Do tanks and video games mix? You’re damn right they do! One of my earliest video game memories was on my Atari 2600 kicking some butt on a game simply called Tanks. The whirring and chirring of those barely legible graphics is still one of my early yesteryear favorites. Those days are long past but tank battles still exist, but this time on the Xbox 360 and on a much grander scale.
About a year ago I had a conversation with a co-worker about a tank game on the PC. This game was World of Tanks and he asked me if I had played it to which I promptly replied “no, there is no way you would catch me PC gaming” (hey, I am a console man). I did wonder about the game though and I did some research on World of Tanks back then and I came away wondering if it, or any game like it, would ever come to a home console.
World of Tanks is a massively multiplayer online game originally created for the PC and now created for the Xbox 360 by Wargaming.net. Actually, the Xbox 360 version of the game is developed by the same team that developed Mech Assault for the original Xbox and Xbox LIVE’s debut. World of Tanks on the PC debuted at the World Cyber Games in 2012 and became one of the fastest growing free-to-play games available on that platform, and this year it was released to the masses on the Xbox 360. It is a free-to-play game for those with an Xbox Live gold membership. Not a gold member? Not to worry as non-gold users can also download the game and take it for a test drive for a period of 7 days.
I downloaded the game as soon as it was available as I was chomping at the bit to see the game in motion on my home console. I did find that the whole downloading thing is very time consuming, and by the time installation of the core game and patches was underway I began wondering if the game was really worth waiting for. Nonetheless I persevered and once everything was installed I began rolling thunder. It wasn’t until recently that I was assigned review duties for the title.
What’s the objective of any tank game? To take out the enemy with your own tank of course. World of Tanks pits you and your team of up to 14 other players against another team of up to a total of 15 players in massive tank battles across sleepy countrysides. There is an amazing amount of firepower to choose from, but most need to be researched and unlocked before they can be used. Tanks are of the mid 20th century vintage and are represented by three major countries including the United States, Britain, and Germany. You start with a lowly light tank from each country in your garage and they are quick and lightly armored. It is up to you how you want to progress, and when you meet certain conditions you will be able to unlock more advanced tanks all the way to the elite and heavy ‘big boys’.
Upgrading is a bit of an acquired taste as the road can be a long and arduous one. There can be many requirements to unlock the bigger and better tanks but it’s worth it. You use in-game cash in the form of gold and XP points. Here is where things can get confusing. After each battle, win or lose, you are given a certain amount of cash and XP points based on your performance in the field. If you end up shell shocked early, or do not participate much in the battle, it directly reflects via a lower score. Conversely, if you absolutely slay the enemy in a round your score will be much higher. To throw a wrench into matters you can buy premium blocks of time, meaning for a certain time period you can earn double gold and XP. Here you can buy packs that range from one day all the way up to a full year. Doubling your loot is an enticing offer and is well worth the price, just be sure to choose your time duration wisely.
Each country has a seemingly endless tech tree that resembles a timeline. Each tank must be researched using experience points from the battlefield. Researching allows you to unlock different kinds of tanks and the ability to buy them. It can be a bit of slippery slope to have enough XP, cash, or gold. The learning curve is a bit steep here too. While you cannot buy XP, you can however buy or trade for either gold and or silver (using real life cash). Yes this is confusing but it does make sense after playing, you’ll have to trust me here.
The big question for me was how does the game actually play? I would say pretty damn well! The controls are well laid out even though some of the tanks are a bit clunky in terms of handling. The left analog stick controls the direction of your rig while the right stick controls your turret. The left bumper pulls up a HUD that can send commands or requests to your teammates on the battlefield while your right bumper toggles your scope adjusting the zoom in or out. Incidentally, clicking the left stick down once lets you direct your tank without having to slow for turning. This can be a useful in battle as you can concentrate on firing on the enemy while retreating or repositioning.
Matches have a 15 minute time limit, but you would be hard pressed to go that long in any given battle. I had to chuckle a few times as I lined up with teammates at the start of a match and almost every other player would fly the ‘follow me’ command but most went their own way. This game gets real fun with friends and those you play online with regularly, but when playing with strangers I found that there was no cohesion and you are left to your devices most times. Winning is accomplished by taking out all the enemy tanks and/or by taking the enemy’s base and claiming it for 100 seconds. My gameplay style is that of being rather stealthy and slowly upgrading my tank as I go. You can upgrade everything from your crew to your first aid kits on board. The options are plenty and the game provides many tutorial videos to help players along.
In my early matches I found myself getting hammered very quickly. While this was frustrating I ended up going back into my garage for some tinkering and launching into other battles with a different tank. I suppose this is how the game keeps up a decent pace, by placing you into the next queue. Your points don’t get lost unless you quit the game and if stay through a whole game they are eventually added to your account once the match is completely over. You can stick around and watch the action switching the camera through the remaining tanks on your side, but it can be a bit boring not participating in the action. As frustrating as the game can be I found myself drawn into it with every battle. The addiction level is high and since the game moves along at a fairly brisk pace the venerable “one-more-match” thought and justification comes up often. Strategy also drives me, and being able to outwit and outlast the opposing side is extremely rewarding.
I expected a hit in the visual aspect of World of Tanks given that the online play accommodates up to 30 players in one room. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the game looked though even with some minor issues. I noticed some lag in battle but nothing anything too severe. I also noticed a fair bit of clipping in some areas more than others. Overall these issues were nothing to get too uptight about; in fact I thought the game handled the graphics load quite well. Sure, some of the environments are a bit drab looking with some really ordinary textures, but war isn’t pretty. That being said, buildings are destructible and I marveled at some of the effects in-game such as the explosions, which are fantastic. Tanks blow up with dramatic flair and bombers fly overhead dropping payloads as they go. Sometimes I had to stop and soak it all up, it is pretty impressive.
The stars of the game are of course the tanks themselves. They are extremely detailed right down to the nuts and bolts, paint patterns, and even their ‘tracks’ and turrets in motion. If that’s not good enough you can tag your tank with all kinds of insignias, lettering and paint jobs to make your war machine stand right out. One detail I really thought was good was the brief write up on every tank in the game. It gives a brief history of how the tank came to be, who made them, and when it was made. Some of the write ups also tell why certain tanks were painted the way they were too, an excellent bit of info on how to do your tank up perfectly.
Although the visuals are fairly solid I would have to say that audio as a whole is one of the high points of the game’s presentation. While there is music in the game you won’t really notice it, but that’s OK as the tanks are what you do notice, and that is most important. They all have distinct sounds and the rumbles and the blasts from turrets are among my favorite effect. The first salvo I fired from a tank had me smiling and I was told to turn the game down by my wife. You can clearly hear shells whizzing by you and landing into a building reducing it to rubble. I can remember sitting like a spider patiently waiting for an enemy to pop on my radar all while listening to the sounds of birds in the countryside and the diesel engine of my tank idling when all of a sudden the crack of guns and shells dropping right next to me snapped me to attention. It’s just magnificent!
To sum it all up, World of Tanks really does take me back to the good old days of tank battles; but with a whole lot of extras added. Sure, the game may be a bit slow and clunky for some twitch gamers out there, but hey they are tanks for goodness sake. World of Tanks for the Xbox 360 works on so many levels it deserves a lot of credit for the effort put in to it given how fun the game can be and how deep the approach of picking the right tank to strategizing your battle on the field truly is. Of course the free price tag for Gold Live members is enticing too, even though you can use real world money to help your efforts, but you don’t need to if you don’t want to. In the end I say so grab some online friends, download World of Tanks on your Xbox 360 for free and crack some iron turrets, you won’t be disappointed.