Gunner, HEAT, PC! – A Solid Chassis That Needs Work

I enjoy complex reviews: discussing how the game mechanics intertwine with the themes on display. This means that my usual review format would be sorely lacking when talking about GHPC! In display is a simple enough game: you’re placed in a tank, you fire your gun, and assuming your shot lands before the enemy even manage to see you, the mission ends with a victorious screen rushing you to an AAR report. There is no need for over-analyzations, and it is futile to look for thematic incongruencies. What’s contained within this 25 bucks steel package is a good basis for a tank game with a detailed damage model. All things considered, this would be all I have to say. But this wouldn’t make for a very interesting review now, would it? Let’s delve a bit deep.

There’s a lot to like about Gunner, HEAT, PC!. However, in its current state, it’s but a shell of what I could eventually become, and it’s a game that’s nowhere ready for a wide release, and that might be of worry to some of you. What’s in here is definitely solid and worth investing time into, especially because there are no other games like it. Just don’t go into it expecting to be showered with content and features, and disappointment is sure to be kept at bay.

Gunner, HEAT, PC! is the first videogame made by Radian Simulations, a group of disgruntled tank-sim enthusiasts claiming that “It’s a weird time for fans of modern tank combat games. The straight-shooting simulator titles from the turn of the millennium are no more. As tank nerds, we need a game that gets right to the good stuff – modern tanks, realistic system, and damage models, and a focus on fun overall”. So it’s positioning itself between Steel Beasts Pro PE, and if you don’t know about that one it’s the golden standard for tank simmers post Second World War, and War Thunder, a free-to-play title that went from being one of the poster children for the renaissance of the warsim-genre to a piss-poor attempt at copying the World of Tanks business model. Proof of this positioning is the price tag attached to GHPC, with a very, very low cost of 25 euros. If you’ve been around, you know games in this genre will cost you a pretty penny. Steel Beasts Pro PE will set you back 115$US for a 4.3 classic license, and that’s discounting future engine upgrades- it also needs a Codemeter stick with a valid license. Games like Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2 will go for 70$, and Command: Modern Operations with Tacview will plow a hundred from unsuspecting wallets. So the price Radian Simulations is offering is indeed very tentative and extremely competitive. Now, the question is, in its current state, is it worth it? Well, I’m not so sure, but your mileage will certainly vary with this one.

What GHPC! is as of right now is a very barebones tank-sim in the vein of what we like to call: The lite. Lite means it doesn’t go all the way with simulation and cuts some corners in favor of streamlining gameplay and accessibility reasons, cutting out most of the fat and leaving the “essential” part of the action untouched. What can be considered “essential” is highly debatable in this case, and what GHPC is doing is putting the player right in the front and center of armored skirmishers. The tank is already running and in position and the ammo is loaded, now all that’s left is to pedal forward and shoot the poor sod on the opposing side of that hill over there. And fortunately, GHPC isn’t lacking in the “get in and fight” department.

GHPC! has more scenarios and skirmishes available to play from the get-go than a T-72 has reserve ammunition around its turret ring. There are missions for every taste and expectation, but they mostly boil down to three types: there is recon, defense, and offensive actions and they make up a total of about 50 scenarios, with some of those being legacy from earlier builds and a couple more being firing ranges to try out the different weapon systems in the game. If you’re looking for immediate armored action, then GHPC! has enough to keep you entertained for days. Despite the seemingly astronomical amount of instant content- after all, 50 isn’t too shabby- the truth is that most of these missions will be over in ten minutes, sometimes less. Most of the missions, be them defensive or offensive usually devolve to two opposing forces fighting in line against one another, napoleon style, the only thing missing is the ability to strap a bayonet to the gun of a T-72- and seeing how things are going on in Ukraine, it certainly sounds like something a drunk, ration-stealing, Russian officer would do. One thing that’s bothering me right now is that there is no prior build-up to the battle: you know when in games like Squad and Arma usually there’s a long preparation phase before a single bullet is fired? Simple things like scouting and getting a good enough position to engage can do a lot to immerse oneself into the game. And when the enemy is finally engaged there is all that released tension that amps all the stakes to another level. I’m perfectly aware some people will love the fact that you can just go in, straight into the battle, lunge a hundred meters forward and start lobbying shells until one side has more holes than the other. And that’s absolutely fine, it’s just not what I’m looking for. Especially in a time where good positioning, spotting, and shooting first are of paramount importance to win the battle. Getting shot by an Abrams is not the same as getting scratched by a T-34, because once that 70-ton murder tin-can gets its sights on you it’s 99% game over. So while I could see this instant action thing work better on something like a World War 2 setting, where we are used to seeing a romanticized version of tank-on-tank combat, with trained crews dueling it out, angling their armor and shooting at weak points, in an almost chivalrous display of skill (even though this is mostly bullshit), in the modern setting, the lethality of most systems means that the first one to shoot gets the kill, and GHPC! models that, meaning that most battles will be over in just a few shots and you’ll find yourself lacking, asking if that’s all there is to it. The campaign right now is barely worth a mention since it’s nothing but a series of skirmishes you pick from a map, stringed together just because, well, because they are. In my campaign, all I picked were defensive missions and some of the battles were won without even moving my vehicle. The campaign doesn’t need work, it needs a rework is what I’m saying, and fortunately that is contemplated in the Early Access roadmap.

In the meantime, I’m expecting the developing team to make the map editor available to its community, and once that has been done- alongside all other planned updates on the roadmap (more on that below)- then GHPC! has the capability to rival Steel Beasts on the casual market because let’s be honest, if you want to play a somewhat realistic tank game right now your options are rather limited: You either fork out a Benjamin for Steel Beasts or give your credit card information to Gaijin and none of those seem like smart financial decisions.

A map ramble: These are okay-ish at best and lackluster at worst. And by lackluster please read generic beyond redemption, lacking any distinctive features, all the villages look the same and most of the time it’s really hard to figure out where one is, so map navigation is not only optional but a necessity if you want to go anywhere. Same as above, once the modding tools are out the community will come out with lots of creative solutions.

Now, I’m not an expert in modern warfare by any means, as most of you know, my knowledge mainly resides with the Medieval and WW2, with everything else being mostly skin deep. Sure, I know about the T-72 and the M1 but if you asked me to describe their active protection systems or what kind of smoke canister they use (or even if they use one) I couldn’t tell you to save my life. But what I know is that all of the units available right now play significantly differently from one another, with the M1 being the uncontested king of the proverbial tank hill, able to take as much punishment as it is able to dish out. Each sighting system is unique – thank God! Because sweet Jesus is it annoying when games model all the sighting systems as if they were universal because big metal pipe goes boom or some smooth brain logic, I don’t know – and you’ll have fun figuring out the differences between each tank and how to better utilize their capabilities. This is one of the better parts of the game, just soon after the damage model and the AAR reports.

The iconic M2 Bradley Red Thermal makes a stunning appearance
The unmistakable Abrams Thermals are a joy to use

This is all to say I can’t really gauge how accurate each unit is based on my lackluster knowledge of modern-day tanks but common sense tells me Radian nailed it. What is yet to suffice is the friendly AI in this game. So, by pressing Q you can boot up a quick command system to order your formation around in whatever configuration you wish and the spacing you desire. However, it isn’t rare that my AI teammates will refuse to obey and, if they’re feeling especially dumb, they’ll get lost in a nearby forest, never to be seen again after getting stuck on a tree. So yeah, avoid enclosed areas if you don’t want to end up playing alone. Sure this will get ironed out before the game comes out of Early Access but that’s not what we’re judging here. One thing the game does a fantastic job of recreating is the interaction of the crew, with lively shouts and commands contributing a lot to immerse you in the action and to feel the panic a flesh and blood crew would be feeling when engaged in an intense firefight. And just before we wrap this one up, I just want to state for the record that if there’s any smoke mechanic in the game I’m totally unable to find it. Also, arty is available on the top right corner of your map, in case you can’t find it for your first couple of hours playing it, like me.

A detailed AAR is present on a platter after the end of every scuffle for those that want to bathe in the glory of their deeds or despair at their failings. It’s a very interesting thing to have, and I wouldn’t call it a necessity, but more often than not I’ll spend a couple of minutes after every mission examining and studying how some of the shots impacted and what kind of nasty damage they created. I found myself saying “ouch” out loud more than I would like to admit after seeing things like this.

The detailed damage system might be one of the game’s biggest “gotcha” for tank enthusiasts. It is extremely detailed with every shot and subsequent shrapnel and spalling simulated and damaging the vehicle and crew accordingly. I’ve seen little inconsistency and tom-foolery with GHPC, which is something I can’t say for War Thunder, where the Gaijin damage model is as consistent as Russian supply lines in Ukraine.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, that much we know off, however a redeemable Early Access and Beyond Roadmap should- in theory- almost all of my complaints about the game. So, in chronological order, we can expect to see a more robust campaign with mission continuity that makes actual sense. The integration of fire support missions and aircraft fly-over included. Infantry will be able to leave their vehicles and fight on foot, occupy positions and deploy heavy weapons. Also, squads should be able to act accordingly. After that, it’s time for the soviets to arrive with a suite of Russian-service assets, Russian voices, and the ability to play as a Russian platoon. Detailed crews are soon to follow. Then, like the Spanish Inquisition, the Bundeswehr appears, surprising everyone with their suite of West German assets and voice lines. As we approach the final stages of early access new destruction mechanics are in the pipeline, with new visual effects, structural damage visualization, and vegetation destruction. An expanded campaign and the integration of multiplayer close the deal. I might have missed a blog post on this, but I’m still failing to see the development of working interiors, and that makes me a very sad panda.

Conclusion:

Gunner, HEAT, PC! is a game worth keeping an eye out for, and if you don’t feel like spending the hundreds of dollars to maintain your Steel Beasts license up to date, and would rather have a more light simulation you can casually play without having to spend dozens of hours learning and putting together scenarios, then GHPC might be just the game for you. As it stands, right now, even with its low price, it’s going to be a hard sell for hardcore simmers who already have an SB Pro PE license, and GHPC cannot compete with two decades of game development. If you are a War Thunder or World of Tanks player or someone mildly interested in modern tanks then I can confidently say GHPC! could be right down your alley, just be sure you’re comfortable with the current state of the game.

2 thoughts on “Gunner, HEAT, PC! – A Solid Chassis That Needs Work

  1. Thoughtful and helpful review as ever but with one important omission: the AI is in a terrible state. There is simply no implementation of tactical AI on the player’s side and the non-commandable buddy AI is so brain-dead that the player has to work around it, if not get defeated by it. I bought this game and don’t regret it but it’s little more than a tank-borne shooting gallery right now and desperately needs workable tac-AI.

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