Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tigers Unleashed (HPS Simulations) - Review

A detailed, high fidelity simulation of WWII land combat … Are you ready for the real deal?

At the time of this writing, HPS Simulations’ Tigers Unleashed (TU) is the most detailed WWII tactical land combat simulation out there. This simulation is data heavy, versatile, highly scaleable and offers an enormous range for customization of weapon systems. A greatly improved offshoot of the Point of Attack 2 simulation, TU's topic is tactical combat in Poland (1939) and the Soviet Union (1941-1942).

Tigers Unleashed is a simulation of tactical combat with 100 meter hexagons and 1 minute simultaneously resolved turns (WEGO). In most scenarios, the unit counters represent platoons of tanks and platoons of infantry. Although the units counters consolidate a group of individual real life fighting platforms, it is possible to split those counters into subunits. The included scenarios feature fighting forces that range from companies to demi-brigades. The maps are in the range of 5 square kilometers in size and adequate for the scale of the forces deployed in them. The longest scenarios run for 60 minutes of simulated time.

Each scenario can be played from either side, hotseat or against the computer. There is also an option to play by e-mail, which unfortunately I didn't have time to test. Once the scenario is loaded, the player is given the option to choose the so-called "expert level" (this affects how much data is shown to the player, fog of war restrictions, ability to select ammo for close air and indirect fire support, and ability to combine/break down units) and the fog of war level (ranging from all units visible to  complete fog of war including the player's units not always visible - AKA friendly fog of war).

Graphically, the maps in Tigers Unleashed look decent but they don't compare to other more flashy war games out there. The graphics can be moded easily, though. Moving around the map is a bit cumbersome with the default settings (there is an option to modify the responsiveness of the user's scrolling at the edge of the map). There are three levels of zoom for which the player has to click either the zoom in or zoom out button and then click on the map. The movement of units is plotted by clicking the movement orders mode button, which opens a windows that allows the player to select many options including the type of path (direct, best for speed, best for tactical movement, etc) and standard operation procedures (SOP, or what the reaction of the unit will be under fire, after taking a casualty or after being suppressed). After the player has plotted all movement for his units, hitting the next turn button will put the engine in action to resolve movement and fire for both forces in the map. A combat report window appears and in it the player can read how the events unfold. Each turn is solved in 4 phases, each one including movement, spotting, indirect fire, direct fire, movement and fire of air units (not necessarily in that order). Animations on the map are also shown in the form of lines connecting the firing unit and its target. The sound of guns for each firing weapon is part of the animations. The pace at which the combat report mission writes data can be adjusted by the player. I have mine to write the data quite fast but I can always go back and read through the report if needed. According to posts in discussion forums elsewhere, the long duration of the turn resolution has been an issue for some players. I have managed to keep the duration of the turn resolution within reasonable limits (an average of 70 seconds in the biggest scenarios) by tuning the fire and spotting calculations at mid to low fidelity and by getting rid of animations and sounds.

There is an enormous amount of things going on under the hood of Tigers Unleashed. The amount of detail in this simulation is astonishing. For example, spotting is affected not only by distance, terrain, atmospheric conditions and smoke as one would suspect in an hex-based war game. Factors like relative angle and individual buildings between the units are computed by the engine. Weapons details go down to the weight of each round and armor penetration is calculated taking armor slope into account. The simulation is completely open in terms of data: you don't like the muzzle velocity of this or that round? Change it! There is an editor for that included.

When the simultaneous turn resolution ends, the player starts over plotting new movement and fire orders. If higher levels of fog of war have been chosen, the orders may get delayed for units that may have stepped out of the command range or units that have lost communications and are out of visual range. If a unit has no radio communications available, it may take 15 minutes of simulated combat to reach that unit via a messenger. So watch out for those reaction orders or SOPs you give to your units: that's what they will do when you are not watching or when you can't reach them with fresh orders.

The pace of tactical combat is painfully realistic. For starters, getting your forces sorted out for an assault takes sweat and time. The assault itself will take a good chunk of time too as units get suppressed, fatigued or just start to conserve ammunition. Such combat friction and slow pace of events, although a delectable bite for the realism hungry grognard, sometimes doesn't pair well with the relatively short duration of the scenarios (60 minutes tops).

Tigers Unleashed includes a scenario editor that the player can use to start an scenario from scratch. The interface of this scenario editor is straightforward and offers countless options. One of the steps of scenario creation is quite revealing about the computer opponent: the game the computer will play against the player depends on the choices of the player for the quality of the leaders (tactical, command, order execution skills), and the type of stance (limited attack, attack, defense, delaying action) given to the forces under the control of the computer. This means that the strengths and weaknesses of the computer opponent do extend beyond mere fire and movement. It's great to have a computer opponent that can be programmed into a given fighting style and with an overall tactical mission. After all selections have been made for the computer opponent, the simulation engine automatically compiles an AI file, which is similar to a tactical template that takes into account the terrain and the objectives of the scenario. The computer opponent itself makes a reasonable OPFOR, but the shortness of the scenarios' time span frequently gets in the way of both sides' schemes of maneuver. In the case of the user generated scenarios, this caveat can be removed by choosing a longer scenario duration.

