Gratuitous Tank Battles Preview

by on 30th Apr 2012

It is the year 2114. World War I rages on unabated.

Yes, you've got that right - they don't call it the Great War for nothing. And in these scarce... 200 years? we've grown quite fond of trenches; where the brass can't reach us without muddying their shiny boots. The very thought! Besides, discretion is the better part of valour, right, chaps?

"Go over and have at them, For the King!" they say.

Go over? They might be having slight trouble spotting the endless stream of earth-shaking double-barrelled tanks with the heavy lasers and the towering artillery mechs with their energy shields traipsing all over the place, and the armoured cars with extra-hot flamethrowers, and...

So, we've had progress alright; we're just not going anywhere fast. But it will all, surely, be over by Christmas!

Such is the Tommy and Jerry world of Positech Games' Gratuitous Tank Battles. The most patriotically advanced tower-defence game you're likely to have ever set eyes on, by George!

Bang And Fizz And Zap

As a Commander you're obviously ordered to sit back and sip fine wine at the local HQ enjoying a bird's eye view of everything through a live feed transmitted from an airship. Magnificent, don't you think? Pass the bottle...

Now, as it happens, you've had enough of this standstill, you have, and want to be getting on home to the lovely sweetheart rather soonish.

You start by selecting one of the missions of the campaign where you can either take the offensive, and send some Jerries packing, or make sure they don't get through your own lines by fortifying your positions.

In the more conventional defensive role, you start by choosing the type of challenge you want: fight against a scripted enemy unit line-up, adaptive AI making use of just the units bundled with the mission, or adaptive AI with the entire range of units available, including those of your own making (more on that later).

Next up comes the pre-battle deployment stage where you have an overhead view of the field of battle and the units available for requisition. Handily, you can also toggle enemy route display to more clearly identify strategic bottlenecks and so place your starting assets with greater effectiveness.

You are given an initial pool of supply points with which to acquire infantry and/or turrets, with specific locations reserved for the deployment of each. It is generally advisable to stick with turrets as, at this time, they are generously deployed fully built, whereas during combat you'll have to wait for the courageous Royal Engineers to construct them. Infantry, on the other hand, is always ready right upon fielding.

A good mix of gun emplacements is recommended so that the vulnerabilities of one are covered by another's strengths.

Hovering the cursor over a unit's icon you are shown their specific characteristics, from armour type, shielding, targeting and ammunition loading technology, weapon type and grade, special augmentations (if any), plus name and concise but useful description.

What you'll learn from experience, and the key factor in thwarting threats, is that cannons/ballistic weapons defeat shields, lasers defeat armour, while machine guns and flamethrowers lay waste to the poor trench-ridden infantry.

Once supply points are spent you hit the Start Battle button and the dirty business of war begins. Don't worry, your supply points will gradually replenish, soon permitting you to send for more troops and guns.

The attacking forces enter the map through a single or multiple known locations, aiming to reach the exit points, and they will make their way through using the specified routes which can run parallel to each other or branch in a multitude of ways, creating interesting quandaries and some congenial firing arc overlaps here and there.

To make matters even more sporting there are sometimes adverse lighting conditions to take into account, for instance, in night-time missions, where, though you may know the routes, you may very well not see the sneaky enemies beyond range of your spotlights - unless, of course, you toggle on nightvision!

Fortunately you can speed up, slow down or pause the action at will, to move things along faster towards your deadly meat-grinders or to better keep pace with tricky situations that can let a dastardly foe slip through.

The attacking force's objective is to achieve a certain amount of victory points (VPs) which are accrued by having units reach the exits of the map. Each enemy unit has a worth in VPs and, evidently, you should focus on destroying the most valuable ones, which are principally the unarmed, but quite resilient, supply trucks.

The defences you put in place operate in an automated fashion, engaging targets as they get into range, but luckily you can designate preferred targets to single out the peskier of the lot.

In the interest of knowing thine enemy, you must watch them to see what they're about, and you'll note each has a specific weapon range and view angle, that may be more or less limited depending on type and facing. Mechs, for example, are restricted to a field of view of 180 degrees forward, whilst tanks have no such impairment.

