Those of you who are movie buffs probably notice that there is a certain timing to the film industry: the high-concept, deeply thought-provoking epics tend to come out around awards season so they’re fresh in the voters’ minds. Family-friendly, lighthearted comedies tend to come out towards the holiday season, and the big-budget, overblown, popcorn action flicks tend to come out…well, right about now, in the summer, and in the spirit of the imminent deluge of suspended disbelief, overly elaborate fight scenes, and credibility-killing impossi-spots, today we review a game that can best be compared to your average summer action movie.
Released near the end of 1998, BattleTanx (with the “x” to REALLY hammer home the EXTREMENESS) checks off just about every major box you would expect from an apocalyptic action movie. Plagues! Nuclear war! Roving gangs roaming the ravaged country in tanks! ‘SPLOSIONS! And a paper-thin love story providing the rationale for one man to take on ridiculous odds and cross the country from New York to San Francisco in a salvaged tank…it’s a little bit Escape From New York, a bit Mad Max, and a pinch of Children of Men…
You play as Griffin Spade (TOTAL ACTION HERO NAME), blasting away in one of three types of tanks, the jack-of-all-trades M1, the speedy-yet-fragile Mototank, or the lumbering death called the Goliath, battling against other groups of survivors who’ve banded together, from the Skull Riderz biker gang that zips around in Mototanks, to the secret government experiment gone wrong (and check another box), the Nuclear Knights, who all pilot the Goliath. Each gang has a small bit of backstory, but by and large, they exist only to stop you, and so, they have to die…
And die they will, as you have a nice arsenal at hand, ranging from laser beams to grenades to gun buddies (mini turrets you can lay at your base to add an extra measure of defensive firepower) to the good ol’ reliable nuke, which decimates the landscape and any tanks pretty much anywhere on the level (including your own, bear in mind). Controls are arcade-simple, a button to fire your main gun, a button for firing special weapons, buttons to move your turret independently of the rest of the tank (there’s also an option to lock your turret in place in case that’s too many buttons), and really meets the definition of pick-up-and-play.
Now, one of the key factors in any good action flick are the special effects, or, in an equivalent video game, the graphics and sound…aesthetically, BattleTanx is not exactly a work of art…everything looks passable, meaning you’ll have no particular problems distinguishing an enemy tank from your allies, or an M1 from a Goliath, but buildings that can’t be knocked down look pretty similar to their collapsible counterparts, and tank sprites REALLY look warped once they’ve suffered serious damage, to the point they look like a plastic toy that’s been melted with a magnifying glass. Even lazier is that Queenlords, the female survivors of the plague and nuclear war, and according to the story, the most important asset in the entire world, are portrayed with a 2-D headshot of some generic looking woman. Anticlimactic.
But the worst problem with the graphics is, unquestionably, the fog. DEAR CHRIST THE FOG. Apparently someone at 3DO wanted to give those of us who didn’t live in the San Francisco area a taste of the local weather there, because this game is draped in a blanket of fog and smoke effects that would give Industrial-era London a rager. I can almost forgive the fog given the apocalyptic setting, and maybe if you could use the reduced visibility to your advantage, but that is not the case. Enemies can and will punch holes in you with no qualms while you roll forward in hopes of even seeing WHAT’S attacking you. Not being able to see more than a block ahead of you when a lot of levels consist of cityscapes is a really unwanted handicap.
The main single-player campaign mode consists of 17 levels, that basically break down into one of three types: Destroy x number of tanks, cross an area (a bridge or tunnel), or rescuing Queenlords (capture the flag). Interspersed with these are a few bonus levels that consist of you taking control of an on-rails Goliath tank against waves of enemy tanks for points and extra lives. Sadly, the actual difficulty and creativity of your opposition doesn’t change over the course of the campaign, depending on which gangs you’ve encountered, instead, you simply end up fighting against greater numbers of enemies, boosted by the presence of tank-spawning bunkers, some of which are indestructible, and having to rescue more Queenlords to clear a stage, so by the end of the game, you may feel a bit conflicted between the joy of knocking one more game off your bucket list and the zombification one would feel after so much repetitive tank-busting…
As you would expect, there is a multiplayer mode, but it’s more of the same capture the flag/deathmatch style as the campaign mode, with the addition of a “family” mode that basically serves as a one-button mode to simplify things further. You can choose from any of the gangs from the main game, each with their own lineup of tanks and starting special weapon; Charlie Company features a good mix of tank types and starts with a laser, where the Nuclear Knights have their Goliaths and start with a banana peel launcher (just kidding, they have nukes). There’s also a number of fun little cheats tucked in the game, ranging from the practical (infinite ammo for special weapons) to the mundane (a mode where frogs rain down from the sky…I’m not kidding.)
All in all, BattleTanx isn’t a bad game by any stretch, but as I mentioned, it can be a bit repetitive at times, and isn’t exactly the deepest game out there. It’s stupid, mindless fun that anyone can get jump into and be competitive in, and if you wanted to rent a game for a weekend to run through, or have some drunken deathmatch fun with some buddies, you could do worse than this…to complete my analogy to the standard summer action movie, when it comes to BattleTanx, you plunk down your money, you get a few hours of enjoyment, and then you move on…but you had your fun, and that’s what matters.
Simple fun that makes for an fast-paced, fairly enjoyable action romp. Always satisfying to drive a tank and smash up Las Vegas.
Gets repetitive, not very much variety in mission types or tanks, OH MY GOD THE FOG!