M1 Tank Platoon logo

Publisher: Microprose Price: £29.99

Microprose has long been one of the best in the simulation business, with a record that speaks for itself. However, although titles such as Gunship, F-15 Strike Eagle and F-19 Stealth Fighter have established the company as a leader in airborne battle sims, it has never threatened to shine in any other area. M1 Tank Platoon should more than redress the imbalance.

M1 is a massive game in the best traditions of the genre, with more depth and detail than you could shake a Sherman at. Simulation is all about realism, and realism can only be conveyed by attention to relevant details and an eye for the essentials of what is to be simulated. It is in this area that M1 sets out its stall.

Unlike Team Yankee, which goes for instant playablility, M1 demands a great deal of reading before you actually play, especially when things begin to expand beyond the basics.

By this stage, any shoot-em-'up fan who has inadvertently bought or borrowed M1 will be giving up in disgust and going back to Xenon 2. I wouldn't be surprised if even your average strategy fan baulks a bit at the game's sheer size, but the simulation addict will be leaping for joy. There's nothing like a really beefy game with wadges of realistic detail and a manual like a phone book to excite the simulation freak. M1 is lucky in that there are plenty of those in the Amiga world.

You take the place of Platoon Commander in charge of four M1 Abrams main battle tanks and various other support vehicles, calling in air and artillery support, and coordinating mechanised infantry, AA units and other tanks platoons as the scenario demands.

This rapidly becomes unbelievably chaotic, with up to 16 friendly vehicles and any number of Soviet units rumbling around firing at each other. After a few minutes issuing frantic and often contradictory orders to my bewildered brothers-in-arms, I was forced to turn to the manual for help.

The manual is excellent. If you want to get into the game quickly, the relevant sections can be rushed through and enough knowledge of the game controls can be garnered in about half an hour's study.

In the Amiga version, almost every command can be input either via the keyboard or by clicking with the mouse on the appropriate instrument or switch. So you can often guess where to click if you're not sure of the correct command. This definitely makes life a bit easier for the beginner.

Play is controlled from the mapboard and if you're smart about it you'll spend most of your time here. You can order your vehicles around and give them every order they might need from this section. If you allow them to fire at will, they will fight the battle for you.

One grumble I had with the mapboard concerns the huge number of available command. I know that flexibility is important to a game like this, but it's very easy to get confused.
The initial confusion doesn't last long, however, and you soon master the command system in enough depth to allow the simple deployment of your forces. As long as you avoid leaving your tanks stupidly exposed to Soviet fire, such as sideways-on or outlined against the horizon at the top of a crest line, you should have little difficulty in eventually getting through small engagements against inferior opposition. This, however, is the tip of a rather large iceberg.

One of the first nice surprises the program offers is the chance to create your own platoon of tankers, complete with name, rank, promotions awarded, and skill level. After each successful battle you will have a certain number of awards and promotions to hand out to the survivors, thus increasing their skill levels and boosting the whole platoon's rating.

The role-playing element is a very nice touch as it gives you the chance to become attached to a platoon. This discourages tactics that would lead to high casualties and encourages a deeper involvement in the game as a while.

With your platoon of rookies in two, you go on to choose static or moving gunnery practice, single engagements of various kinds, or a whole campaign for them to battle through.
Luckily you can vary the experience level of Soviet troops from second-line to elite, giving you complete control of the difficulty level. The latter options are recommended only for the more experienced player, but the beginner won't find the easier ones a walkover.

When you finally get down to playing the game in a real shooting environment it soon becomes clear just how good M1 is. Take, for example, a scenario where you must assault a well-defended position in which the Soviet troops, even if they are only second-liners, are dug in and ready for trouble.
In a real life situation, American tactics would be to order up air and artillery support to soften the enemy's resistance, then attack from a position designed to minimise casualties. In addition, you would expect US troops to act in a highly individual way, using fire-power to its greatest effect.

M1 Tank Platoon allows you to closely simulate exactly this sort of situation. In the above scenario, you would have artillery support available in the shape of mortars, howitzers or MLRs rocket launchers, air support from scout or Apache attack choppers, and even Thunderbolt A10 tank destroyers. These can be called up at any time and in the case of the artillery, can be directed onto any target on the mapboard.

From the same screen you can organise flanking attacks, smoke screens and a variety of complex tactical moves and formations, controlling not only your own platoon, but any other attacked unit or vehicle if this is where your preferences lie you need never leave this part of the simulation, putting yourself more in the role of overall company commander.

Should you want to see a little more action, and I suspect that means most of you, put yourself into any one of the four M1s under your command and in to any of the four crew positions. You have the choice of either watching as the crewman concerned gets on with his job, or of taking over the controls yourself.
Either way, the program ensures that the other crewmen carry on doing their jobs, which makes the job of controlling all 16 men a lot easier.
For instance, from the driver's position you could change course and head in a new direction. The gunner, however, will track whatever he feels is the most dangerous target, and continue to fire at it as long as he has had the 'fire at will' order.

The entire package exudes an air of quality, which bears witness to the immense amount of thought Microprose has put into this game.
From research and development, through the game mechanics, to the manual and general presentation, both attention to detail and the simulation of modern armoured warfare have received the closest scrutiny.
After only a few hours playing the game, it becomes obvious that even the most avid games player will find enough in M1 to keep him or her going for a lot longer than your usual simulation.

In short, if you're looking for depth and realism and if you don't mind spending a good while learning how to play the game, then M1 Tank Platoon is the only choice.