Units or emplacements that come under fire suffer damage to shields and armour first, and to health (or 'internals', in game parlance) after that, disabling them piecemeal, not generically, but in terms of individual components independently, causing slower operation, immobility with weapons still firing or entirely preventing weapon usage while remaining mobile.

It's nice touches like these that really drive home the notion that this isn't some generic shooting gallery, but a rather more detailed affair where such strategic concerns matter.

And, should you be wondering about all those drearily clever fire and forget robotics, rest assured important decisions are in fact constantly demanded of you so there's rarely a dull moment.

Do you place your last available large turret at the front row now, for assailing future incoming threats, or at the back, where they can put down the straggler you've just let go by? Do you order a failing gun emplacement disassembled now and recover some of its cost, which takes longer, or let the enemy finish it off, which will more quickly let you place a replacement? Do you wait until you have enough points to get a powerful, hulking gun, or immediately get two smaller ones deployed to deal with already damaged targets, so finishing those off?

It also pays to remain attentive to what's going on right now instead of just minding those future projections of best course of action.

This is because, much like us at StrategyCore, your Quartermaster has a penchant for soldier Dog tags, which appear only momentarily once the last man in an enemy squadron meets his demise, and that will earn you some very valuable extra supply points, if you get the tags for his collection. Likewise, should the advancing Hun be allowed to reach one of their very own occasionally scattered supply drops they will get a bonus allowing them to send more forces down your way.

Well and good as all of this is, time trickles ever away towards mission end. So do try your very best to be timely in your Jerry trouncing.

Yet, don't be fooled into thinking you're off for some tea and crumpets when the air-raid-like siren blares, declaring the end of attacker supplies. No, Sir! We can't have Hun mucking about the place, and it ain't over 'til it's over: when the very last schnapps-addled one is put down or exits the map in a properly sorry, battered state.

When a battle finally ends, either in brimmingly proud victory or dismayed defeat, with appropriately rebuking or congratulatory messages from HQ, you invariably get something to remember it by, in the form of shiny medals or equipment.

You see? The monocled bastards up on high aren't that bad. Though, more often than not, you'd much rather get some proper scones than carefully drafted unit performance stats, useful as they certainly are.

Note nonetheless that only victories will give you access to ensuing missions in the campaign, and you do get double the equipment to choose from by mission end...

From Hun to Tommy Gun

At first, during the earlier missions, you may be content with putting the standard roster of units through their motions, but once you know the basics you should really head on down to the Ministry of Creative Destruction to devise your own custom unit designs by making use of that equipment you've been awarded after battle.

Clicking the Unit Design button on the main menu gives you access to this functionality.

You can start from scratch by picking a hull, or load up an existing design and modify it to your specifications. As you choose components like main weapon, armour type, targeting system, etc. the unit's stats will change accordingly, giving you a total in cost, speed, armour, shields and weight.

Naturally, the better the equipment you put in the higher the cost, so you need to balance quality and expense for good effect. The same sort of reasoning applies to other things, like armour, as the heavier and more protected something is the slower it will move.

You can design whatever you please regardless, if you don't mind being the object of prolonged target practice by jeering enemy troops.

One other thing you can bring to your designs are Augmentations. And what these do is boost a specific aspect of the unit, such as precision, reloading speed, range, armour penetration and others.

A unit I tinkered with once had this missile launcher that looked nice 'on paper', but that, as it turned out, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn when put to actual battlefield use. One augmentation later and it actually managed to wake up some enemy tank crews with its armour scratching.

Another aspect of customization is merely cosmetic, but no less fun for it, especially if you manage to aggravate your ranking officers with your carnivalistic choice of camouflage colours.

Also, be sure to act surprised when the enemy accuses you of stealing their superior designs and technology. The absurdity of it! *cough*

Ultimately, though, what you should paramountly concern yourself with is designing fitting counters to the combination of weapons and armour that are most bothersome for you out there.

