T-34 vs. Tiger
Review 10/23/08

SUBSIM Radio Room Forums

By   Neal

Tank warfare matured with the invasion of Poland in 1939. The German Panzer divisions awed the world with the rapid defeat of France the following year. The stage was set in Russia and Eastern Europe for the greatest tank battles ever waged and the principle players were the German Tiger and Soviet T-34. Russian game developers G5/IDDK have been working on this title for three years, the last tanksim release from a Russian developer was T-72: Balkans on Fire/Iron Warriors, and this game represents a big step forward for them. For T-34 Vs. Tiger to be a success, the game must capture the feel of the battlefield and bring these two monsters to life.

A good first impression is helpful to a positive overall impression and immediately upon starting the game you can tell the devs have been working on their production values. The orchestral score is reminiscent of the choral overtures in Silent Hunter 4. The menus and tone are more polished than previous Russian tanksims. The game comes with two single player campaigns, one Soviet and one German, and multiplayer. There are numerous video settings to tweak so you can get the most eye candy without bogging the game down. There are a few key realism options, too. One allows you to turn off the real time intel map, another adjusts the AI's expertise.

Three stations are modeled in each tank: driver, gunner, and tank commander. You can man each station as you wish or assign an AI crew member to handle the tasks. When the AI driver is enabled, he manages the engine and gear changes--which is nice, because in the heat of battle, you can stall your tank if you are not in the proper gear. The tank powerplant is networked with the game physics, so if you decide to climb a hill, you will need to gear down. Apply the brake in a turn and you will see your  RPMs drop. You want to be sure not to run the engine at max RPMs for a long time--Ivan will start yelling at you that you are wearing out the motor. And you don't want to blow a head gasket when a group of Tigers is bearing down on you, trust me.

As the gunner, you get to do the fun stuff--shooting. If you enable the AI tank commander, he will help you find targets. The game provides a fast mode and a fine tune mode to get the Tiger's 88mm cannon or T-34's 76mm gun on target. The sound of the turret motor and hydraulics bolsters the impression that you are manning a heavy cannon. One thing that really impressed me was the inclusion of the Zeiss Turmzielfernrohr TZF 9b optics system in the Tiger. This historically accurate range finding system gives the player stuff to do in the game and reinforces the urgency for fast thinking in the heat of battle. The manual devotes seven pages to operating the Tiger and T-34 optics and with practice, the player gets additional satisfaction in achieving hits.

In the role of the tank commander, you can direct the AI gunner's fire, look for targets, and navigate the tank. You can choose to view the world through the safety of the turret slits or command from the top in the unbuttoned view. The TC has binoculars at his disposal, though when the tank is moving, the view is jarring (as it should be). Using the mouse, you can quickly swivel the view in any direction. The game interface provides the standard tank outline and a cone to indicate the direction the TC is looking so orientation is excellent. There is a small map that has real time contacts, or if you choose, no real time info, just a map. You can direct the AI driver to move faster and turn in increments, but unlike T-72: Balkans on Fire!, I could not see any way for the TC to give the driver essential commands such as "Find a hull down position" or "Face the enemy", nor could I set waypoints.

Damage modeling in T-34 vs. Tiger is similar to T-72: Balkans on Fire!, with a few omissions. The tank diagram serves as a damage indicator and you can lose a track or member of the crew in battle (man, when the driver is killed, he doesn't go quietly!), but the crew never leaves the tank and I did not see the same variety of interior damage as I recall in T-72: Balkans on Fire! During combat, you can hear the sounds of battle and hits on your tank will knock you back, disrupting your activities for a second, adding wonderfully to the overall immersion of the game.

