Now here's a game to make anyone around during the eighties feel young again. George, after a trip to the doctor, has been given bad news. He's also been given a large quantity of different pills, presumably to treat some unknown yet terminal illness, and to cheer him up he's also been given a VR helmet. I wish I had his doctor. On donning the helmet, George (under your control) is able to explore a strange virtual world. All goes well until he is "recruited" by the mysterious figures in this virtual world and forced to take part in a ritual combat exercise.
Somehow this virtual world seems less virtual now, especially when a resistance movement manages to recruit George and tell him a few truths about the mysterious Gorgon and his cronies. Thus follows a series of missions in which you fight for the resistance, taking out scores of enemy forces and earning upgrades for your tank, driving around arenas that look decidedly... neon? I suspect George's view of this world is merely the VR interpretation of it. Somehow, this virtual world seems to be linked to our own. What's going on?
Tank Universal is, at heart, a simple concept done many times before to differing degrees of success - pilot your tank about a battlefield, blasting enemy tanks and turrets and so on, supported by friendly tanks. Standard missions see you attempting to disable the enemy base by grabbing the key from their hub and bringing it back to your own - while the enemy attempt the same to you. Later missions include protecting transports, reaching objectives and more besides.
It's surprisingly varied for a game in which you seldom leave your tank, which you will on occasion, perhaps because this is more than a simple Capture the Flag game with tanks. The construction of the fortress about your hub and the defences that come with it is all automatic, as are your fellow tanks. Generally you can leave your base to defend itself and focus on mission objectives, such as marking "glyphs" for collection by your harvesters (glyphs mean more tanks). But then there are other missions, such as scouting ahead and storming the council tower, which feature no fortress at all. One mission even features you entirely sans tank and riding a sheep!
Though far better looking, the graphics immediately brought "Tron" to my mind. Buildings are featureless red blocks, neon lighting is everywhere and single, basic colours are the norm for floors, walls and so on. Yet don't be fooled by this description - a closer look reveals high quality textures. This is meant to look like a simple virtual world, which is far harder than simply creating one (think of anti-aliasing alone and you'll understand what I mean). Besides this, lighting effects and distant backdrops demonstrate the great effort that has gone into making it look like 1980s VR. And it plays smooth, even when battles get especially busy.
Sound too is excellent. Character speech is entirely text-based, which I thought a shame (some speech to accompany the text would help add even more to the immersion, which is already strong) but Tank Universal is accompanied by some excellent background music and plenty of explosive sound effects. A number of beeps and other indicators let you know when weapons are charged and so forth, though the death cry of enemy spotters sounded a little odd to me!
Playability is good, given the range of options available to you. It takes a moment to get used to moving your tank about but once you've adapted to the way the base and the turret are operated independently you can pull off some deft maneouvres while blasting the enemy to tiny bits. Aim up a bit and you can bombard the enemy from a great distance, which can be very useful - though you may need a few shots to get the range right. The left mouse button operates your main cannon (hold down the button for a charged, more powerful shot) and you can fit a range of upgrades to your tank including rockets, mines, drop turrets and the very useful booster. These require upgrade points to fit (earned by taking out key targets or achieving promotion) and power shards to use (found in the twisted wreckage of destroyed enemies).
As for the longevity, the pull to keep on playing... I spent three hours solid on this game last Saturday in full knowledge that I had other stuff to do. The urge to complete that level (games are not "saved" but your level progress recorded, along with the upgrades you have obtained) is very powerful, especially when you've battled to conquer half the enemy forces and want to finish them off to see how the story advances. And when the next level starts off in a new and strange place, with you wondering exactly how you got there, it's very hard to tear yourself away. There's no limit on the number of lives you have available, but respawning could cost your team a little ground and any power shards you've collected will be reset back to the starting number. Respawns also reduce your mission score.
There are perhaps a few areas of Tank Universal that could be improved. One of these is navigation - I would benefit at times from a map of the area (even one I uncover myself - there is actually a mission bonus for exploration) as I often got lost amongst the near identical buildings. Occasionally the mission goal is simply to "explore" - this can be easy enough when the route is clear but when you're in the middle of a vast plane you can spend ages wandering about, not knowing what you're looking for, which is especially wearying on foot. The lack of indication of obstacles on the radar also leads to difficulty - reaching an objective may well involve going around a wall or some such.
I've recently been plagued by review games so good I can't stop playing them. My productivity has plummeted. Even now I can hear Tank Universal calling me. There's an enemy base out there somewhere to be taken down. Where's my tank? I need more! More!
Keywords: tank universal review, dialogue design reviews, dialogue design games, tank universal scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.