August 17, 2007

Battle Tanks is a blast

Author: Dmitri Popov

Finding an addictive computer game on a Friday evening can be dangerous. Instead of doing things you have been promising your wife, you spend the weekend in front of your computer playing the game and trying to explain that "this is for work." This is exactly what happened to me when I discovered Battle Tanks.

Battle Tanks is an arcade-style game, where you drive a tank, pick up weapons, and blast enemies. While this doesn't sound like a particularly original concept, it's the implementation that makes the game so much fun to play. First of all, there is virtually no learning curve: use the arrow keys to move your tank, shoot by pressing Ctrl, and use so-called alternative weapons with the Alt key. That's all you need to know to get started -- which is good news since Battle Tanks lacks a manual. The game also features cartoonish graphics with professionally drawn maps and funny-looking tanks, buses, cars, and even goats.

While the ease of use and colorful graphics make Battle Tanks an appealing proposition, it's the available weapons that add a whole new dimension to the game. The choice of weapons ranges from conventional shells and missiles to wacky dirt guns and 15-kiloton nukes. In fact, before you start the game, it's worth checking the weapons list, which can give you a better idea of what each type of weapon does and how to use it to maximum effect. Reading the weapons description can also provide a bit of fun on its own. Here, for example, you can learn that the Home Missile "detects delta waves emitted by human brains, and thus can be used against troops and manned vehicles. Unfortunately, this method of detection ignores androids and intellectually challenged individuals."

Battle Tanks' official Web site provides only the source code and a Windows installer, but you can get a packaged version of the game for your Linux distro elsewhere. The GetDeb Web site offers a Battle Tank package for (K)Ubuntu, while openSUSE and SUSE Linux users can fetch a packaged version of the game from the PackMan repository. A note for (K)Ubuntu users: the .deb package available from GetDeb lacks the libopenal0a library, which you must install manually using Adept or Synaptic or apt-get.


When you launch the game, you are presented with a start window divided into three section. The first section contains a list of available scenarios. The choice here is limited, but expect to see more as the game gets traction. When you select a scenario, its respective map appears in the next section accompanied by a short description. Click on the map and you'll see a larger version of it. Pay particular attention to the marks on the map, as they provide important clues to your mission. In the Players section, you can choose up to four other players and their weapons. The game includes an AI engine, so you can play the game on your own, or you can play against another user on the same machine by enabling the Splitscreen option. Battle Tanks also supports network play; in fact, the game automatically starts in the network mode and acts as a server. If you want to join a game on another machine, click on Join the Game in the main window, press the Add button, enter the IP address of a Battle Tanks server, and press OK. You can then join the server by pressing the Join button.

All scenarios in Battle Tanks are played in Deathmatch mode, where your objective is to find and destroy the enemy tanks before they get to you. This is not as simple as it sounds. Hitting the enemy can be tricky, especially in the beginning, so prepare to lose a few battles before you get to grips with the game.

When you are hit, two things may happen. If you manage to escape from your tank, you can run on foot to another vehicle on the map, jump in it, and continue to fight. Actually, you can switch to another tank or public transport even if you aren't hit. To do this, simply press F1 to "disembark" your current tank and find another vehicle. If you aren't lucky or fast enough, and you go down with your tank, don't despair. The tank will be immediately spawned, and you can continue the game.

Besides chasing the enemy tanks, you should also spend time picking different weapons. By default, the tank shoots ordinary shells, which are not particularly effective, and your chances of getting the enemy increase significantly if you have some fancy missiles. To pick up weapons, look for the UFOs that are scattered on the map. Drive your tank over a UFO to pick up its weapon. When driving around, watch for mines and shooting objects that can harm you.

Battle Tanks lacks a proper manual, and there are a few quirks that need to be ironed out. Sometimes it takes several attempts to pick up weapons and, in some situations, it's impossible to board a new tank. But the sheer fun and excellent graphics make Battle Tanks a game to try on a rainy weekend.


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