1916. The world is at war. For several months, a stalemate on the Western Front between Allied and German forces has persisted. In an effort to gain an advantage, British researchers began development on heavily armed “landships”. With time, they came to be known as tanks, and they succeeded in giving Britain the upper hand in later battles. These first tanks, despite the edge they gave to Britain, were often mechanically unreliable. Engine failures, breakdowns and other issues were common. In addition, the tanks averaged anywhere from one to four miles per hour when in a field of battle. The game Retro Tanks seeks to emulate the feeling of these primitive vehicles by delivering slow and broken gameplay.
Now, EpiXR Games are not truly trying to create a game about tanks from World War I, but you could have fooled me. This top-down action game sees you take control of a tank, and pits you against other tanks. Yes, it is a concept that is as original to video games as the idea of peanut butter and jelly.
When you start the game, you have the choice to play through either a stage mode or a wave-based mode. The stage mode is a disaster. There are ten stages, and the goal for each is to navigate through a maze of pathways toward an exit. Along the way, you will see enemy tanks that will attempt to stop you. You can shoot these tanks to make your journey slightly easier or you can complete the stage without shooting at all.
There are two reasons this is possible: the first is that navigating around enemies and their projectiles is pathetically easy. I completed all ten stages that the game had to offer in less than an hour. The fact that you have to start over from the beginning if you get hit just once was hardly a setback because of how utterly simple it is to find the end of each stage’s maze; something which has been stolen from the back of a cereal box. The second reason you can complete each stage without firing at your enemies is because you will not be able to shoot.
There are two different settings you can choose from for aiming. You choose which one you would like to use each time you start the game, and each time after you complete a stage. Yes, for some reason, you are ejected to the title screen every time a stage is finished. Apparently the game is just as hopeful that you will stop playing it as you are. But I digress.
No matter which aiming setting you choose, you will undoubtedly struggle to keep your eye on where you are aiming. This is due to your reticle being almost the exact same size and color as the projectiles that you and your enemies shoot. This is doubly maddening if you allow your reticle to drift out of view and off the screen. If that happens, you lose the ability to aim for the remainder of the stage. You can hope and pray that your tank will decide to aim towards your foes, or you can slowly work your way to the exit without defeating anything. In a game where you play as a tank, not being able to or not having to shoot anything is an enormous oversight.
So if aiming and shooting is a mess, is it at least fun to move the tank around? Hahaha. No. Like the tanks of yore, your tank moves along at a sluggish pace. As I played through stage mode, the game’s description that I read in the Xbox Store seemed to repeat in my mind. “It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s addicting”. The gameplay of Retro Tanks is as fast as Brexit, and as addictive as shoving an ice pick under your toenails. If your reticle does not abandon you, destroying an enemy is exceptionally bland. However, the other game mode shakes things up in other terrible ways.
In the wave survival mode, you can choose from six different modifiers to help or hinder your efforts to trudge through 50 waves of opposing tanks. These include making the enemy tanks invisible, slightly shifting the camera angle (ambitious, right?), or what the game calls “hard mode”. The official description for hard mode is thus: “Your enemies get stronger while your tank sucks hard”. I think there is a slight bug where the entire game is on hard mode, because my tank sucks hard all the time.
Of course, if you tire of playing the two main game modes alone, you can recruit a friend to join you in some local play. You can fight each other or you can join forces in either game mode. They say that a problem shared is a problem halved, but in the case of Retro Tanks a problem shared is a problem you and your friend both have. The monotonous gameplay is improved when playing with a friend, but the reason for that would be that you probably get along with whoever it is that you harassed into playing the game with you. Or you used to, at least. I do not think any friendship would last long after you force someone to play Retro Tanks.
I have had so many problems with the gameplay that I have almost neglected to mention the muddy visuals. Even if my reticle did not blend in with the mess of projectiles, I would have trouble finding it in the oversaturated kaleidoscope of ugly on my screen. If you have ever microwaved leftovers and questioned their edibility because they looked like an unappealing smear, then you know exactly what Retro Tanks looks like.
Unfortunately, I cannot produce a single reason why anyone should pick up Retro Tanks on Xbox One. Its uninteresting gameplay, irritating bugs and headache-inducing visuals make it an absolute mess. Perhaps you and some friends can laugh at each other while playing the game in the background, but it is much more likely that you would all quickly grow bored. Not even the game’s title makes sense: the only thing that feels retro is the sense that you are playing something outdated, like Pong without the enjoyment.