There have probably been better moments to release a game based on tank battles. But we’ll give Ground War: Tank Battle the benefit of the doubt and assume the timing is innocent. On other counts, though, Ground War: Tank Battle is very, very guilty.
For reasons we can’t figure, March has been a prolific month for sub-£1 Xbox games. We’ve reviewed a fair few, and Ground War: Tank Battle is the latest to have 79p of our hard-earned cash. As with other games in the price range, this has no achievements: you’re going to have to play and make little ‘blip’ noises whenever you think you would have got an achievement.
We had a smidgeon of enthusiasm for playing Ground War: Tank Battle because it harks back to a lot of games we played way back on the Game Boy and NES. Battle City is the one we have most fondness for, and this feels very much like a spiritual successor: it’s tank vs tanks on a top-down grid, with all the clunky, slow movement that you would expect from a tank, leading to tactical play and anticipating where the enemy will turn.
Each level starts with you at the bottom of a single-screen map, with enemies pouring out of bases at the top of the screen. Presumably to stop you blitzkrieging through the levels, you can’t destroy these bases, even if you feel like you should be able to. They can destroy yours, however, which hardly seems fair: you have a single square, usually surrounded by bricks, that you must protect as if your life depends on it… because your life depends on it – if it gets hit by a single shell, or even gets accidentally clipped by your caterpillar tracks, then it’s game over man, and you’re back to the start of the level.
On the left-side of the screen are your lives, which change depending on the difficulty setting. There are four settings, and they mostly just push the number of tanks on both sides up or down. On the right side of the screen is a bemusing little number that took us a dozen-or-so levels to work out: it represents the number of tanks you have to destroy before tanks stop emerging from their bases. Once that number is zero, you still have to mop up the tanks that remain on the screen to actually complete the level. We couldn’t figure why the level wasn’t over once we got to zero.
Your basic shells are pretty powerful – on normal difficulty, two will dispatch the average tank. But you can tip the scales even further to your advantage by picking up power-ups in the environment. Shields, armour-piercing shells and time-slowing boosts all offer a fair amount of additional power, while ‘1up’s give you an extra tank for that level. Ground War: Tank Battle has the unfortunate habit of sprinkling these onto walls, some of them unreachable, and they disappear all-too-quickly, so they can often be a tank-tease.
Beat levels and you get scored, unlocking up to three medals and some cash. What you actually do with the cash or medals is a mystery to us: they both feel like they should contribute to something – better tanks perhaps – but they just accumulated in a corner of our interface, as unreachable as seized offshore funds.
Battle City, the game that Ground War: Tank Battle most reminds us of, released in 1990 for the incredibly limited Nintendo Game Boy. Thirty-two years have passed, along with multiple console generations, so you would expect Ground War: Tank Battle to surpass Battle City on every level. But Ground War: Tank Battle is completely outclassed by that dusty old museum piece. Even for a 79p game, it’s as fully-featured as a gall bladder stone, and just as painful.
The absolute dealbreaker is the levels. Even if Ground War: Tank Battle worked, which it doesn’t, you would still be locked in for the absolute torture of 120 virtually identical levels. The enemies don’t change, the blocks from which a level is constructed are the same, and the power-ups pull from the same library. What changes is the layout, but there’s only so much you can do with some blocks and some squared paper. Some levels have a lot of blocks. Others, not so many.
I’ve got a bubbling resentment towards Ground War: Tank Battle for how many of these levels it put me through. I kept persisting in the hope that something – anything – would change up, but it was folly. As dozens of levels ticked over, all as thuddingly generic as the last, I came to realise that I was doomed to play Ground War: Tank Battle forever.
If Ground War: Tank Battle was fun to play, there would have been the thinnest of silver linings. A silver seam. But alas, it was not to be. You can fire faster than other tanks and even shoot their shells to stop them hitting you, so you majorly outclass them. The optimal play, then, is to find a killing corridor and then wait, letting the lemming-like AI attract your enemies towards you. And then it’s spam-firing for the win, as your shells override anything your opponent can do. A co-op mode allows you to share the corridor fun.
Most of our deaths came from the weird application of the grid system. You can stop between squares on the map, which means that you’re suddenly vulnerable to two columns of enemies, rather than one. Get accidentally positioned in this way, and you also can’t shoot down the opponents’ shells. You’re triply vulnerable. It’s a weird game where death comes from the space between squares, and keeping to the grid means you are all-powerful. Which isn’t much of a strategy.
You could viably use Ground War: Tank Battle as a form of torture. Whisper “120 levels of tank-battling action” in our ear and we’ll spasm to the floor, the trauma of multiple hours with it still fresh in our memory. If the idea of firing repeatedly down a corridor, volley after volley, across near-identical maps is your idea of fun, then get that 79p ready.
You can buy Ground War: Tank Battle from the Xbox Store