In the wake of Gratuitous Space Battles, an epic title that highlights players’ creative abilities to relish in design and strategy as opposed to outright micromanagement comes the highly anticipated spiritual successor Gratuitous Tank Battles. Gone is the cold, dark void of space instead giving way to gritty battlefields wrought by endless World War I warfare that has traversed into a future full of hulking tanks, artillery and mechs. Where Space Battles faced players with simply letting their creations loose on the enemy following the formulation of a rudimentary strategy, Tank Battles expands on this in a way that appreciably layers on top of what veteran GSB players will have come to know and love.
Not completely redone from the top down, GTB has come into life as a tower attack/defense title that encapsulates on the subject matter well while taking cues from its predecessor. Whether choosing to traverse the trenches as the attacker or attempting to break the enemy rush into the breach as a defender, players will find themselves wrestling with which way to play first as both have proven equally entertaining thus far.
Selecting the Campaign will lead players to an overlaid battle map allowing a choice of missions to be played that become progressively unlocked as missions are accomplished. Prior to each of the eight engagements, there is a choice to select difficulty of Captain, Major and Colonel (Easy, Medium and Hard, respectively), but what’s even more interesting is the choice of being able to choose whether or not to play offense or defense. Certainly enough, it’s possible to play the tower defense attacker in hits like Anomaly Warzone Earth and defend in Defense Grid: The Awakening, but Gratuitous Tank Battles not only ties both of those gameplay options together with relative ease, it does it innately well.
Regardless of which option you choose, assaulting or guarding, players will be able to allow whether the computer is able to use a pre-determined set of units, select from a pool of allotted units available for that particular mission or use any unit in the game, even those designed by the player, against them. While it may not seem like a big deal at first, knowing that the AI is capable of adaptive play is interesting as it constantly challenges the player to acclimate to a battle as well. Despite the fact that weapons fall into three relative categories, those faring well against shield, armor or infantry, it still opens up a slew of gameplay opportunities.
Having a distinct love for tower defense games, I opted to give defense a go first. After playing through the comprehensive tutorial, which may seem a bit longwinded to new recruits but is nonetheless exceptionally rewarding down the line, I was given my first command on the front lines and things escalated quickly.
Prior to the start of a battle, I was tasked with placing a variety of turrets, dependent on my available supplies, along designated points in the terrain along with infantry in the appropriate trenches and bunkers to defend the pathways leading towards the other end of the map. Despite not knowing what’s beyond the end of said path, I can only assume it was incredibly important as I was destroying every last target that entered the respective kill zones. On the other hand, had the enemy managed to shuffle 4,000 victory points worth of vehicles through my lines, I would have lost.
Simple enough, but the tanks, troops and mechs don’t just lazily move along their paths. These enemies have their own sets of teeth and aren’t bashful about using them. It seemed like each time I was able to secure a particular section of the map with enough armaments to destroy whatever shielded or armored vehicles sent my way in addition to the troops that accompanied them, the game would adapt just as fast – the digital equivalent of fighting a Hydra. Locking down an area with one particular type of weapon doesn’t work either and the game is quick to point this out.
Too much anti-shield cannons in one location will net a slew of anti-armor vehicles and infantry. Likewise, a stockpile of machine guns and troops to stay an army of foot soldiers will undoubtedly see the treads of tanks and footfalls of mechs on the horizon. The game is clever and no matter what difficulty is played, GTB does a lot to keep a player on their toes. Thankfully, the difficulty curve is enticingly forgiving early on, never throwing more at the player than they can handle – yet this increases comparably with the setting that’s chosen.
As the battle progresses, supplies will continue to replenish at a constant rate, allowing for the purchase of troops and armor, for both attacker and defender until a timer reaches zero. After that, players have to do with what they have. Often times, at least in my case, this has been a do or die scenario where a single cannon has the potential to halt that one final vehicle, rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat. Yet, this is an intuitive design choice that feels apropos overall and one I’ve really enjoyed thus far.
Flipping things around, I decided to attempt the same mission as the attacker. Dropping vehicles from the left side of the screen, my troopers, mechs and tanks made their way through the pc-controller gauntlet. As my recon mechs made first contact, I was able to get a lay of the land and saw that a lower path on the map wasn’t as well defended as the upper one I had initially chosen. Thinking I could fake out the AI, I placed a gratuitous amount of my forces on the upper path for a few moments. Then, waiting as a small stockpile of supplies built, which cost me a small chunk of my allotted time, I placed a massive force on the lower path.
Having garnered a handful of valuable supply trucks, each worth 1,000 victory points but lightly armored and devoid of weapons, I placed them sandwiched between a combined arms group of tanks, mechs and soldiers as they began their long, hazardous walk to the other side of the map. Zooming in from the sky view, the gunfire, shells and explosions became louder as I watched the damage wreaking havoc on both sides.
For a moment, I felt a tingling up my spine when a recon mech leading the column burst in a shower of fire and debris following a head-on hit from a cannon shell. I could only watch as the rest of the vehicles made their way towards the other side while placing forces equally along both paths to keep the computer off balance. Wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans, I couldn’t suppress a grin one of my trucks crossed the finish, despite being pockmarked and burning with heavy damage. Despite still being in beta, this is the kind of gameplay I can only look forward to with enthusiasm for the final product.
Outside of battle, players are able to customize any of the vehicles, turrets or troops they deploy on the battlefield similarly to Gratuitous Space Battles. Complete with unlocked equipment and attributes that will keep those looking to unlock everything enticed, no expense seems to have been spared when it came to the details of adaptation. Armor, shell type, reloading mechanism and just about everything else right down to the color and shape it will be on the battlefield is open to be changed. It really is a creative playground that gives those who want to experiment with their design in collusion with various strategies a chance to do just that and do it very well.
In one instance, I was under the impression that my 88mm Cannon, the most armed and armored turret in the game thus far, wasn’t quite up to snuff. Taking a few minutes, I modified the internal components, altering the attributes. Upping the armor significantly and swapping out the semi-automatic reloading mechanism to make the Cannon fully automatic saw a rise in cost, but I couldn’t argue with the results. Despite looking the same on the outside, it was an entirely new machine on the inside, firing at a faster rate and dishing out far more damage while being able to take some pretty harsh punishment before faltering.
Yet, for all the good things I have to say about GTB, there is at least one firm reminder that this is still a beta. At least on a Windows 7 machine, I’ve seen the game crash at multiple times for a variety of reasons that I’m yet to pin down so I can prevent those from occurring and being forced to reboot my machine. That being said though, despite having to reboot, I’ve consistently caught myself logging back into my machine and immediately restarting the game for no other reason than I want to play it some more. Of course, the technical issue may very well be unique to my machine, but bears mentioning. As always, your mileage may vary.
Overall though, Gratuitous Tank Battles is shaping up to be everything I’ve honestly hoped it would be as a spiritual successor to GSB. And for a relatively low barrier of admission, ordering the game nets access to the beta, which in turn will update as fixes and improvements are rolled out. The game looks and feels great thus far, allowing for a laudable amount of options and gameplay opportunities that serve to make it a solid contender for your time.