keep it as a blocking force, or use it for scouting and calling artillery. The tools to do so will be upgraded in a future update, too, the developer said. He also left no doubt that it is his intention to limit the variety of actions infantry is capable of, if this would be needed to make sure that these actions then will be handled (and animated) competently, instead of letting them do anything at the price of nothing working well.

As you expect, tanks in woods with hostile infantry is not a good idea. I also realized why many people in the Bundeswehr will miss the to-be-replaced Marders, for their vehicle class they seem to have incredibly heavy armor, far more robust than the Bradleys, but inferior armament. The Bradleys excel in armament. The BTRs and BMPs: hmm, think I will always pick another APC than that. I donít trust them.

I) This and that

Bridges are solid objects now and thus will receive far more attention, as will bridge-layering equipment like the bridge-layer tank "Biber" for example. Although the developer thinks of them as being "sketchy", they worked elegant and flawlessly for me so far. The animation is nicely done when they unfold their bridge to reach over a river or make a too steep ridge-line passable for the following tanks. They can also pick them up again.

A remark on steep slopes. Lighter vehicles tend to decrease their speed, the more steep the terrain is that they try to climb. There definitely is a limit in steepness that can be mastered by a vehicle class, I cannot judge if that steepness is in correspondence to the steepness the vehicles can climb in reality. I must admit when trying some testing on the Vietnam map with its very hilly terrain I sometimes had the impression that the potential of the LAVs that I was using to climb those hills felt a bit "Łber", (steepness around 45į) although they really crawled up slowly that hill. On the other side of the hill, when they were to drive down into the valley again, they soon gained speed and soon were at racing speeds even when ordered to move slowly Ė they were carried away by their own momentum. When ordering a turn, their own mass carried them to the outside of the turn, so that sometimes they crashed into the trees downhill-side, and sliding at 60į-angles to the moving direction of their wheels, until the came to a halt and were stopped by a tree. This felt really well-done but I cannot comment on the realism. Although having doubts on the climbing power of the vehicles, I tend to like their behavior under these extreme conditions. I would strongly recommend never to rely on the driver to find a route if moving downhill a steep slope, he will soon lose control and crash into a tree head-on sooner or later. Control the movement from the TCís position yourself, occasionally brake down, then move again at slow speed (you will accelerate nevertheless and make direction adjustments yourself to bring you around those trees).

Concerning cant: I also noticed that when the vehicle was positioned on a very steep slope, you will see the world around you at an according angle of inclination. The trees in the sights for example seem to grow at 30į angles. If you fire your MG then, you will see the tracers not moving straight to the centre of the crosshairs, as you usually see, but they will wander to the left or the right Ė the side where the bottom of the valley is. Gravity distracts the bullets and make sure they still observe the laws of mother nature. Take that drift into account when fighting on steep slopes, you need to adjust your targeting a bit!

Fuel vehicles will refuel tanks now, if both are close enough and stand still for enough time. Ammo-carriers work in the same way. I saw screenshots of an ambush situation in which a road-traveling column of tanks was stopped by detonated trees whose trunks fell onto the road and effectively blocked it, and the editor knows the item of invisible street-bombs or booby-traps (so-called IED: improvised explosive devices). The manual confirms these things to work, but I havenít tried them, and the developer considers them to be too weak right now and will address them in an update to make them a bigger threat. Ambulances also have a function now, they "repair" disabled crew men. So, the possibility to include such things via mission editor is there but in the short time of testing I havenít checked it thoroughly. My impression is that it works, easy and elegant. Nevertheless, tanks can start with limited fuel onboard (via mission editor), and missions can include refueling operations. While it is also true (as confirmed by the developer) that you can block roads with fallen trunks that had been positioned by the mission designer as an obstacle, these objects cannot spawn during mission gameplay. However they make the AI trying to find a way around the obstacle Ė if it becomes aware of the enemyís presence while doing that, this could result it frantic maneuvering that one can interpret as the confusion you maybe would see in reality, too.

