Did you ever think "you'll die trying" could be loads of fun? That's the case with Tanarus. Sony Interactive's melee-style online tank-battle game for the PC. And even though you're going to get popped as often as you pop the other guy. you'll be having too much fun to mind.
Even in its beta version, Tanarus looks like a rock-n-rollin' blast-n-run arcade-style tank game. If you've ever played the seat-rattling Tokyo Wars in your local arcade, you'll feel pretty comfortable in these tanks. Sony's aim is to make setting up and playing easy. Once you sign up at the www.tanarus.com Web site, you pop into an easily navigated opening arena. From there, you can drop into chat rooms, go right to a playing arena, or set your control options.
Once you pick an arena, you get to choose and customize one of four tank styles, ranging from the shifty Lightning to the huge Devastator. You'll also find a healthy selection of laser weapons, missiles, and mines to prepare your killing machine for combat. However, you need to be selective when customizing your vehicle because each tank has only seven available slots for you to configure (in addition to your firepower, you'll want to include some defensive options like shields and battery recharging, too). You'll also need to practice tank tactics, such as using your turret keys to direct fire to the sides of your tank as well as distributing your shield power to guard the front or back of your tank. And since the gameplay is team-based, you can link with up to four other commanders and use chats to plan your strikes.
Kill or Be Killed
Your goal in Tanarus is simple: Accumulate as many kills as possible. You start out in a beginner class, but as you amass kill points, you can rise through the ranks of private, lance corporal, and up through captain. The arenas are staggered by ability, including a practice area, so newbies can get their Patton chops down before venturing into hot-n-heavy live play.
Amazingly for an online game, Tanarus supports all the current 3D acceleration cards; we set it up for 3Dfx Voodoo Rush play and received great results. Apart from the occasional lag hiccup, performance was also uniformly smooth--when you fire a missile, it hits where it's supposed to. But you'll need a big machine to play Tanarus (the minimum requirement is a Pentium 120 with 16MB of memory). Just think of your computer as a big tank, though, and you'll be right in the spirit of things.
Sony Interactive's Tanarus attempts to cash in on the current vogue of multiplayer, online-only entertainment with a no-frills game of tanks, tactics, and teams. The game cuts out all the extras, including storyline and graphically interesting terrain, to create a sometimes annoying and an occasionally brilliant battle for honor and territory. However, as with other online-only games such as Microsoft's Fighter Ace, it will cost you $9.95 a month on Sony's Station gaming network for the ability to drive a multitude of different tank configurations across a variety of ruined cityscapes to humiliate and destroy your enemy. Despite its interesting emphasis on teamwork and Sony's efforts to constantly improve the player experience, the game ultimately doesn't seem to be worth a monthly fee.
Tanarus is basically a glorified version of capture the flag, albeit with some cool weapons and the chance to watch your enemy get blown sky-high. In the standard scenario, each arena can consist of four teams, with a maximum of five players on each team, which are differentiated by color (Red, Green, Blue, or Gray). The basic goal is protect your team's flag, capture your enemy's flag, simply destroy your enemy, or stay alive. In addition, your tank needs energy to run, so you also battle for the control of satellites that provide defensive laser fire for your team as well as a power supply for shields and weaponry in or near enemy territory. Most games are running battles between two groups of tanks on the edges of their areas of control.
As a participant in these battles, you get to choose from five different basic tanks types -- Lightning, Vanguard, Devastator, Chameleon, and MagRider. Each has its own built-in advantages and disadvantages. After choosing the tank type, you then equip it with a variety of defensive mechanisms, such as extra shielding or nana-repair technology, and a range of offensive firepower including missiles, cannon shells, and lasers. One of the most interesting parts of the game is mixing and matching different configurations. A shareware registration only allows you to work with the Vanguard tank type, so to get a chance to drive the other tanks you will need to register with a credit card. I worked with the retail CD-ROM version that included a month of free gaming, which seemed a great way to get a look at the entire game.
