Saturday, March 18, 2006

Think Tanks Review

Think Tanks, developed by BraveTree Productions and published by Garage Games.
The Good: Playable physics, sufficient AI, smooth on-line play
The Not So Good: Very odd and obtuse aiming
What say you? A fairly average tank combat game spoiled by bizarre turret controls: 5/8

Ever since they were invented near the end of World War I (also known as the War Between the States), tanks have always been a mark of power on the battlefield. Featuring thick armor and huge guns, tanks strike fear into the hearts of the opposing army. Not surprisingly, tanks have become a featured component of computer games, appearing in titles ranging from tank simulators to more arcade offerings. Think Tanks leans more heavily towards the arcade side of the equation, offering the chance to control small tanks driving around battlefields lobbing explosives at each other. Sounds like fun to me! Think Tanks is very similar to another tank combat game, Battle Carry, which I reviewed back in the Dark Ages (2005). Will Think Tanks improve where Battle Carry fell short? Only time will tell.

Think Tanks has rather average 3-D graphics compared to other titles. The graphics do run a range from bright levels to dark and gloomy ones, so that is greatly appreciated; in a lot of games, each level feels the same as the last one, but this is not the case in Think Tanks. The levels don’t have very many details to them, mostly just open areas dotted with hills and some trees and rocks. It seems strange to have intense tank battles over such a barren area. The tanks themselves look OK, with some technical achievements in the small details. I think if more time was spent to create realistic-looking levels (like those found in Battlefield 2, for example) it would add to the overall appeal of the game. I believe that Think Tanks has the power to do so using their graphics engine, it’s just a matter of doing it. The sound falls along the same lines, falling within the realm of averageness (that almost sounds like a word). The game has the basic sound effects heard in tank battles (explosions, weapons firing, et cetera), but not much else, such as environmental effects. The background music is there, but is not memorable. Considering the lower-end budget of Think Tanks, the fact that the graphics and sound ended up in the middle of the pack is a small achievement resulting in a game that won’t be scored for shortcomings in those areas.

Being a tank combat game, the object in Think Tanks is to destroy the opposition using your turreted weapons. The action is definitely arcade in nature, having fast moving tanks and quick firing weapons. You can play Think Tanks against the AI or online. The AI in the game is pretty good: they don’t exhibit any expert behavior, but will engage heavily damage opponents, chase down objectives, and generally behave like beginning players. It’s certainly a step up from the single player experience found in Battlefield 2. Joining an online game is pretty easy and is a very smooth experience; I didn’t experience any lag while playing. You can also play against bots and have them leave the server when real humans join the fray. The game can be played as a deathmatch or “scrum:” scrum is similar to the Bombing Run mode in Unreal Tournament (maybe a little too similar), where you carry a single flag (or ball) to the goal in order to score. Both of these games can be played with teams as well. This is above the number of games modes found in a lot of comparable titles, but I’d still like to see some more originality with the features. There is a single player “story” mode of sorts where you battle increasingly powerful AI tanks. This mode is kind of unfair, since all the AI tanks fight against you and you’re always outnumbered.

In order to help your cause, there are weapon and health powerups scattered throughout the map. You can use these to your advantage in your chosen tank; there are three classes of tanks (light, medium, and heavy) and each offers increased armor and weapons for decreased speed and maneuverability. Weapon powerups include area-effect projectiles or bouncing shells, although the game doesn’t tell you what a particular weapon does. You see, Think Tanks doesn’t have any indications on your current weapon ammunition, weapon type, or health level, so you’re just relying on whether your tank is smoking or not or a guess on how many bullets you have left. Control freaks will not appreciate this very much. The arcade disposition of the game is offset a bit by the fact that it takes a lot of direct hits in order to destroy opposing tanks; I would have liked it to be a much quicker path to death to keep with the overall theme of the game. Think Tanks does have some good physics, much better than those found in Battle Carry, resulting in tanks that are fairly easy to control. The game maps are scattered with jump pads and speed boosters; these can be used to your advantage in order to avoid incoming shells. The biggest (and close to only) problem with Think Tanks is the tank turret aiming. Aiming is done with the mouse, but it’s not intuitive and seems to lag heavily, making it difficult to precisely destroy enemy tanks. Since the whole point of the game is to take out conflicting tanks, this is a major deal. I had quite a difficult time just trying to get the crosshairs on a moving enemy tank. Complicating the aiming is the fact that you can only aim in front of you; for some reason, your turret cannot rotate a full 180 degrees, unlike most (if not all) modern tanks. This makes it maddeningly difficult to follow and shoot successfully at enemy tanks, and adds a level of frustration that’s not necessary.

Just like the other tank combat game, Think Tanks is a good game that’s blemished by one key deficiency: in this case, aiming. The features of Think Tanks all point towards a good game: decent AI, decent graphics, decent game modes, and decent physics add up to a decent arcade tank combat game. Add in the fact that Think Tanks is available on all three major platforms (Mac, Linux, and, uh, what’s that third one called?) and you’ve got a winner, except for the annoying aiming. Based on the fact that the online servers were pretty well populated for a smaller game, maybe you get used to the aiming over time, but I feel it should be more instinctive at first. You shouldn’t have a difficult time controlling your turret, but Think Tanks makes it an excruciating process. If you can get past the aiming, you’ll find that Think Tanks is pretty fun to play, especially for its low price and features pretty much everything you’d want to see in a tank combat game.