Coming from Phung Games is the follow up to Tank Brawl, the imaginatively named Tank Brawl 2: Armor Fury. Promising some four player fun, either online or via a split screen, is this the shot in the arm that tank-based games need, or should it stay rusting in the scrap heap?
There are two main ways to play Tank Brawl 2, either through the campaign, alone or with friends, or by playing Survival mode. Survival Mode does exactly what it says on the tin, dropping you and the tank of your choice into an arena and inviting you to kill things as fast as possible in order to amass a score. And what do points make? Well, in this case, an entry onto the global leaderboard. This is a fun little diversion, although I have to say it is fairly limited: there’s only so many times you can shoot the same tank/person/truck before it all starts to get a little dull, to be brutally honest. But surely the campaign has to be better, right? After all, on Phung Games’ own website the campaign is described as a “balanced mix of platforming, shooting and Metroidvania adventure”. Lofty ambitions indeed.
There are a variety of different things to get up to in Tank Brawl 2, all depending on where you are in the campaign. You start off as a foot soldier, complete with a sword, and your goal is to wander around and find all the component parts of a tank. Literally all the parts – so you have to find a track part, haul it back to base, then go off and find the other bits, before eventually you have a fully operational tank. Weirdly, the sprite for the bloke that you control is taller than the tank when it’s built, and unless the interior of said tank is like the TARDIS, it takes some suspension of disbelief in order for the driver to fit inside. Nevertheless, fit he does, and it’s off into the battle.
Now, one thing that every game involving tanks has had since the year dot is a clear view of the battlefield; where you’re going and what you are aiming at. Tank Brawl 2 has got you covered, with a choice of three viewpoints. There is top-down, which given that your tank seems to be placed further than halfway up the screen means you can’t see what’s coming, a custom view, where you can position the camera where you want, and a low view that shows you the outside of your tank and all the surroundings. Of the three choices, this is the best, with some caveats. Firstly, the enemies pop in so suddenly that you are surprised every single time. Driving around in an empty field, and ‘OH MY GOD WHERE DID ALL THOSE SUICIDE SOLDIERS COME FROM?!?’ is an every day occurrence. Seriously, not since Tomb Raider on the PS1 has pop-in been such an issue.
The other issue is the sheer repetition of it all as once you have seen where the soldiers pop-in, they repeat this every time, and so you can have a shot lined up. This does rob the game of any kind of spontaneity, turning it into an armed version of Simon Says. The other thing that is annoying is found in some of the design choices of the levels. There is one bit, after the first boss, where you drive down to a railway line, head out onto the track and get splatted by a train. Driving to either the left or right results in dying because apparently bridges are known tank killers. Eventually I figured out you have to drive your tank onto the gaps on the trains to make it to the far side, so take that as a top tip.
Another example of a stupid design choice is in a thunder storm, with classical music blasting out (Ride of the Valkyries was a nice touch as a squad of tanks charged over a field), but with the screen completely black except for a lightning flash every six seconds or so. And in this you have to survive a field full of suicide soldiers, and then kill 17 tanks. All in the dark. If only tanks had headlights, eh?
Graphically the game looks fairly okay, if we ignore the pop-in. The soldier sprites (both ours and the enemies’) are generally larger than the armoured vehicles, but they look and move in an alright manner. If that sounds like faint praise, that’s largely because it is. You can find and rescue other drivers to make your tank better as you go, and if your tank gets blown up, you do have a chance to survive on foot; the sight of Newton taking tanks out with a sword is as ridiculous as it sounds. The music is great though – lots of classical music to help you along (as a listener to Timeless FM in Forza Horizon 4 I appreciated it) and the sounds of warfare are all present and correct.
Thankfully, playing multiplayer seems to work quite nicely. The online world is a little dead, but having sat on the sofa with my 10-year old co-reviewer, Tank Brawl 2 doesn’t perform any worse than when playing alone. At least, the enemies still pop-in close enough to stand on your toes. It can get a bit confusing, mind, as the tanks for each player don’t look wildly different, and more than once I found myself watching the wrong screen. I – and you – could probably put that down to old age and being confused by these new-fangled games consoles. I remember when this was all fields, you know.
The gameplay itself is also pretty good, and while it’s not the most challenging game in the world, the camera and the way that Tank Brawl 2 seems to freak out when you are fighting in small spaces (like all of the boss arenas) does conspire to add an element of challenge. Beating said bosses awards you with new vehicles to play about in, such as a self-propelled gun, via a rocket launcher all the way up to a giant mech, and these can again add a bit of variety to proceedings. As you make your way through the levels, you can find cogs that allow you to upgrade either the individual tanks, which allows you to add new weapons, such as a flamethrower or a giant hammer, or the individual drivers that you find, adding extra health or similar. This is a nice little nod to an RPG-style skill tree, but the new things you unlock don’t seem to require you to backtrack to do anything, so the whole Metroidvania thing seems a bit off. In fact, the one time I did accidentally go backwards, after finally beating a boss, it put me straight back into that same boss fight again, so it seems backtracking is punished.
All in all, this is a tough one to call. Tank Brawl 2: Armor Fury on Xbox doesn’t look the best, the pop-in is ridiculous, and the way that foot soldiers are bigger than your tank ruins any immersion. On the flip side, there is something endearing about the game; something that will keep drawing you back to have another go – if only so you can find out if it’s possible to destroy tanks using the Force. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to be wowed by Tank Brawl 2, but it isn’t truly dreadful either.