I also like that scenarios now allow tanks to start with limited ammo, simulating previous combat action that took place before the mission. It makes a battle very difficult if you see yourself in need to retreat behind a hilltop and then some distance after just half a dozen or a dozen shots. You may want to replenish early, even if you still have some ammo left, to be prepared for the unwelcome eventualities... A mission that in SB1 (with its tanks that were always fully armed) was a breeze, now can be a real challenge.

If you want a real tough nut, play with the Leopard-1. Clever team efforts can win you a battle but nevertheless this tank is awfully vulnerable Ė it cannot stand a single hit. You need to know what you are doing and you need to execute your plan and timetable precisely, else you are done (talking by experience). Also, gun caliber is smaller, where the Leo2 can bite, the Leo1 eventually only causes a minor sting. I risked two direct duels between T72- and Leo1-tankgroups, and always ended dead very quickly with the Leos. It seems that with the Leo1 you play best when acting defensively. Most people do not realize how excellent a design the T72 was to counter the Western tank designs back in itís era, the M60 and the Leo1. In a thread, beta-testers reported that a clever team nevertheless was able to win a duel with Leo1s against attacking M1s (human controlled), due to competent tactic and excellent execution. It is possible, but I feel somewhat naked in a Leo1. On the other hand, M2s and M113 and Hummers are playable, too...

Talking of Hummers and Bradleys, I predict that players will make more use of dedicated reccon units in SBP because their enhanced vision really makes a difference. Also they seem to be harder to get spotted by the enemy (the smaller, the more difficult Ė if this doesnít make sense!). And it has its own kind of suspense and thrill to approach the enemy with a Hummer and some infantry, hiding close by and then observe the Redís movement like Indians sneaking on the settlerís trail.

I checked some of my favorite scenarios from SB1 after manually adopting them for SBP (without cutting all the rough edges). Especially my evergreen, the infamous "Battle for Netreba" left me highly impressed. The village area surrounded by various water ways, with German and American reinforcements racing for the battleground. Missile units and artillery went wild and friendly Russian-equipped units tried to hold the line against that flood of Russian armor coming down the valley. The scenario gave me that feeling of "Custerís Rush" as I call it, storming through smoke and artillery barrages at full speed, and then the desperate fight in the village, with more and more of my tanks getting picked away. That scenario is always a most dramatic experience for me and most often I get the artillery not correctly timed, so that "he" can avoid the barrages for the most part. Timing your artillery means you need to plan the impact area in advance and knowing where the enemy will be in one or two or three minutes, eventually trying to guide him there by the use of obstacles, minefields and direct fire. This alone is an art a novice like me finds difficult to master, but if you get it right, you will feel a deep breath of almost diabolic satisfaction! (Artillery procedures probably will be made easier, but less detailed and thus less realistic, in SB2).

This is one of the sims were you already find it satisfying to set up a short scenario with some tanks in the Berlin Grunewald and then watch them from outside moving peacefully through the forest and down the forest ways and towards their parking positions at a base. No kidding, I mean it! I did so, and enjoyed it without a single shot fired. Immersion is somewhat extremely high, although the simís graphics are good and solid, but lack the excellence of, letís say, Silent Hunter III.

After battle, the work of analysis begins. In form of the AAR-recorder (after action report) you can replay the whole battle, stop at every point of time, watch the events unfolding on the map, or in the 3D world. You can even check when what tank got hit, and where Ė the impact on the hull and the firing line will be precisely marked. Various options allow you to see all enemy forces or see them only as they are inside your forceís views. You can precisely analyze what worked and what went wrong, and why, learning the reason behind, and by that finding out your mistakes. In most games such replay features are gimmicks only, here it is essential, and part of the heart and core of the reason why this training software even was developed in reality. Having said that, it works easy with VCR-like controls, and simple menu-options.

