The Little Siege-Engine that Could
Remember Combat for the Atari? No, I suppose not. Well, it was essentially a game where two player-controlled tanks faced-off in an arena while trying to decimate each other for points. Tank Battles is sort of a modernization of the original; only now with nicer visuals, online play, and a bunch of ways for players to upgrade their performance. Unfortunately, the emphasis on premium currency makes it feel a little too modern.
The single player in Tank Battles involves a series of increasingly difficult missions for players to complete. Each one has a total of three stars that can be earned by completing specific objectives (i.e. destroy everything, finish in under X seconds, etc.), and those stars will unlock even more missions or access to new gear in the shop. The general idea is to not get blown up while blowing up everything else, but sometimes the objectives will throw players a curveball and mix things up a bit. The basic controls will have players guiding the tank around a small arena using a virtual stick in the bottom-left corner of the screen, while tapping anywhere else to fire in that direction. A set of three item buttons is also preset at the bottom of the screen, and will activate whatever is equipped with a tap.
Multiplayer is mechanically similar – what with the control scheme, wanton destruction, and small arenas – but in many ways feels more like a traditional deathmatch. Up to four players square-off and try to annihilate each other in order to get the highest score, while also keeping an eye out for random power-up drops like health and damage boosts. It doesn’t earn stars like the solo mode, but it does allow players to compete for leaderboard status (and rewards), as well as some extra coins.
Tank Battles is a rather colorful and vibrant game, which is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from Gameloft at this point; but that doesn’t mean the pretty visuals aren’t still appreciated. The controls are also incredibly easy to come to grips with, and there are plenty of bits and pieces to unlock, attach, and upgrade for fans of customization. All in all it’s a great update to a classic, and that’s not even taking the multiplayer into account. Setting up an online match is incredibly easy and painless, and I’ve yet to experience any connection or lag issues – again, not much of a surprise from Gameloft, but still very much appreciated.
The game can get pretty crazy, though. So much so that it starts to become frustrating. It’s not too bad with only a couple of tanks driving around, but as solo levels start to get more difficult and more enemies get tossed into the mix, it can quickly become far too chaotic. Getting blown up by an errant ricochet is quite frustrating, but it’s even more frustrating when it’s happened for the fifth time.
What makes all of that even worse is the rather insulting respawn mechanic. If players want to jump back into a solo mission after being destroyed without having to start over from the beginning, they’ll have to pony up a rather large amount of premium currency. In fact, a single respawn in a single-player game costs two-thirds of a player’s starting cash. Even ignoring that problem, the rest of the game relies too heavily on premium currency as well. All of the best parts and items require it. Heck, even regular tank parts can only be upgraded once with coins before requiring premium cash for further improvements. In essence, it holds back players who don’t want to pay. It doesn’t make it impossible, but it certainly doesn’t make it easy, either.
Tank Battles is a reasonably fun arcade game and an interesting re-imagining of a classic. It’s also a virtually hassle-free multiplayer affair. It’s just too bad that the emphasis on premium currency makes it hard to stay invested. At least without actually investing.