Tank Battle: North Africa26 Mar 2013 0
Certain names and places stand out when talking about World War II: The Desert Fox. The Second Battle of El Alamein. Operation Torch. Conjured are images of dust plumes trailing behind the steady advance of heavy armour. Some of the most celebrated generals of both sides of World War II echo through the blasted wastes of the Libyan and Egyptian deserts: Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery. Hunted Cow's Tank Battle: North Africa attempts to deliver a piece of this epic action to iOS users.
Set up as a tactical and turn-based touch-mobile strategy game where the player commands American or British forces in different scenarios spread out over three levels with several sub-stages within, Tank Battle: North Africa is a fast paced and exciting foray into the strategy genre available for the iPad and iPhone. Using a hexagon-based map system and over two dozen unit types; the player is tasked with accomplishing such tried and true goals such as surviving for a set amount of turns, seeking and destroying an enemy army, or capturing important points on the map. All of this is accomplished on the tan and beige backdrop of the deserts of North Africa.
While the missions themselves can be straight forward in their objectives, the maps offer a plethora of different obstacles and cover. Palm trees, supply depots, barbed wire, minefields, and buildings are just some of the different features of each map. The units themselves are richly-decorated and fully animated. The turrets of your tanks even turn in recognition of incoming fire: a beautiful touch which adds to the level of immersion. Your units feel organic and the fine detail on each moving part is a testament to the enjoyability of this game. Much of the classic hardware of the Second World War is present at the fingertips of the player from M3 light tanks to German Panzer IVs and British Crusader IIs. Understanding the units and which are effective against which adds another layer to the tactical considerations necessary for this game.
Positioning matters as well and not just in entering buildings or pushing into brush cover. Flanking, especially with tanks, is a real and effective strategic consideration in this visceral battlefield game. Effective damage at flanking maneuvers gives this game an added measure of strategic planning that supplements the considerations behind each of the different unit types. The addition of differing effectiveness of certain units based on experience where veteran units fare better than fresh troops also allows the commander to make the most efficient use of his forces. Learning when to spearhead an assault with your best troops in order to quickly wear down an enemy position while your greener troops take up long range flanking positions to support your main spearhead is a real and fun maneuver to be exercised in some of these missions.
I found the missions themselves personally to be more exciting than some of the others I've played on the iPad in the past. There's nothing like surrounding an enemy Panzer and gunning it down in a relentless forward push. I enjoyed using my troop transports to bypass the main enemy line and set up enfilading fire inside one of the buildings near the enemy encampment. There were plenty of tricks that made it less than simply ?move all of your units and destroy the enemy.? While I did play it in the iPad, I could also see how the simple interface would make this a very viable game on the iPhone as well. I had to keep myself well aware of what kind of units I had and their different attributes such as which were effective at closer range or what could both move and fire on the same turn. Mastering all of these made me a deadly force on the battlefield and just like any good general who values the lives of his men, I became better at not just completing the missions, but completing them with as many of my men alive as possible.
This does not bar this game from the more casual gamer, however. The short yet fun missions and the very straight-forward touch commands make it easy to pick up. Simply click on a unit and click where you want it to move. Units highlighted in blue show the player that that unit can still move. Enemies in red show the player viable targets from the selected unit. The tutorial was very easy to understand but it also wisely did not give away all of the secrets of the game which allows the player to replay missions with better skills if they so desire. Unlike the effectiveness of each unit affected by its experience in combat, a new player and a veteran player can both be as deadly on the desert sands. The bite-sized missions broken up into different engagements and different objectives keep the game fresh. I believe this approach to be perfect for a mobile game. Short missions mean that if you're on a lunch break or on a subway ride, you can easily encircle a Nazi-held position just in time to make your next class.
Despite being a mobile game, the graphics are quite realistic in all of their high definition glory. There are no flashy icons to move around; instead, each unit is richly-rendered and the effects are beautifully demonstrated. Everything from tread marks on the ground as you move a unit around to the rotation of tank turrets and the roll of the tanks as they fire or take damage all add to the rich environment that puts the player right in the action. Some might say that this game might have benefited from being played in real-time as opposed to a turn-based system, but the game is fast paced enough that putting it in real-time would have been a detriment to the ability of a player to command the plethora of units. Instead, a very simple turn-based system immediately brings the player into the action and doesn't lose any suspense.
In fact, it's hard not to compare this to the other game I had reviewed for the iPad: Battle of the Bulge. While I consider both to be excellent games and both deal with World War II battles, they represent two dynamically different approaches. Battle of the Bulge is the strategic man's game. It is slow and deliberate with an amazing attention to supply lines, details, logistics, and history. In contrast, Tank Battle: North Africa encapsulates the fast-paced and gritty tactical mobile fighting of the tank battles of the desert. While Battle of the Bulge is rich in historical graphics and background files, Tank Battle: North Africa heads straight into multiple unit action with guns blazing in different trajectories over the battlefield. There's barbed wire and mines to be overcome and every once in a while the whirring sound of air strikes enters into the fray.
