If the past 30 years of games have taught us anything it is that war is fun. Yet actual conflict teaches us that war is hell. How do we square these two opposing results? With Positech “Cliff “Cliffski” Harris” Games’ latest release, Gratuitous Tank Battles.
Note: This is a review of the single-player only.
Here’s your mission briefing: The Great War which enveloped Europe in the early 20th century never ended, in fact it still continues 200 years later. Lasers, walking mechs and mega tanks sit cheek-by-jowl with the sensibilities of English gentlemen-officers – tea, biscuits, giving the Bosh a right royal kicking and time off for Wimbledon, wot wot!
The setting and style is not just window dressing. It permeates every drop of atmosphere, every word of writing. Level descriptions, win and lose messages and the manual are hilariously, deludedly optimistic. They might have been taken from General Melchett’s diary. Skip back a moment: this game has a manual. When was the last time you saw an actual proper manual, even if it is in PDF format?
All of this is wrapped around a remarkably complex game of Tower Defence. Over a campaign of 11 maps you choose whether to attack or defend a patch of French or Germany. Attack and you send a series of tanks, mechs, trucks and troop squads down lanes. Each unit has a points worth for getting them to other end of the map alive – get enough points before your recharging supply (purchasing power) runs out and you win. The defender tries to stop them by building turrets and manning trenches along the length of the winding lanes.
What complicates matters is instead of getting new units as you might in other similar games, by completing a level – whether you win or lose – you get a new piece of equipment or unit type with which to customise your army. It might improve reload times, move speed or ammo capacity. It might add armour or shields. It might be a weapon that’s more effective against one type of defence or another. The possible combinations are mind-bogglingly huge which unfortunately leads to confusion. It is difficult to see whether improving shield damage is more effective than improving armour damage or ammo capacity or reload speed because the maths quickly become very complicated and I have not found a way to see what qualities enemy units have beyond basic appearances.
Playing through a level is a heavy experience. Even before the onslaught begins, the landscape is strewn with corpses and craters. Battle ensues and soon fire and smoke spill from the trundling vehicles, the wrecks and devastated turrets. Zoom in closer and you can hear every rumbling explosion and the screams of shot soldiers. See brass shells ejected from the cannons, each laser-beam from the marching squads and the distortion of struck forcefields. All of these are excellent graphical touches and there is great attention to detail, visually and audibly.
Not that you will have long to pay attention to such details. As attacker or defender you will be too busy rebuilding and spawning unit after unit in the hope of pushing through a little further, or slowing the tide just long enough to avoid defeat.The heart-thumping, charged soundtrack keeps the pressure up, hard. Surviving requires a relentless effort and it is disheartening to witness such constant devastation, especially when the supply runs out, and there is nothing you can do but watch and hope.
With such difficulty – I am the first to admit I am poor at strategy games but it is a punishing game – and oppressive experience it and I found I could not continue with Gratuitous Tank Battles for more than a couple of levels at a time. Success, however, is rewarding and so it is perfect for dipping in-and-out of whenever you care for the challenge.
Gratuitous Tank Battles is a very well crafted game and a real experience. It is not going to be a classic or a breakaway hit but it is, in every way, solid.
Verdict – On Target
Platform Availables – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Disclaimer – This review was written from a free review Steam code.