14 May 2011

When worlds (and tanks) collide: World of Tanks

The most recent issue of PC Gamer pointed me in the direction of a free online tank simulator entitled World of Tanks. Something about their review turned me onto the idea of measured tactical combat across vast battlefields, a massively multiplayer online shooter that rewarded strategic planning over twitch accuracy. I downloaded the client last weekend and I haven't played any other game since.

So, how do you hide a tank in open field? What is the best way to judge trajectory of your shells over considerable range? And when do I actually get to knock a tank out of action? All of these questions and more will remain unanswered as you dive into World of Tanks and try your hand at piloting some metal murder-machines.

Be warned: the game can initially appear overwhelming. It's as loose an RPG as it is a military simulator, but the tech trees and the amount of vehicles available to you across three different nations (American, German and, ahem, USSR-an) can cause you to spend a good deal of time fumbling over stats in order to put together the best setup allowable for your pet pain-maker. The game currency and research system also has the potential to baffle until you’ve bought your first set of upgrades.

For the most part play is free, but to increase your XP revenue or form a clan you'll need to cough up the bucks. Those who refuse to, however, will not be disappointed. The fantastic matchmaking service ensures that battles are fought on a level playing field and any player who has cheekily modified their tank through paid perks is no more likely to survive a sustained assault from an organised platoon than any of any freeloaders on a particular server.

Once you enter battle for the first time it’s hard not to be drawn into the drama. The game is played out for the most part from a third-person perspective, but also allows you to zoom your view in sniper-style in order to scout out any suspicious tree lines or to crack out some accurate shots over longer distances. The controls are incredibly intuitive and, if you become unsure, it's not as if you don't have enough time in most cases to ponder over which key makes which thing work. It’s a simulator in the broadest sense and the developer, Wargaming.net, have put most of the resources into recreating the feel of isolated and terrifying tank firefights rather than the detailed mechanics of actually piloting the bloody things. ‘W’ moves you forward, ‘S’ moves you backwards and left-clicking fires - you won’t need to know a great deal more than that in order to enjoy your first few skirmishes.

Certain realistic elements of this type of combat are preserved in the name of fun. Limitations are placed on speed and accuracy to keep the player cautious and reward a restrained approach to combat. You won’t be racing across fields to dominate your opponent in this game - you’ll be creeping through gullies and poking your turret out from behind buildings to secure deadly shots. This style of play means that any kills you do make give you that sensation of achievement that the Silent Hunter series gets so right. It’s so much a game of stalking your quarry and predicting their movements - just be prepared to play whole matches without even locking sights on an enemy vehicle before your whole world goes up in flames.

It’s a refreshing game that’s light enough to become instantly involving, but deep enough to reward repeat plays. I’d describe it as your Grandad’s Call of Duty. You know the sort of thing:

'Well, Jimmy, In my day we would 'ave to wait four whole seconds to reload a single shot.'

'Gosh, Grandad, four seconds? That seems like forever! Do tell me more.'

'Oh, well, we never used to have any of those respawn thingies that you kids like so much. No, my boy, back then when you were dead you were really dead. You have it so easy these days in those awfully violent first-person whatyamacallems with your airdrops and your backstabs. It doesn’t even bear thinking about!'

'Oh, Grandad, I do so love your tales of war. It’s such a shame that your memories are soon to be lost to the earth when your ashes are scattered upon it. Now, eat lead as I circle-strafe you like a crunked up ninja! KERPLOW!'