The gameplay approach of Tank Battle: North Africa does mean that it sacrifices a great opportunity to provide a khaki-coloured historical experience, but it amply makes up for it in the kind of tactical combat one would hope for on a hex based map system. Despite this, it doesn't mean that there aren't historical elements to be appreciated in the game. The very fact that the units are beautifully-rendered and detailed is a tribute to the men and machines of the Second World War. Nonetheless, there are a few other atmospheric disadvantages that Tank Battle: North Africa suffers from. The music for one starts out as something you'd hear out of Rome: Total War but then mixes in such classics as ?Rule Britannia? and other patriotic songs. Unfortunately, this has the effect of muddling the impression of the game as it shifts from gritty tank action to what feels like a parody of these national hymns. The text graphics are also obviously modern instead of the typeface that one would usually see on more atmospherically immersive games like Battle of the Bulge or Hearts of Iron 3. The impact font text is something more out of a ?Modern Warfare? game set in the Middle East.
Music and historical backbone aside, the game?s overwhelming advantage is in the fact that its missions are addictive and fun for a mobile game. The graphics do not disappoint and the difficulty of each level is appropriate. There were some levels where I thought the AI was as dumb as a doornail, but AI technology is admittedly limited across the board. It would have been nice if they had developed a more competent AI that understood the mission objectives the player had and actively worked to stop them, but at least the difficulty was enough to make me replay two or three missions.
The map itself, although set using a hex grid, did not seem hexagonal in its textures. The brush looked natural instead of resting on tiles and even the coastlines on lakes had a natural feel to them. This isn't setting up Settlers of Catan, this is realistic looking top down desert warfare. The only complaints I had with the hex nature was that sometimes it was unclear when a flanking attack would succeed and that the edges of the map terminated with the hexagonal edge into a kind of black abyss. I would have much preferred if the map simply continued on seamlessly but the hexagons ceased at a certain area to indicate that one could not travel farther than the grid. That would have been more pleasing aesthetically.
Another point which I would have thought would have been a nice touch would have been playing the German side of the conflict as well. Understandably, this has the taboo of ?rooting for the Nazis,? but I think with the success and popularity of games that allow players to play the German side of the conflicts, I would speculate that the average wargamer is more interested in the impressive steel of the German panzer and the charisma of Rommel than necessarily supporting some political ideology. After all, we all enjoy playing Mongol Hordes in Age of Empires or the oppressive Romans in Rome: Total War. Let's not even get into my personal guilty pleasure of playing Sauron in the Battle for Middle Earth games. It's not that we wargamers support Dark Lords, we just happen to enjoy being Darth Vader or the Desert Fox every once in a while.
I should also mention the pricing. At two dollars, I would consider this game to be an absolute steal. While some games with fewer missions and fewer hours of gameplay sell for as much as five or ten dollars, Tank Battle: North Africa is one of the most efficient and effective investments of money I have seen on the strategic iTunes market. Pound for pound, this is what a strategy gamer is looking for in a mobile game. Amazing HD graphics, fun tactical maneuvering, utilization of terrain dynamics, and hours of missions available make me wonder why this game isn't selling at five dollars a copy.
Perhaps one reason why it doesn't cost extra is the absence of an online multiplayer mode; which is a real pity. I think the developers could have charged a little extra for that option to be available. Nonetheless, they still equip the game with a face-to-face multiplayer option for two players where one makes his or her moves and hands off the iPad to the next player. I find that there are certain limitations to this approach as it interrupts the tactical flow from one turn to the next, but implementing it was certainly not a mistake on the part of the developers who had already given me my money's worth with the single player alone.
With console sales down a third in 2012 and mobile sales up, it's easy to see why more and more developers are making headway into the mobile market. With HD graphics and effective use of touch-based mechanics, Tank Battle: North Africa is certainly a step in the right direction for high definition strategy games for the mobile market. It might still be years until we reach the point of being able to play iconic strategy games like the Total War series or the Europa Universalis series on mobile devices, I predict that Tank Battle: North Africa is a sign of the upcoming future of games. Until then, however, I highly recommend this cheap yet rich and enjoyable game to any fan of tactical tank combat.
About James Tanaleon
James Tanaleon grew up in the sunny suburban sprawl of Orange County, California and has had a long history of console and computer gaming thanks to his avid gaming father and his tech savvy friends. While receiving his education from both the University of California in Irvine and Franciscan University in Ohio?graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Western and World Literature?he never lost his enjoyment for games. During this time he also cultivated his knowledge in music, history, religion, and international studies. He currently works in Orange County as lead writer for the startup game company Diecast Studios LLC and produces freelance writing on the side. James once served as editor-in-chief of Paradox Interactive Forum's monthly magazine The AARlander, and has written over a thousand pages of after action reports in his preferred genres of grand strategy and RPG.
Forum username: Aristocrat