Another scenario editing tool in Tigers Unleashed is a geomorphic map creator that can be used to join smaller maps (called tiles) into bigger ones. I haven't dabbled too much into this part of the simulation, but I read elsewhere that map creation for Tigers Unleashed is far less convoluted than it was for Point of Attack 2. Time to dig up my copy of Aide de Camp!

The general impression of playing around with Tigers Unleashed is that the simulation engine doesn't like to be bothered with abstractions and with interacting with the user. The lack of abstractions is understandable and the main reason of existence of the simulation, but the enormous amount of data may result in some unwanted clog ups in the form of long processing times in scenarios featuring more than one battalion and C++ exceptions when the user ventures off the beaten path of the most frequently clicked forms. With my copy of the simulation patched to the current version, the C++ exceptions are rare and far less frequent than the ones I experienced with Point of Attack 2. As for the user interaction part, the developers have done a great effort to present information to the player by the use of standard Windows forms. There is a lot of information to browse while playing a typical scenario, and sometimes the most needed information is spread across several windows or tabs. For example, a composite infantry platoon that is presented as one icon is actually composed of several units (command, radioman, LMGs and infantry itself) and to access the information corresponding to each unit, one has to right click the icon, access the unit information window and keep clicking OK in that window until the relevant subunit's window is presented. In this information window, the field that shows the amount of men that the unit has occupies the same amount of real estate than the one that shows their altitude above ground level, or the one that shows their competence level. Given that Tigers Unleashed uses standard Windows forms, sometimes I wonder if it would be possible to have a customizable toolbar or a windows form where the player can consolidate information of his choosing. This simulation is complex, the variables and information are in high supply and different minds digest information differently. So here is my vote for a custom information window or toolbar!

Tigers Unleashed is a unique simulation that has no rival in its depth, expanse and ab initio computation of land warfare. Such unique features come at the price of some quirks here and there, but don't let the tree hide the forest. As any other in depth simulation there is a moderate learning curve for the player, mainly to get acquainted with the amount of data that the engine can handle and where to find it. But once the climb is over, the joys of commanding troops in such a detailed battlefield will put any previous pain in the rear mirror.



Dimitris said...

So you like it then :)

JC said...

Hi Dimitris. That's not important :)

Seriously, take a deep look at this sim because many of the interface and design issues go straight into your aisle with Command.


Dimitris said...

Quite true. We hope our choices satisfy our core audience though.

Anonymous said...

Serious issues with the accuracy at range means it's been shelved by several players as most Tank engagements go into the real of fantasy. Getting hits at 3000m on moving targets, Or even just static ones way to many times by Tanks that didn't even have decent Optics.

Then you have the smaller but still annoying bugs or actually what seems WAD like the way if a soldier in a mortar unit fires his K98 you hear a Mortar sound same with tanks not sure how many times a tank has fired it's main gun but you hear an MG. Another gripe is the Damage tab which has been left over from PoA2 and the wording isn't right or even worse you have boxes ticked for damage yet the game has them greyed out and says not used..Scott has stated he is fixing\redoing this tab, so after alot of fuss about it it appears I was right and it wasn't working properly.

I've modded the map graphics and they do look abit better and I've had a good response. There are two sets one has a printed on Canvas look to it. You can get links to them over at the PoA2 Gamesquad forum.

JC said...

I'm off to test that long engagement range bug. I haven't noticed something like that. As for sounds, is it a game stopper for you?
Have to check your mod, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Try one of the Tank heavy scenarios and take a look at the Gamesquad PoA2 forum which has a good thread on it and which scenarios to play where it's obvious.

Saying all this I do have faith it will all be fixed with patches.

Anonymous said...

No sounds aren't a game stopper that would be abit petty. The accuracy and range thing is though. As it is for others aswell.

Anonymous said...

No sounds aren't a game stopper that would be abit petty. The accuracy and range thing is though. As it is for others aswell.

Anonymous said...

Chelco another thing..I never meant to sound as if somehow your cheating with your review. I did feel though that maybe a quick tour of some forums to see the response from players and also give the game a couple of days as the bugs are very obvious and aren't to hard to find. Just check the range and accuracy of engagements.

Anyway Scott is aware of the issues and I'm looking forward to future patches.

(Gamesquad has some good non biased or fanboy like comments on the Sim and the problems that have become apparent, all over there pretty much accept the game is broke at the moment but are looking forward to future patches and are confident it will be fixed)

Anonymous said...

Well they never fixed the issues in POA2 in the years since it was released. So I think your making a mistake to think they'll fix the issues now. HPS makes good games, albiet all based on the same engine. But the POA2 engine is broken and has been since day 1.

Anonymous said...

Well I keep my fingers crossed it comes good with TU. I actually got a refund and then got the game back again as an Xmas present as I regretted it mainly due to it's potential.

