Gratuitous Tank Battles is an interesting game, because it takes common tower defense principles and experiments with them in some notably unique ways. You will end up attacking as much you defend, and the unit customization element gives the game a certain open-endedness, especially coupled with the fact that any unit you create also then becomes available to the highly adaptive AI.
When you play a map as a defender it feels very much like a traditional tower defense game. You will place turrets and allocate your defensive forces in order to slow the incoming tide of enemy units. When you attack a map, the game plays a lot like Anomaly: Warzone Earth. You will allocate which units go in first and coordinate them in a way that best maximises their strengths and hides their weaknesses.
Until this point, the game doesn’t do very much new. However, like Positech’s previous release, Gratuitous Space Battles, Gratuitous Tank Battles’ defining feature is its unit customization. You will be able to pick and combine different vehicle parts and come up with your very own creations. This means choosing your own hull, sticking a particular engine inside it, and outfitting it with various weapons and armour. Different weapons, for example, have different tactical advantages. The flamethrower is very good at making short work of light infantry, while long range rocket turrets will allow you to destroy certain enemies before they even get close. However, unit customization is not really anything new. What sets Gratuitous Tank Battles apart, is that whenever you create a unit, the enemy will then also have access to the same unit. This means that whatever you create, you will also have to be able to deal with. This often means coming up with a unit that specifically counters a unit you previously designed, and so on until you realize that you are stuck in an arms race, WITH YOURSELF.
In some ways, this unit mirroring system is a bit frustrating, and can definitely take the excitement out of coming up with killer creations. Why would you create an unstoppable monster if you were only going to have to face it in the near future, right? However, the system does perpetuate the idea of the game being an “arms-race”, and that fits quite nicely into the World War I theme. Also, you end up playing mind games with yourself – after all, it makes sense to deliberately build a weakness into a unit that you are creating, so that you will know how to take care of it when you have to.
The gameplay is extremely enjoyable, and will appeal to strategy fans, specifically those with a penchant for tower defense games. I would have liked to have had a longer campaign, and there are not nearly enough official maps available. However, there is no shortage of user created maps, which gives the game some much needed longevity. You can create your own maps and upload their forces online, giving other players a chance to defend against your arsenal, which is pretty sweet.
Technically, the game is nothing special. The graphics are basic and don’t expect anything special in the sound or story department. Gratuitous Tank Battles is focused purely on tactical gameplay. In the first few weeks of its release the game was a little buggy, and would crash quite regularly with no explanation. A few patches have been released since then which seem to have sorted out this issue.
Finally, Gratuitous Tank Battles is by no means cheap for an indie game of this nature. At $19.99 it’s definitely coming in on the high side of things, given its indie heritage. If you like the sound of it, then you might be better off waiting for it to inevitably get its turn on a Steam sale.
[You can buy Gratuitous Tank Battles on Steam here.]