Fans of the classic Microprose title “M1 Tank Platoon” might soon have a chance to relive their childhood in the incredible Arma 3 world if James Davidson has anything to say about it…
While browsing the Steam Arma 3 Workshop recently, I came across a mission that piqued my interest. The words “Tank Platoon” popped out at me and I started reading up on the beta mission progress. The author of the mission, James Davidson, went so far as to start a Kickstarter page where he describes his desire to recreate the classic Microprose M1 Tank Platoon experience within the Arma 3 world. Understandably, it wouldn’t be a full on armor simulation, but would have the flavor of those great Microprose missions. While the Kickstarter did not reach it’s goal, the beta mission is a lot of fun and gives a glimpse into what might be possible with Arma 3.
The Beta Mission
The beta mission can be downloaded from the Steam Workshop HERE. The mission is a single player attack on an enemy position using your tank platoon and other support groups that you have command over. At present, three core locations on Altis are featured and missions are randomly generated. According to the author, enemy forces are based upon real world compositions and the mission area will contain a primary and one or more secondary targets. Support can consist of mortars, artillery, infantry, IFVs, and both fixed wing and rotor aircraft.
When you first spawn in, you will be shown a large lineup of tanks from which you will choose the type you wish your four tank platoon to be comprised of. Default A3 tanks can be used, but I found it much more fun to use Red Hammer Studios tanks, Community Upgrade Project tanks, and the RAID M1 tanks. Once you’ve selected the type of tank you want for your platoon, you can then order your crews to mount up and the mission will start loading.
There is something very cool about seeing your tank platoon in the A3 world. Yeah, I know, we have a dedicated ultra-realistic tank simulation available in Steel Beasts Pro PE, but until I can carve out enough time to wade into learning that sim, A3 provides a bit of Hollywood action for a fraction of the learning curve. That isn’t to say, however, that the tanks and gameplay in A3 can’t be nerve wracking and exciting – because it is. With the add-on M1 tanks, you get varying degrees of realism. The whining of the turbines is awesome and the physics are good enough. I’m no A3 expert though, so learning the ins and outs of trying to manage not only my own tank, but the rest of the platoon and other assets can be a bit daunting. If you want to keep your platoon alive, you’ll have to do a fair bit of micro managing them by directing them precisely where you want them to go. The beta mission allows for options such as changing the platoon formation, and the usual A3 commands can be used to direct individual tanks, and give orders such as open fire and hold fire. Charging across the dry lake bed or pushing over a hill in formation is a pretty cool feeling.
In addition to you own platoon, you have control over other units that have been randomly assigned to you for the mission. For instance, you might have APCs, IFVs, and squads of soldiers to assist you in your mission and that you must careful use. The high command menu is used to order these additional units around, and even provides for the loading and unloading of the infantry soldiers.
The type of tank and the depth of the modeling depends on the author of the add-on (RHS, RAID, or CUP) so views from the commander station, loader, driver, and gunner may appear different according to which mods you choose. Most of the tanks have various gunner and commander zoom levels, IR, white/hot, and black/hot type optics that do help when doing recon and trying to identify targets. Much of the fun of the beta mission is the cat and mouse game of finding the enemy, then setting up to best attack them without putting too much of your platoon or assets in the line of fire. That said, your AI platoons can do a fair job of firing on their own, but aren’t the best at self preservation.
I’m no tank sim expert, so I think both people who are more strategy oriented and who have a better grasp on the user interface of A3 would fare much better than I did in most of my engagements. I would often be blown up by enemy return fire simply because I was struggling through some of the F1-12 keys trying to select units or trying to figure out the proper menu to be in. The same menu complexity that can be a bit vexing for an amateur A3 player like myself also provides the most entertainment and satisfaction when you finally stumble upon the SUPPORTS menu. You are given a certain number of credits to “spend” on each mission, and you can use those credits to select from whatever support units are available. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to call in 82mm and 155mm artillery on an enemy position and watch it all unfold.
