It seems as though with every year that passes, quite a few games arrive announcing they each have “returned to gaming’s roots, bringing fun and a challenge back to gamers.” Though neither of these are bad in terms of gameplay, most gamers play games because they find games entertaining. Failing that, thought-provoking or even the unabashedly silly game also appeals to many a gamer. As is such, the title of Positech Games’ Gratuitous Tank Battles would imply irreverent and chaotic fun, but eventually comes across as anything but.
Being a spiritual successor to 2009’s Gratuitous Space Battles, Gratuitous Tank Battles, as the name suggests, involves tank battles. But instead of the direct ship-to-ship combat that was featured in the predecessor, GTB features a much more traditional tower defense mechanism in which you can either defend against waves of various types of units, or be the attacker and send waves of your own.
Victory is achieved when either the attacker acquires enough “victory points” by having units reach the other side of the map, or having the defender hold off the attacker until supplies run out. As for the supplies themselves, the attacker typically receives them at a faster rate, but are only received for a certain amount of time. As each unit placed costs a certain amount of supplies, the aggressor needs to ensure that they are using their resources efficiently as possible, whereas the defender just needs to hope that they can predict the forthcoming units well enough to survive.
For those on the offensive side, they must strategically stagger their units to maximize the damage output onto the enemy defenses, allowing your weaker units to cross the map, earning you “victory points,” which change based on the unit. While challenging, levels are not impossible, provided the player actually uses the right units for the task. Defending, however, is a different beast entirely. I was playing using the “adaptive AI” option for defense, meaning that the AI will adapt to my turret strategies accordingly. While it sounds intelligent in practice, it’s executed rather frustratingly.
Say the AI recognizes you have a large number of turrets that are strong against armor to deal with a wave of approaching tanks. It then calls forth a large wave of infantry to the point where the few machine guns on the field cannot deal with the large numbers. The player is then placed in a rather frustrating dilemma: do you replace the turrets at the front of the line with MG nests? This then runs the risk of having the infantry run right by your turrets that are under construction. Or do you deconstruct turrets that are currently firing on the tanks, allowing the infantry to damage the frontline turrets making them weaker in future battles? Certain battles become almost unwinnable, because instead of rewarding intelligent turret composition, the AI forces you to mass turrets in response to their moves.
Of course, neither mode would truly be possible without the biggest draw for the game: designing your own units. Two things stood out to me immediately upon opening the unit design panel: the number of choices for different parts that would go into the design, and the number of options that I had yet to unlock.
There is, however, a rather large pair of problems with this customization system. More options are unlocked whether you win or lose campaign battles, with two unlocks being granted if you win and only one if you lose. Obviously, the player would be motivated to win more battles in order to earn more unlocks. The problems arise from two different sources, one being the length of the battles, and the other being the initial difficulty of the battles.
Though not initially appearing lengthy, the battles would inevitably get dragged out by a weird issue that plagued the entire game overall: considerable lag or “hanging” of the game itself. Most notable when playing at higher game speeds, the game itself has the nasty tendency to stutter. This would occur about every five seconds or so, leading the game to hang for about the same amount of time. This would then roughly double the length of battles themselves, making them rather tedious affairs when considering the artificial difficulty present in the game.
The artificial difficulty stems from the fact that when first playing the game, the player has few customization options for their units and turrets making battles incredibly difficult when considering all of the options the AI has at their disposal. While giving the AI more unique units seems like a good way to advertise and get the player interested in playing the game further, it comes across as more of a taunt towards the player, especially when you have to unlock something as simple as an ambulance.
While muting the music seemed to mitigate the hanging effects somewhat, the issue couldn’t compete with the major issue that the game suffers when attempting to complete many actions at once. That is, when attempting to open a menu immediately on startup, the game would freeze my computer, forcing me to do a hard reset. More than just a tad annoying, it caused me to be cautious when replying to Steam messages, for fear of losing progress or damaging my computer. To mitigate this and the stuttering issue, opening the .exe file itself thus eliminating the Steam overlay is a usable workaround, though there’s no info if a fix is possible for the Steam version.
This is, of course, not to mention the color palette, either. Though it apparently takes place in a society where World War I has continued for the past 200 years, it seems almost lazy for the developer to limit the maps to a choice of white, green, gray or brown, especially when considering the colorful backgrounds of Gratuitous Space Battles. Units themselves can also be colored differently to the player’s liking, though it would seem as though GTB didn’t recognize my choices, leaving all of my designed units the same sort of gray-blue color.
The most interesting change from Gratuitous Space Battles is the addition of the map creation system, and the subsequent addition of the online challenge mode. Players can create their own maps, which other owners of the game can then play. The community aspect certainly is nice, but problem lies in the mapmaking itself. Immediately, a major issue presents itself: the lack of an (obvious) undo button. As I am one to mess around for a bit before actually settling down and creating maps, I’d like to be able to correct those playful edits, or undo mistakes altogether. It was off-putting to the point where after having to reload maps two or three times just to actually edit them. I gave up altogether.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
For a game that displays itself as a rather fun, lighthearted tank battle simulator, multiple issues prevent it from being just that. An overall sense of boredom creeps up on you while playing to the point where I felt as though attempting to unlock everything available would be futile. While there is hope for Positech Games to continue development of GTB in the future, as they did with Gratuitous Space Battles, the rather considerable investment of $19.99 is best saved for something more entertaining in the future.
Gratuitous Tank Battles Technical Summary:
- Time Played: 6 Hours
- Widescreen Support: Limited
- 5.1 Audio Support: No
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered: Multiple
- Control Scheme: M/KB
- DRM: None (Steamworks)
- System Specs: Core 2 Duo @ 2.2 Ghz, 4 GB RAM, Intel Mobile Video
- Game Acquisition Method: Review Copy
- Availability: Steam, Official Site
- Demo: Yes
- Version : 1.011