In a separate folder you will also find a HTML-logfile of the battle you have completed. It lists comprehensive statistics. The file will not be overwritten, so the content of that folder constantly grows: one log for every battle you have ever done.

 

WEAPON PHYSICS AND VEHICLE REALISM, DAMAGE MODEL AND UNSTABALIZED GUNNERY

I have no insider-knowledge about the physics of tank weapons that leads beyond the basic principles of various kinds of ammunitions like SABOT, HEAT, plasmastreams, kinetic energy impact and so on. So I cannot judge if it is realistic how the weapons are handled, but I can say that what I saw looked very believable and always made sense for my noviceís mind. Projectiles obviously do not travel in straight lines, and the travel path is different (more arched) for a HEAT round than for a SABOT, making it easier to hit with a SABOT than with a HEAT. I tested times until impact with various ammunitions and over different distances and saw a general tendency that travel times of a projectile reflect what could be expected for that kind of round and travel distance; longer range translates into longer traveling time, SABOT hits faster than HEAT and so on.

Speeds of projectiles are different, and it is very obvious that the weapons depend on what part of a vehicle they hit, what kind of armor it is, what the range is (if it is a kinetic round), and what the shooting angle is, in order to calculate if the shot is penetrating enough to cause damage or destruction. No need to mention that kinetic rounds lose destructive energy with growing range and that it is more difficult to hit your target with a HEAT than with a SABOT. "Cant" got implemented in the sim with release of the Australian armyís version of SBP (a first in tank games, as far as I do know). The sim is used for real gunnery training, and replicas of gunnerís "HOTAS" are available, so I believe their word when they say in regard to major weapon systems the sim is maxed out concerning this. Reloading times of tankís cannon are illustrated by acoustical representation of what is going on when the loader does his job. A shot will make the tank "jump" a bit, and when you are already at the secondary sights due to battle damage, you will see that the visual system is also affected and temporarily completely blinded out by the various phases of reloading and aiming.

Also, as I said, the vehicles feel very believable when driving with them, a lighter feeling with a smaller vehicle, a heavier feeling with a heavy tank. A very solid, or better: "massive" experience. Damage probability seems to increase when vehicles drive too fast in dense vegetation and especially forests.

I also did not compare to the booksĎ numbers if the armor of all the tanks is 100% correctly modeled but I again checked the general tendencies of this part of the sim. In their screenshot gallery they have wire-frame diagrams of the tanks showing how complex armor and damage zones have been defined and modeled. What you would expect as minimum standards seems to be done pretty well and then quite a bit, and that turrets are better armored than hulls, fronts more than flanks more than rears, must be understood as being minimum standard for any tank sim. The M1 is, as expected, a very tough nut to crack when engaging itĎs front, but even an IFVís cannon can eventually do damage to him, as to the Leo2, by ripping away his exterior features and vision sights, or catching him from behind. Itís better not to provoke him that way. I donít know if it is fully modeled that the rounds hit the sensors and sights, or if it is done statistically only, but I can confirm to have fired with a Bushmaster onto an M1 (same side), and when jumping into the M1 I got greeted with some minor damage info from those parts that I aimed for (visors). The wire-frame models also show that several external features of the tanks are defined as separate damage zones.