The enemy AI has scripted orders to follow but will react immediately to the player. I tried to take a long route around a forest and come up behind the enemy, but after I fired one shot, they turned and attacked me. The enemy behaves appropriately to varying degrees--they will use cover and mobility, but I did see instances where the enemy ran out of ideas. I saw examples where my allies would pull back in a fight, with no obvious reason. You do not have control over anything but your tank and crew, so it's up to you to press the attack or withdraw; though I occasionally got the feeling that I missed a trigger point to get the other tanks to engage. Sometimes an enemy tank will have a track shot off and will not maneuver, or will be under attack from three side by you and your AI allies--and he will hold his ground until you take him out. Despite the occasional odd behavior, it's easy to forget you are playing a game where the enemy's intellect is just lines of code. You get in the mode of treating the AI as a "thinking" adversary.

If you have a fairly new PC with good specs, you will adore the graphics in T-34 vs. Tiger. The game is probably a couple years behind Far Cry 2 or Crysis but this is the best looking tanksim yet; and since you depend on vision to play the game, graphics do count. The tanks are minutely textured, they discharge diesel fumes under a load. The forests, villages, and landscapes provide a rich and compelling environment. One of the biggest gameplay factors in a tanksim is using cover, and consequently, trying to see what's behind cover. T-34 vs. Tiger's dev team devised a system for  grading the visibility of a unit. The player can hide in trees and bushes and the enemy AI will not readily detect him. In the Soviet mission "Tiger Trap", you are tasked with moving into a village and taking out some infantry and anti-tank guns. No big deal. Then, as you are mopping up the last of the panicky troops, a radio message informs you that a group of Tigers are headed your way. Exciting! I took a quick look at the map and decided to back into the forest along the main road and wait in ambush. I shut off my engine and waited....things got very tense here, was I ambushing or about to get ambushed? Then I began to hear the shattering screech and rumble of heavy armor approaching at full speed. I was hidden from view and I could hear the enemy pass. After the sound moved in front of me, I started the engine and roared out of the woods, scoring three hits before the Tigers could respond.


A Tiger with all the eye candy switched on.

A T-34 with all the eye candy switched off.

Driver's view, unbuttoned

TC's interior view

T-34 vs Tiger!

Wolfgang's tree removal service

Hide and seek, for the ultimate prize.

Who let Dowly and HunterICX in this game?

In another situation where cover played a critical role in the gameplay, I had taken out three tanks and was advancing when a hidden PaK-40 anti-tank gun took out one of my tracks, immobilizing me. At that point you have about 18 seconds to locate the enemy and knock him out, or he will finish you. In that 18 seconds the game has your full and undivided attention.

Other elements to mention are the ground troops and explosions. The AI infantry does serve to anchor the game in reality but they are not very well done. When they are crouching and running--good. When they get herky-jerky, switching directions like twitchy puppets--not so good. On the other hand, the rounds fired from the main gun are presented well, you can see the arc of the round nicely. Very useful when the rounds are coming toward you. Explosions are sufficient, the smoke a little less than natural.

There are a few areas where T-34 vs. Tiger comes up short. One is the lack of a tutorial or any kind of instructional training missions. The game manual is well-written and covers the basics but the first-time tanksim player and casual player may struggle (the manual for T-72: Balkans on Fire! was much better). Using the manual, new players can learn how to control the tank but there is no substitute for training missions with on-screen prompts to get up to speed.

The other area is simply the lack of missions of any kind. In my review copy of the game I played six missions for the Soviet side and six for the German side. That's it, about 4 days of gameplay then it's off to the mission editor. In addition, the twelve missions are heavily scripted (necessary, I realize, for the objectives), the event triggers are unvaried, and the enemy units are not randomly placed. Once a mission is underway, the enemy AI will react differently, so there is some variability there. I played one mission 15 times and varied my route and behavior. Sometimes I would encounter enemy tanks in new places, so there is a little variability, but nothing significant. Some of the missions have multiple and cascading objectives and can last quite a long time, but there just ain't enough of them to last a week. There's no random mission generator, either. I can't imagine the game's director thinking this would be adequate for a full game--somewhere in Moscow, Toronto, or Stockholm, someone must be putting the finishing touches on a patch that includes 40 or 50 additional single missions.... I hope. Okay, so if you read this and the game comes out with eight campaigns of six missions each, it's all good. If not, then let's hope the community is up to creating new missions with the editor. Because this game is only 12 missions away from shipping with no missions.