Mighty design possibilities don't end with units either. You can go so far as making your own battles!

You can edit the campaign missions themselves or start entirely from the ground up, placing routes of transit, designating spots for gun emplacements, trenches and exit locations. And to bring that extra-special level of realism and embellishment to your creations you can put in barbed wire, scattered dead bodies, craters, tank traps and the odd tree or two.

To top things off you can even set the time of day, particle effects and background music. Just when you could do with a lovely tune for the evening festivities...

And once you've saved that tortuous masterpiece? Why, challenge the world to admire your genius and dare all to best it.

Forward, gents!

As you'll recall, if you were paying attention (and you better have, Corporal) you can also play as an attacker during the single-player campaign.

After crashing through the enemy lines in gallant fashion with your tanks and mechs you are given the unique opportunity to record your legendary deeds. You can then play against your own attack for silly, childish, practicing purposes, or do the manly thing and have said attacking forces be featured in a challenge game.

Online challenges are the game's multiplayer element.

Once you've set up a ludicrously prestigious Online Profile to rub elbows with other Officers, you can issue an open challenge to all, or a private one directed to just a particular person.

This will enable them to download your custom-made maps and battles, and, if you included your battle recordings with a map, they can thusly fight against your forces. A clever arrangement that stresses the exercise of intellect and precludes the bother of witnessing unfortunate post-defeat episodes involving ungentlemanly conduct and the use of coarse language from your inferiors.

File a report, I say! And anyone can too, by rating the challenges after playing through them.

Both editing maps and playing online challenges will earn you XP, which, accumulated, will make you suitably rise in Rank. Ranks will also aid you in choosing the right opponents not to lose face too shockingly, while you continue to bask in the limelight with all the formal and courteous salutes due your station.

All told, a very smart and well thought-out multiplayer component that is exactly as should be for this kind of game.

Capital, old boy!

By now you must have realised that this isn't quite your Granny's tower-defence game.

There were a few occasions when I had to more deliberately think about how to handle a situation, which isn't often the case in most other entries in this segment, and I've had to give some scenarios multiple tries to properly subdue the Hun, which, all told, speaks rather well of the AI.

Repeat plays are nothing to get upset about either, considering there are a veritable multitude of things to appreciate, like the rousing combat music, the detailed sounds of vehicles and weapons when zoomed in, wafting snow-flakes descending upon the ravaged landscape, the sweep of search-lights parting the gloom of night, the unsettling laser targeting beams, the rippling explosions or the choking black smoke billowing from an enemy on the verge of destruction.

Damage depiction, I should add, is not only pretty, but fairly accurate with regards to what caused it, and of particular relevance, as it is your sole means of assessing how badly damaged a foe actually is - with exacting health indicators left for your forces only.

It is this level of purposeful attention, irrespective of wow factor, that puts the cherry atop the cake of this tasty and tasteful strategy-rich offering. And, in a few weeks' time, when the game is released, I venture I won't be the only one completely oblivious to the repeat calls for joining the rest of the family at mealtime.

Gratuitous Tank Battles plays to the strengths of its genre, and goes beyond to deliver a well-rounded, absorbing experience, that remains very approachable to newcomers. Overall, I must say, a jolly good show!


Add Comment Comments

owen magnetic\
1 May 2012 - 6:14pm
owen magnetic

FullAuto, on 01 May 2012 - 12:11 PM, said:

It's looking even better than GSB, really.  It's the same sort of game idea, but much improved.  Wonder if there'll be a similar slew of DLC?

I agree. One thing that GSB needed was just a touch less chaos - GTB seems like it's a bit more controllable.
1 May 2012 - 12:11pm
It's looking even better than GSB, really.  It's the same sort of game idea, but much improved.  Wonder if there'll be a similar slew of DLC?
1 May 2012 - 6:21am
Love the look of this game - definitely not your average tower defense!


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Game Card

Gratuitous Tank Battles Box
Developer: Positech Games
Publisher: Positech Games
Status:In Production


Gratuitous Tank Battles Video