By Chad Montague |
I'm beginning to worry about foreign game design. First Rare takes cute to damaging levels with Banjo Kazooie, forever warping my view of bird/bear relationships, and now DMA design twists the fabric of Tank life, one of the bastions of Americana. How am I supposed to feel comfortable driving my Abrams M1 to the liquor store for more Triscuits when I keep imagining them with bubbly eyes and stone-popping turrets?
The biggest error that a gamer could make about Tanktics would be to lump it in with kiddy titles because of its round-eyed, fluffy look. Tanktics is an experience taken from the crayon-covered art pages of Worms and Lemmings, where cute characters exist as prey for devious minds (namely, yours). This is far from child's play in fact, Tanktics will most likely be one of the most frustrating experiences of your life, combining near-impossible level structure with an endless onslaught of enemies that are guaranteed to have you slamming the keyboard in protest.
As Mr. Butts has laid out for you in his clear, concise manner in the preview, Tanktics is a mouse-driven strategy game where you use a crane to combine, command, and conquer tanks through a variety of time periods, from the stone age through the future. And of course, there's sheep. Frankly, what game nowadays would be complete without using Sheep? The gameplay takes on a simple, puzzle-like structure. Each level has a set of Receivers that must be destroyed in order to beat a level, as well as a transmitter that must be brought back to your home base. Sound simple? The key to Tanktics is in rank and treads, to put it simply. More often than not, those precious Receivers are hidden behind special terrain like snow, sand or water, which only certain treads can cross. Certain receivers also take a special rank to unlock, which means that not only do you have to have the right tank, but that tank has to have had some extensive battle experience under its belt in order to destroy a receiver.
While you're sending tanks to pick up crates full of parts on the map, and destroy the receivers, you're other eye has to keep a keen watch on the Part-O-Matic, a machine which builds the variety of parts which you combine together to make custom tanks. If it gets destroyed, you're a sad little tank. Sheep can be placed on its treads to cause it to build faster, and everything from enemy parts to rocks can be tossed into it to create more parts for tanks. If it sounds simple, it's not. All of this is happening at once, and quickly -- and you're expecting to keep a close eye on every item as it happens.
Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
If the control scheme or skill level was appropriate for the gameplay, the sheer density of task that you're supposed to keep in control of might be chewable, but when you're constantly hanging yourself by accidental mouseclicks or just being pummeled by the endless fighting, it quickly turns morbid.
The crane is the perfect example of brainstorming gone awry made even worse by the anthropomorphic evil of making the bane of your gaming existence take the form of a cutesy Pterodactyl (it does get better as time goes on, thank goodness). Instead of allowing you to click on the screen to activate troops or select items, you must swoosh your mouse around (or use the keyboard) to guide your crane to items and tanks underneath you. At first it sounds logical, but as the screen fills up with enemies, it becomes more like playing the old board game Operation, where you spend most of the time moving the mouse slightly, hoping that you don't accidentally pull off one of your tank's radars, or deselect an enemy. Since so much of the game rides on perfect aim, like dropping sheep and selecting and creating units, it seems even more confusing that the designers choice such an awkward method of control. I can't even tell you how many times I went to select a tank and accidentally pulled off it's radar, made worse by the fact that it was the only tank with the right treads and rank to beat a level.
Whereas Homeworld is a game that thrives because of its focus on micro-management, Tanktics is a complete mess. The constant stream of tanks that come to attack your base keep you from making any strong progress across a map, and you can forget about taking on daunting tasks like monitoring your sheep or scouring the map for extra items as the levels progress. It's quickly becomes a matter of drowning in mouse clicks, having to choose which things you can keep track off, and chucking everything else. The designers have complicated matters even further by not allowing you to add new weapons to old tanks, which means that if you're critical tank loses its only weapons, you're sunk. You can't put on a new weapon, or move its radar to a new body. You're stuck having to rebuild it from scratch, and bring the rank level back up all over again. Some gamers may take this as a moment to sit and reflect upon how to come back from the situation. I took it as an occasion to spray spittle across the monitor, and spin around in circles on the carpet.
This is all made worse by the annoying squeaks and squiggles that chime from your speakers every time you select a tank, or tanks raid your Part-O-Matic. It's meant to be funny, but when you're already feeling punched in the stomach from the gameplay, it only serves to make it that much more irritating. Plus, Tal was going absolutely crazy next door, and even some of the sales team from cubes away came over to ask what the annoying sounds were coming from. I loved the graphics, and liked the simplistic look and feel, but they may not be for everyone, especially fans of the sharp and pointy vehicles in Command & Conquer.
DMA has consistently been the developer to come up with odd genre creations (like the ingenious Space Station Silicon Valley for the N64), but this time around, the genius brains of the DMA kids have plotted against them. If not for the soul-shattering difficulty level and impossible control system, Tanktics might have been a fun variation of the strategy genre. Instead it's as flat as a sheep under tank treads.
-- Vincent Lopez