While I'm complaining, I found the map to be lacking, as well. I'm used to simulations with a full screen map with authentic markings and coloring, not a tiny image in the corner of the screen.

It's with great relish and relief that I can report T-34 vs. Tiger includes multiplayer option with skirmish and team-based modes. There are eleven maps and the interface and chat work well.* The devs included the critical option of disabling AI crew and external views, a big plus in my book. Online play is a natural for tanksims, getting started in an arena or theater, maneuvering for position, the hide-and-seek and the quick-draw nature of combat all make for good, realistic gameplay without a lot of time wasted. I have a lot of good memories of playing Panzer Commander, Spearhead, Armored Fist, Panzer Elite, and Steel Beasts online against other flesh-and-blood players, I'm looking forward to adding more with T-34 vs. Tiger. With only twelve single-player missions, multiplayer will be where the action continues.

* This review tested one-on-one skirmish multiplayer, which worked well. Players are reporting that team-based MP is much more problematic, with bugs and difficulties connecting.




Multiplayer: Never be sociable in a deathmatch.


You can run...

Has any tanksim ever looked this gorgeous?


Uh oh!

There is something positive to be said about how the two tanks are modeled. The Tiger and T-34 have substantially different characteristics and both have their own unique feel. The T-34 is lighter and more mobile, but the engine is more susceptible to damage under sustained high RPMs. The Tiger has eight gears and needs four of them just to get to 10kph. The Tiger handles direct frontal hits casually, but can easily be killed by the T-34 from the side. The mechanics are solid, although I did roll a tank over once (which should not happen).  Both tanks feature their own sounds and crew voices. Once you are familiar with the interface, driving these tanks in the game is a pure delight. This is where the "simulation" aspect of T-34 vs. Tiger shines.

Yeah, this is definitely a game to get excited about. There's a lot to like about T-34 vs. Tiger. It is very enjoyable and achieves solid hits in most of the important categories: the gameplay, multiplayer, sound effects, first-rate environment, and well-modeled tanks. I played it like a madman for seven days and just scratched the surface of all this game has to offer. T-34 vs. Tiger is poised to be a breakthrough title but runs out of gas just as the battle gets good. There were numerous tank battles on the Eastern Front, each an opportunity ripe with action, ferocious firepower, and armor tactics. Come on, devs, we're rooting for you--send more missions, all will be forgiven.

© 2008 Tanksim.com

Rating:  80*

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Game play Repeat Play Stability
Inter-face Multi- play Mission Editor
18/20 9/10 9/10 8/10 17/20 2/10 4/5 4/5 2/5 4/5
Bonus: Cover used & recognized by AI +3; *Score revised down -3, MP not fully operable

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System Requirements

Minimum: OS: Windows® XP / Vista™
CPU: 3,0 GHz Intel® Pentium® 4 or equivalent AMD® Athlon™ processor
RAM: 1 GB (2 GB Recommended for Windows Vista™)
Video: Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM (NVIDIA GeForce 6600 or better/ATI Radeon 9600 or better
Drive: PC DVD-ROM;    Sound: DirectX® 9.0 compatible sound card
Hard Disk Space: 2 GB;   DirectX®: 9.0c;    Other: Mouse, Keyboard and Sound Speakers


OS: Windows® XP / Vista™
CPU: 3,0 GHz Intel® Pentium® 4 or equivalent AMD® Athlon™ processor
RAM: 1 GB (2 GB Recommended for Windows Vista™)
Video: Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM
(NVIDIA GeForce 6600 or better/ATI Radeon 9600 or better
Drive: PC DVD-ROM);  Sound: DirectX® 9.0 compatible sound card
Hard Disk Space: 2 GB;   DirectX®: 9.0c;  Other: Mouse, Keyboard and Sound Speakers

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Correction: In the original review I mentioned Russian game developers G5/IDDK worked on the tanksim T-72: Balkans on Fire/Iron Warriors; that was Crazy House/IDDK. This is G5's first tanksim. Thanks to I. Lemon for pointing this out.

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