Each tank has six main stats you need to worry about: Armor, Crits, Shield, Battery, Feed and Speed. Basically as you take damage, it first effects your shields, then your armor, then the critical portions of your tank. The power needed to fire up your weapons and your shields are provided by your battery and your power feed. The closer to your home base, the better your power feed. You can switch your shields from back to front as you move into battle, and front to back as you retreat. These stats are displayed at the bottom of the screen, so you can track them at all times.
Most of the game controls are rather straightforward, conveying the feeling of driving a rather awkward box of metal, but they do take some time to get familiar with. I played the game with a combination of a Microsoft Force Feedback joystick (which it includes support for) and a keyboard. I used the joystick for movement and the keyboard for final control of weapons and shields. The full boxed version of the game comes with a list of keyboard commands that is very useful, especially during the heat of battle.
Tanarus is a multiplayer-only experience, and the greatest asset of this type of game is that the AI consists of other players. At minimum, opponents act unpredictably, and are as likely to make brilliant maneuvers as they are to make stupid mistakes. But this reliance on humans can also be a great weakness. Your gaming experience is only as good as your opponent, or lack thereof. Without other players online, there is no game. Sometimes this is painfully obvious as a few tanks wander aimlessly around a city. In addition, the game mechanics themselves reinforce the need for other players. To survive and do well, you will need to work as a part of a team, either by joining one as available in the arena, or actually forming or being welcomed into an officially recognized one. Despite this emphasis on teamplay, you only really receive rewards and advance in ranks by individually destroying the enemy. At times, this can cause team members to fight among themselves for the kill. I felt you should get more bounty points for good teamwork, such as covering a teammate as he or she retreats under heavy fire. The game utilizes a fairly simple chat interface to help facilitate communication and taunting between friends and foes alike. In addition, there are a number of websites on the Internet that detail how to create macros for oft-repeated messages.
I was disappointed with the graphics as they are average at best. I was particularly underwhelmed with the the destruction of enemy tanks -- a series of explosions, then the tank flies up into the air, but no debris, no scorched earth, no shrapnel. I also expected a much richer, more detailed landscape to drive across, especially since you spend very little time looking at the opposing tanks. The buildings tended to be rather blocky and unrealistic, with no imagination or mood. In addition, combat seems to have little or no effect on the environment, as continued shelling of one building did not alter its appearance or structure. The most interesting graphical moments are the transitions from day to night or night to day. It is particularly unsettling when you are motoring into enemy territory as the sun slowly dips below the horizon and you are left in almost complete darkness.
In general, the sound is better than the graphics, but nothing innovative or imaginative. It consists mainly of background noises and sound effects, with the only mood-inspiring music played on startup. The sounds of laser fire and frag shells pounding the ground are effective in keeping you focused and immersed in the combat, but do very little to convey any mood or story.
The booklet, like most of the game, eschews any sense of style or mood and sticks to the basics. It provides a solid introduction and explanation of the game mechanics, game issues such as joining a team or league play, and some strategy and tips.
Required: Windows 95, Pentium 120 MHz, 16 MB RAM, video card with support for Direct 3D, 16-bit sound card, 4X CD-ROM drive, 30 MB hard disk space, input device (keyboard). A 3Dfx card is strongly recommended.
Reviewed On: Pentium II-266, 64 MB RAM, 20X CD-ROM drive, Matrox Millennium (4MB) and Canopus Pure3D 3Dfx card, Integrated Yamaha sound card
Tanarus aims to allow a multitude of variations on a few basic principles and mix of human personalities to become an addictive gaming experience. At moments, as when your motor into a fire-fight with with nine other tanks blasting away at each other, it succeeds. But for the most part, you drive around hoping annoying players will leave or waiting for the number of players in your arena to coalesce into a frenzy of attacks and counterattacks. In its simple exploration of team warfare, Tanarus is an interesting game, but not one worth $9.95 a month. I would strongly suggest taking a quick test drive and determining if this is the kind of tank warfare you like before handing over your credit card number.