Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tank Universal Review

Tank Universal, developed and published by Dialogue Design.
The Good: Neat graphical style, varied gameplay, fairly interesting story
The Not So Good: No skirmish or multiplayer modes, can’t save mid-mission (but the missions are usually short), some annoyingly tedious missions
What say you? A slow-paced action game that lacks the features to be a complete product: 5/8

Tanks strike fear on the battlefield. The steel behemoths can wipe out huge sections of territory very quickly. As you might imagine, a number of computer games have attempted to capture the awesome power of blowing stuff up with a large metal object: DropTeam, First Battalion, ThinkTanks, and Battle Carry, to name a few I’ve played and reviewed. Tank Universal takes the tank into a simulated world full of robots and, well, tanks. Where will it stack up in the lineage of tank action games?

I really like the design of Tank Universal. It has a definite TRON feel to it, with a soft-glowing blue hue in each of the game’s areas. The objects in the game are nicely modeled, from the tanks to the levels themselves. While the game may lack the realistic detail present in most games, the futuristic setting in Tank Universal works very well and each of the locations in the game look believable. The effects are also well-done. It’s apparently that a lot of work went into the distinctive graphical design of the game, and Tank Universal looks good. The sound is pretty generic, with some appropriate weapon sounds and short electronic talking that accompanies in-game dialogue. For an independent title, the production values of Tank Universal are above average thanks to its unique design.

Tank Universal is an action game that involves a conflict in a virtual world. In the game, you will control tanks (obviously) and walk around as you follow the storyline through a number of missions. The game only features the single player story mode; Tank Universal features a variety of mission types, not just the capture the flag style gameplay that’s featured in the demo. Tank Universal does not have a skirmish or multiplayer mode for quick battles, which would have greatly expanded the game. This is odd since most tank games only feature skirmishes. Maybe future versions of the game will have this feature.

In general, you will be driving or walking around to objective locations around the map and engaging enemy tanks. There are levels that strictly feature combat, and in these, you must retrieve a key from the enemy base and return it to yours. Bases are guarded by turrets that should be eliminated before you venture inwards. There are a number of “glyphs” scattered around the map that can be tagged for collection, which will allow for AI teammates to spawn in the game. You can collect shards dropped from defeated enemies to power bonuses, like health, speed, or improved weapons. More powerful shots can be launched by holding down the fire button and charging them up; whether you option for fewer, more powerful shots or quicker, less powerful shots is a decision left up to the player.

While the combat-only missions are fairly entertaining, there is too much walking or driving around in the game. You can’t run and the tanks move slowly enough where searching the map for an objective becomes a tedious and boring process; at least the objective locations are clearly marked on the minimap. Tank Universal needs to feature more constant action, something that would have been remedied with a skirmish mode. As it stands, you have to do the missions in the order they are given and go through the motions of the single player campaign. The missions are quite difficult, usually because you are matched against superior numbers, but firing from a large distance usually makes the odds more even. Playing the game on “easy” reduces the amount of damage you take, and it was the only way I could beat an early mission where you must walk (slowly) past enemy tanks. The friendly and enemy AI could be better, especially friendly tanks: they aren’t aggressive enough and usually you are on your own storming the enemy base. I like what Tank Universal brings to the table, it just could have been executed better.

Tank Universal has a unique presentation ruined by some questionable level pacing and the lack of skirmish or multiplayer features. The story is interesting and keeps you going through the single player campaign, but some of the missions are either too difficult or too boring to keep most people going. I would much rather have a stand-alone skirmish mode to compliment the story and make Tank Universal feel more complete. The friendly AI doesn’t make the missions any easier, and there’s just too much time driving or walking without anything happening to keep grinding through the game. The general mechanics do have promise, though, and hopefully improvements will be made for future versions of the game. As it stands, Tank Universal is a nice little game that just doesn’t have the depth to maintain interest for very long.