And of course, A3 being the ultimate sandbox, there are a hundred different ways to skin a cat. Additional support items such as air dropped crates can add a whole different dimension to your mayhem seeking ways. When I wasn’t feeling confident in my tank platoon position, I would simply keep my armor behind a ridge, disembark, call in an ammo crate to be parachuted in, and put together a laser designator with some batteries to do the arty spotting as a forward observer type, hunched in the treeline.
In an attempt to enhance the gameplay, I also added two mods that ostensibly make my platoon a bit smarter. The Smarter Tanks mod by alarm9k has a nice list of features to enhance your A3 armor experience:
- Vehicles assess the threat/value of the targets and fire at the most dangerous/valueable target it range. It will prefer AT rifleman over autorifleman, tank over MRAP etc. Threat and value calculations use the type of target, distance and ammo types available (for tanks only). For example: AT rifleman 700m away is a more valuable target for the tank than MRAP-HMG at the same distance, but only if the tank has HE rounds. Otherwise it will prefer to fire AP round at MRAP, as the infantry unit is unreachable with current weapons. But AT rifleman still remains more dangerous than MRAP.
- Tanks will use appropriate rounds (if available) for different types of targets: HE for infantry and static weapons, HEAT for lightly armored targets (MRAPs, trucks), AP for heavily armored (tanks, APCs etc).
- Tanks will identify groups of infantry and use HE rounds against them. A group is 3+ men in 15m radius. By default the tanks will not spend HE rounds on a single infantry unit (unless it’s a high-threat AT soldier).
- If the vehicle is a tracked vehicle (tank, tracked APC etc), it rotates the hull to face the most dangerous target.
- If the threat is too high (for example an AT soldier at a close range), the moving vehicle will stop immediately, rotate the hull and fire. When the immediate threat is eliminated, it will proceed with the previous move order. This will presumably save the vehicle in situations when a hit is inevitable and the best decision is to stop and take the hit to the frontal armor rather than continue moving and take the hit to the side/rear.
An additional, worthwhile mod is the Realistic Tank Crew mod by vlad_8011 that overrides the A3 tendency to have all of your crew abandon the vehicle upon damage to the tracks, wheels, or engine. Your mileage may vary, but it might be worth checking out.
Of course, all the smartening up of your AI crew and platoon will do nothing for you if you simply have bad tactics. Tanks are obviously vulnerable to damage and destruction from other tanks, artillery, enemy air, and those pesky anti-tank soldiers. The following two images are the worst you can see when you are staring through your optics…
Most of the tanks feature HEAT and sabot rounds, coaxial machine guns, commander machine gun, and smoke. I can’t really speak to the accuracy or realism of the different tank rounds, but they all go boom. And when you get hit by enemy fire – you tend to take damage and/or go boom too.
The mission is accomplished when you meet the primary objective, but then you are taken back to base and you can continue with another mission, but your forces will still reflect the attrition. In a particularly sobering scene, your diminished ranks will be shown on the parade ground with your slain platoon members and destroyed tanks laid out for all to pass judgment on your decisions…
Enemy return fire can be withering, but my only real complaint is that they don’t really take any initiative to counter-attack. They will displace, but they rarely move far, and as long as you stay somewhat covered you can usually win if you don’t get too impatient and perform a cavalry charge. On the supports front, your AI air power can unleash some devastating fire, but you have to do your part to sanitize their target area of anti-air threats or you’ll just be sending your helicopters and attack aircraft into the grinder.
It is clear that mission author James Davidson has a vision and he has created a really fun playground that gives us a good look at what an A3 armor scenario could look like. His use of scripts, the high command menu, and support shows a depth that has us wondering just how far this project could go. At the very least, I’d love to see James tackle a campaign type series of missions, or a linked dynamic mission that would allow for further continuity of gameplay with solid objectives and a storyline. We’ve seen it achieved with other A3 mods such as the awesome AH-64 campaign by Nodunit and Franze, so it certainly is possible. I’d encourage those of you that are interested to give the beta mission a whirl, provide some feedback to the author, and support his plans to bring the old classic to life in a modern sim.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth