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Armored Fist 3 is more of the same

November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 4:08 p.m. EST (2108 GMT)

by Peter Olafson

Armored Fist 3

(IDG) -- Armored Fist 3 is a moderately diverting action-oriented tank game that sometimes comes off more like a add-on for Armored Fist 2 than its own creature.

It puts you in command of the US Army's M1A2 Abrams tank -- operating either on its own or in up to company-strength -- in 50-plus missions that include tutorials, you-versus-the-world scenarios and four campaigns set in hotspots ranging from the Horn of Africa to former Soviet republics. (You can also build your own scenarios with the built-in editor.)

As in earlier games, NovaLogic has sought to include both the detailed controls of a sim and the accessibility of an action game. You can switch between gunner, driver and commander in your current tank or adopt a simplified style of play in which you just select tactics and targets and pull the trigger. (You can hop from tank to tank and platoon to platoon, and control remotely the units' formation, movement, spacing and targeting.)

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And as in AF2, this simplified mode is devoted to the fun and fireworks of battle. You just tap "Enter" to automatically toggle through enemy units or structures your tank can "see" and the spacebar to let fly. The action is often fast and furious, and the explosions, smoke and flame are effective when viewed from a distance.

The new Voxel Space 32 engine allows smoother surfaces and largely eliminates pixelization. As a result, while resolutions top out at a meager 640 x 480, this is a sharper, more vivid game -- a sense that comes home in the aftermath of battles, when you'll find the killing field just littered with smoldering hulks.

The real novelty here is the multiplayer game: This is the first Armored Fist to appear on NovaWorld, NovaLogic's online gaming service, and to use NovaLogic's Voice-Over-Net speech technology. (AF2's support for modem, network, serial and Internet play via Kali is gone.)

You can play with up to 31 other tankers in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, up to five others in Cooperative mode and up to seven others in Red on Blue (a coop variant in which fluid gameplay and no evidence of lag. (The included headset is a you try to complete mission objectives before the other side completes its own).

I couldn't find well-populated games for many of these styles of play, but, even using my old 56K x2 modem, played a brisk, entertaining CTF game with a dozen people with a respectable update, nice touch.)

However, I couldn't get into a game using my DSL line. I always wound up staring at a black screen -- a problem NovaLogic's tech support indicated is typically a firewall issue.

In other respects, AF3 feels too much like its predecessor. The inclusion of infantry, the option to have your tanks leave treadmarks and the ability to knock down buildings and crush vehicles with your tank may be nice touches in the name of graphic realism. But they don't add anything significant to the gameplay and, as a result, feel tacked on.

Your own infantry, ants at a tank picnic, aren't under your control, and I couldn't find an effective way to target the other side's infantry short of chasing them down with a tank -- the absurdist pleasure of which was quickly exhausted. And I still found that these 70-ton tanks, running at a good clip, were bouncing off wood-and-straw huts and toll-gate style barricades.

Instead, NovaLogic should have boosted the AI. Rarely did I find the enemy taking the initiative. Mostly, it sits, waits and reacts, and, when it does attack, typically adopts a head-on assault.

The sound is generally solid -- radioed reports from tanks under fire mingling with the reports of big guns above the low growl of the engine. But using the Yamaha DS-XG Legacy Sound System, the only sound I heard was when highlighting menu items -- and then only some of the time.

Pausing and unpausing the game is a workaround for this problem. But since multiplayer games can't be paused, online battles using this system had to be played out in silence.

Similarly, while the graphics are pleasant, bridge surfaces displayed streaky vertical lines and once, my lead tank simply dropped through one of them. Accrued damage isn't displayed. Once a building has taken enough, it wobbles its way into the ground like something from an old console game.

The explosion animations become repetitive in close proximity, and the briefings are just bland beside the immersive ones in Panzer Elite. I guess these green screens are supposed to look military, but they come across as dull -- I had to force myself to read them -- and that's the last thing a tank game should be.

Unfortunately, that weakness extends to the game in general. AF3 does what it does well... but I can't help but feel I've seen it before.


  • Don't let a "target lost" report due to a smoke screen dissuade you from firing (except possibly when you're low on ammo). If your gun was on target before the screen went up and the unit is stationary, you still have an excellent chance of blowing the target to smithereens.

  • Don't try to do everything by yourself. If you can't crack an enemy position, reconfigure your formation to bring additional guns to bear. And don't forget about artillery and air support.

  • Make frequent use of your onboard machinegun. It's useful for taking down lighter structures and APCs, and allows you to save the big-gun ammo for big enemies like T-80s.

  • One of the trickiest missions I've come across is an early one in the African campaign in which you're expected to seize a bridge and then take out heavy artillery in a village beyond. If you quickly target and nail one of the two tanks that charge you at the start of the mission, you'll be able to use its hulk for cover as you approach the bridge. (If not, try to take out the bulk of the garrison from the hilltop to the right of the bridge approach.)

    In the village, watch carefully for tanks on the left. Exit the village carefully, too, lest you be caught in a cross-fire. Use the cover afforded by buildings and the artillery units to nail the tanks approaching from the left and then cautiously pick off the three on the right.

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