Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Armoured and Dangerous Review

Armoured and Dangerous, developed and published by Phantasm Games.
The Good: Varied classes with different weapons and abilities, only $7
The Not So Good: Predictable AI offers little challenge, tedious constant direct tank management required, linear campaign, lacks difficulty settings, no multiplayer, limited game mode options, slow camera controls makes spotting units almost impossible
What say you? This inexpensive light real-time tactical game with a turn-based feel has varied tanks but lacks features, automation, and a challenging computer opponent: 3/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Tanks are an imposing force on the battlefield. Covered in thick metallic armor, hauling really big guns, and crushing everything in their path, they dominate everything that isn’t carrying a rocket launcher. It’s no wonder, then, that they are the most popular weapon in the real time strategy genre, capable of engaging most enemy foes with a mix of firepower and maneuverability. While normally supported by mixed units, tank-only confrontations have been popularized by titles such as DropTeam and World of Tanks. Another entry in the exclusively metal strategy category is Armoured and Dangerous, which you can tell is unique because it has an extra “u” in the title. This game features a mix of real-time and turn-based mechanics, as they game progresses in real-time but only allows for control of a single unit at a time. Will this stripped-down strategy game feature pleasing tactical gameplay?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Armoured and Dangerous features pedestrian graphics, typical for an indie game. The tank models are small but detailed and easily identifiable based on appearance. The weapons and subsequent explosions are understated and lack the “punch” typical of armored combat. The maps feature bland outdoor environments consisting of undulating terrain with the occasional tree and lake, and the ground textures are a plain mixture of green and brown colors. The game’s minimap doesn’t really show the true landscape, just displaying elevation rather than important tactical features like water or foliage. On the sound front, Armoured and Dangerous features a few repetitive sound effects and very subtle background music. While the graphics and sound aren’t, well, good, for $7 they are good enough.

ET AL.
Armoured and Dangerous offers a sixteen-mission campaign (no background story) featuring real-time combat. The scenarios (and other features) are unlocked in groups, and you must successfully complete every mission in each group in order to proceed to the next set. The game has three game modes: team deathmatch, “capture the flag” (which is really nothing like capture the flag at all: you simply blow up the three enemy oil rigs), and “search and destroy” (where you destroy a base instead of three oil rigs). Because there are no respawns, the tactics are the same for each game mode: find and kill all the enemies. The twenty-four maps offer little variety in tactics as well, as lakes and mountains rarely come in to play. Armoured and Dangerous also lacks difficulty settings, and later missions simply place more computer opponents on the other team. There is also a skirmish mode where you can choose a map along with the number of tanks and enemies you'll deal with, once you unlock those options by playing the campaign. Armoured and Dangerous lacks multiplayer of any kind, so you are stuck battling it out against the AI. The tutorial teaches the basics of the game well enough, and the low $7 price tag is appealing.

Controlling your units in Armoured and Dangerous is a bit different than most contemporary real-time strategy titles. Units are selected primarily using the mouse wheel (although the number keys can be used), left-click to perform an action, and right-click to switch between movement, primary, and secondary weapons. This method took some getting used to: I routinely forgot to switch to movement mode and accidently fired instead. In addition, Armoured and Dangerous doesn’t feature the amount of camera options I desire, as zooming and tilting are way too slow, making seeing what’s happening on the battlefield almost impossible. One strong aspect of Armoured and Dangerous is the suite of tanks at your disposal. The primary unit is the main battle tank, equipped with a long-range cannon and short-range machine gun. A secondary tank is also available that fires anti-tank rounds and grenades. The recon tank scouts for enemy units using its radar, and the support tank repairs and refuels your units. Finally, the minelayer both places and removes mines. There is certainly some strategy before each mission choosing which tanks to take into battle: the main tanks are good for engaging most threats, while the support units each have their roles. Since each unit must refuel very frequently, taking at least one support tank into battle is a definite requirement.

Armoured and Dangerous features a unique mix of real-time and turn-based mechanics. While the game progresses in real time, because each unit must be given manual orders, it plays out like a turn-based wargame where you must move each unit every turn. There is a maximum of five units which reduces the micromanagement slightly. It would be nice if your units would automatically return fire if fired upon, or would continue moving to a waypoint when you switch to a different tank. Tanks can do nothing on their own, which gives you complete control over your units, but requires constant babysitting. The game is a tactical one (there is no base building), where placing appropriate units in the right place and using the right weapons at the best time is the key for victory. There is a short spotting range for enemy units (except for bases, which are always displayed), which is realistic for tanks I suppose; enemy units will sneak up on you, as even the recon tank has a small window for spotting enemies. Playing the game is a tedious affair: since tanks will not fire or move on their own (even if you issued a target or waypoint), you must constantly switch between your forces. Since the game always defaults to the movement order when a new tank is selected, you can't quickly bombard the enemy by switching between available units, instead having to right-click to choose the most appropriate weapon first. It's simply not fun. In addition, tanks move fast, making it difficult to hit things on the go. Sadly, the AI will routinely sit in one spot, waiting to become target practice. The AI isn’t a good foe: it heads straight for objectives, occasionally ignores nearby units, fires at an slow rate, and is easily disposed of except when you face multiple computer opponents in the same level.

IN CLOSING
While Armoured and Dangerous offers a unique mix of real-time and turn-based tactics, your tanks lack the initiative to allow for more advanced strategies to be executed. Tanks will do nothing on their own: even movement orders are only completed while a unit is selected. Armoured and Dangerous, then, is quite high in micromanagement; even being limited to only five tanks results in constant hand-holding for all tasks, including firing on the enemy. There are no orders that will be carried out as you attend to other tanks: everything must be issued manually by you in real-time. This is a flabbergasting limitation that significantly reduces the appeal of the game: there's a reason why turn-based games are not played in real-time. The short sighting ranges make for quick, close battles using a variety of weapons and tank types, the high point of the title. That said, the combat is very tedious: frequent switching back and forth between tanks is very inefficient, so you'll usually just pound away with a single tank until it has died. Add in sluggish camera controls and Armoured and Dangerous is a constant battle against the game mechanics in addition to the computer opponents. Unfortunately for Armoured and Dangerous, the lack of multiplayer options means the game must rely on the substandard AI: it moves predictably and has trouble engaging your units effectively. The campaign and skirmish options are standard fare, the game modes all play out the same, and the map selection rarely alters your strategy. The price is right at $7, but Armoured and Dangerous simply fails to offer well-rounded gameplay and features to stand out in the strategy genre.