As for Dimitris game looking at the videos and screenshots I'd say it's alot more polished than TU and I wouldn't be surprised if TU can learn from it. I do hope land combat is modeled though. I fancy some Falklands action. It's a shame really that modern warfare isn't my thing but I will buy Dimitris game when it comes out. Even if it's just to drop Nukes!!

Anonymous said...

Does this highly detailed engine support the quirks of Eastern front combat? Human wave attacks? troop moral?

Anonymous said...

Moral is modeled..human wave I've no idea, you don't have that much control over the game really if you play it the way it was designed to be played.

It's all about FoW of a higher level commander....the commmand delays for isntance can eb chronic..most of the time the game will be over before an order will reach especially once you starts ending orders a few turns in.

I have requested that ther eis no order delay for the first three tunrs say, also when reinforcements arrive it's unlikely you can ever use them a by the time an order reaches them and they start to move the game will end..especially if it's a runner, they can take upto 40 turns! Again a no command delay needs to be in place for reinforcements to replicate the fact they already would have their orders once they arrive on the battle field.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typos in the post above! Just like to say I requested the no command delay for a future patch. Scot knows that the command delay will makes reinforcements useless on the higher difficulty settings. He suggested lengthening the scenario, though to be honest I'd have thought the scenario testers would have noticed this.

Also you egt Scenarios like Operation Luto. I played as the Axis which looked like the side your supposed to play as, and after over 10 hours of play and on turn 17 I finally realised the enemy AI was doing nothing at all just sitting there. Another thing is when you look at the scenarios OOB's from both sides it seemed to me the Russians never had enough troops and even when attacking usually had less than the Germans. The pre made scenarios feel to be honest like they weren't tested at all.

Again though the potential is massive, and if it'd problems get sorted out then it will be a superb tactical sim, I call it a sim as it's not a game.

Anonymous said...

So basically this is a $49.95 Excel spreadsheet or Access database?

Dimitris said...

I don't think that's a fair summation given the obvious massive amount of work on the tactical engine.

If someone gave you all the game stats in Excel or Access format, would you be able to make a game out of them?

Anonymous said...

It doesnt sound much like a game to me.
And Ive played POA2, TU is merely POA2 with a different database, I wouldnt be quick to say a massive amount of work went into making it a tactical engine.

Anonymous said...

This game looks like crap and sounds like it plays like watching paint dry.

If you want tactical play combat mission, both CMx1 or CMx2 engines top this lemon.

If you offered something cool like a campaign system or a built in Operational / strategic layer I'd reconsider.
Sounds like a steer clear for me on this one.

S Trauth said...

Fwiw, I can't imagine being motivated to post about anything that I thought to be comparable to 'watching paint dry'.

Nice write up, Chelco , I have an idea about how long you must have worked with this title, and I now know where to go for reviews (of any title).

I've read far too many writers out there get hung up on hyperbole, invective, and just plain 'ooh lookit moi' attitude that has done nothing for me over the years. Glad to see it done right -will be reading more.

Joseph_HPSSIMS said...

Another thing is when you look at the scenarios OOB's from both sides it seemed to me the Russians never had enough troops and even when attacking usually had less than the Germans.

The scenario orders of battle generally deal with balanced situations, or at least situations in which each side has a particular advantage. This is to give each side a fair shot at winning.

If you want a scenario with a Soviet advantage, then try Operation Uranus or Panzers vs KVs.

We included some offbeat situations. Operation Lutto was an historical action involving Brandenburger Commandos.

There are more scenarios in the works, which will be available for download.

Anonymous said...

I was excited about this at first, but it really does seem a bit bland - and I am definitely a Grognard (I paid a princely sum for Guderian's Blitzkrieg II and have been playing it solitaire for over a year).

I really enjoy the new Combat Mission (and the old, for that matter). I've never really found anything that nailed WWII tactical quite as well. Think I'll stick with that for now. I realize the scales are different (Tacical vs Grand Tactical), but still - HPS wargames all seem to have a generic, spreadsheet-like feel to them.

Leontes said...

I'm a big fan of accurate depiction ww2 era games, and I'm wondering how depth is involved in this game before i bought it, cause happened me many times to (pre)overestimate such things. So, just a hinch, is Tigers Unleashed simulate the different armor types of that period ? Say, RHA, Face-hardened, volume-hardened, etc, just a point to see how complex is ...
So, for the ammo types.
Steel Panthers series in fact are so gappy in details, so I don't like at all; despite a more good look only.
Please if anybody know what I'm talking about write down the conclusions.

Anonymous said...

I have Tigers Unleashed -i like it generally but too often it is doing inexplicable things like units teleporting magically across the map into the enemies side or the ai just not responding at all while my whole forces shoots hundreds of times with 99% accuracy - thats just in the first turn and it makes the rest of the scenario pointless .

But worst of all is the constant friendly fire attacks - sometimes a squad is just attacking itself in its own hex - sustaining losses like this ruins the atmosphere and makes one feel like their army are either visually impaired completely - even on maps with clear visibility or they are all prone to bouts of cannibal rage. to have this happen on the first turn with no one even yet moving out makes the game hard to enjoy.