Most damage you receive becomes evident when you go to the gunnerís seat. Target and firing procedures are different in the M1 and the Leo2 but as long as laser range finder and stabilization still work and you use primary sights for aiming, and adding lead to a moving target is calculated by the computer, it is not really difficult. But when you start to suffer from accumulating damage (and you will, believe me!) that will take away auto-stabilization and LRF, then the situation easily becomes hectic. In extreme cases the turret needs to be turned by using a hand crank (quickly hitting the arrow keys while the turret still moves painfully slow), and the secondary sights come up with manual crosshairs that should help to estimate ranges. Adding lead must be done by you manually, also entering the firing range into the ballistic computer. If that thing is already gone, you aim very much like they did in World War II, with optical sights that offer some optical aids in their crosshairs to aim your shot and estimate the distance. You have reached the hair-raising phase of the battle now! You will suffer from slower reaction times, since the reloading procedure eventually will temporarily disable your view possible through secondary sights, and then all those steps need to be conducted again. Wounded or killed crewmen also could mean increasing reaction times, or partly disabled functionality. At first you will hate to fight with auto-modes gone but letís face it: itís hard to survive a tank fight in SBP and it is unlikely that you will fight too many battles without your tank being undamaged at the end. So it is at the gunnerís secondary sights where the good players are separated from the mediocre ones. You better try hard to master GSS-shooting.

Having said that, damage can also affect tracks, radio comms (which are essential to command and coordinate your force and order an arty strike, for example), engine and armor status. Damaged radios also means that the position of sighted enemies or own forces is no longer updated, or updated with greater delay. The map you use in your tank only reflects the situation as it has been reported via radio, until radio calls were made there will be no map update. The damage seems to be dynamically calculated depending on the kind of ammo that struck the target, its armor, shooting angle, and eventually the remaining destruction force that kinetic energy translates into. You better learn to base your planning and action on the primary and most golden assumption that a heavy main battle tank by far is no invulnerable vehicle.

A nice anecdote: when doing the testing for the weapon effects, I repeatedly fired hundreds of shots from tankís machine guns. And two times I managed to break that thing. It was listed as a damaged item with a repair time of around 5:00 minutes, simulating a crewmanís effort to repair it, and then it was functional again. Nice!

 

MINES, OBSTACLES, ARTILLERY AND OBSERVERS

Generally, the player can call in artillery strikes from any vehicle he is riding with. The mission designer who created the scenario decides many strikes and what kind of ammo is available. The AI will call for strikes by itself, but it seems to me that only lead vehicles being in command of a formation do so. There are also dedicated artillery observation units available, the benefit of these is they also call artillery, but it starts falling with shorter reaction times, and these vehicles seem to have better vision range. Itís a bit tricky to learn how to make best use of these assets, for the enemy likes to start chewing on them when he sees them hanging around somewhere. To be of use these vehicles must be exposed so that they can see. If you keep them stored away, they will not get destroyed, but also will not do anything for you. Keep them away from the action as far as possible, donít make them attract enemy attention by sprinting around or producing lots of dust. Donít consider them to be items that must be deployed in the first line and maybe they will live long enough to be of use for you. A well-camouflaged hideout in the rear with great viewing ranges works best.

If you call for artillery manually, you do that on the map-board and mark the area where you want the shelling to concentrate on. Different to SB1 the squareís size and exact position cannot be changed directly. Instead a dialogue box pops up where you have to enter numerical date for dimension of target areas, target types, firing pattern, if the targets have cover, how many tubes should conduct the mission, and so on. You have smoke, HEAT, ICM and FASCAM available. Since logistics and relocation times are a factor, you rarely will hit a target with all artillery that potentially is available to you. A countdown timer will tell you how long it still takes until impact. Usually the time is around 1:30 Ė 3:00 minutes, special ammunition can take much longer. You can call several strikes, which will be conducted simultaneously as long as there are different artillery batteries available. If they all are busy, they will send the shelling according to the target list, but the reaction time increases while they are busy sprinting to new locations between a salvo to avoid counter battery fire. So the second shelling you order from a unit that just fired could take, letís say, 7 minutes, the third maybe 14 minutes, and so on.

You can call artillery also from the commanderís seat, aiming at the intended target area with your binoculars and laze the area, then calling in artillery via menu. The same dialogue box will come next.

You can also play as a dedicated artillery observer, riding in a FIST-V. You raise the mast with the scopes, and laze the target, which gives you a range, and direction and angle in mils. By menu-command you then call in a shot, and observer it, the coordinates are automatically processed. Next you give correction data, until the shots keep falling on target, or close enough. Than you order the full artillery strike. Bababooom! The procedure is a bit more than a usual game would demand you to do, but after all Ė this is no game, but training. Menus also allow you to order different kind of artillery ammunition as well as different impact patterns, depending on how scattered the enemy forces are, and if the terrain is open, or woods, etc. Some background knowledge definitely works in your favor here.

You can prepare intended killing zones in advance and link these to a trigger during mission planning so that, for example, you must not exactly order your arty to do this or that, but you can tell them: "If enemy is sighted at Bravo point, start shelling preset coordinates."

It is an art to use artillery on moving targets, a moving front of tanks, for example. You must calculate the path they will choose and the distance they will travel during the time the arty needs to react to your fire order. This proved to be difficult for me. It is no bad thing of the sim, but it is how it is in reality. I think experience, experience and more experience finally will help you to get this problem solved. If you do it right and hit a barrage full on target(s), the result is most rewarding. But different kinds of ammo do different kinds of damage to different kinds of targets, this should be taken into account when ordering a strike. After a barrage was fired and the shells stopped impacting, the area will be marked for a long while with clouds of smoke and dust in the air. The event itself is almost intimidating, especially sound-wise (aaaargh!).

There are also mines available for being implemented in a scenario, they even can be artillery-delivered (FASCAM). Besides these expensive gimmicks there are five other types of mines available (conventional blast, hollow charge, scatter mines), some of which are laying flat on the ground, leaving them visible, others are dug in and thus, invisible. Although there are not really two dozen subtypes being modeled, this aspect of the sim really plays out well and does what it is intended to do, offering you some diversity. Units with scouting orders, units at slow speed and certain unit classes with special abilities have a higher probability to find out they have entered a minefield without blowing up, or losing a track. Scenarios with breaching operations I can imagine to be tricky to be won but I admit I hate to play mine-games. So I just tested this aspect very perfunctory. But what I saw worked well, I found nothing to complain about here. Breaching is an important element now, MICLICS and tanks with mine plows will slowly clear a nice passage through a minefield, marked with red flags.

Point obstacles are also available now, like dragon-teeth, anti-tank-ditches made of steel beams or abatis, roadside-bombs (IEDs), bunkers and such things. Using them (or minefields) not only to stop an enemy advance, but also to canalize his movements into the intended kill zone is something that can be very "satisfactory", if it works. But I found enemy reccon units not always cooperating Ė they really try to find gaps between two minefields, for example. The successful construction and tactical layout of a complex defense line needs, like artillery timing, some experience and practice, you must get used to read the terrain by the SBP-maps correctly and translate the map info into a correct image of the landscape inside your head to plan these things correctly. If you want you can set up a mission of breaching a defense line of minefields, trenches and tank obstacles like it was the case in the Iraqi desert 1991 and 2003 (only burning oil is not included in the sim).

How far the level of realism is going you can see in this detail: protective dug-in pits for vehicles are also available, the AI will find them automatically if it is ordered into the vicinity of such battle positions. To my surprise I found out that they vary in size and depth, so that there seem to be various kinds of pits for different vehicles. Eventually you sink an IFV that deep into the earth that it cannot shoot, or you try a pit with an MBT while the pit was designed for a Marder, so that it does not give that amount of hull-down-protection that the MBT was hoping for.

Next: Page 9: Stability
 


 

System Requirements (Recommended specs are in parentheses.): 1.5 (2.5) GHz CPU; 256 (512) MB RAM; 64 (128) MB, DirectX9-Capable Graphics Accelerator (GeForce 3 class or better); 1.6 GB available hard disk space; Free USB port; Mouse; CD-ROM; Microsoft Windows 2000 / XP with Service Pack 2 installed. (Steel Beasts will NOT run on Windows NT.); Microsoft DirectX version 9.0 (or better) installed; For better playing experience, a sound card and joystick are recommended.

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