Thursday, August 3, 2023

Tank Commander (1984)

Name:Tank Commander
Publisher:Thorn EMI
Developer:Chris James
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:30 minutes
Won:Not possible

The Hut on Chicken Legs rings out creepily on the emulated Atari's sound system. I don't know why Chris James decided this is what should begin the unimaginatively named Tank Commander, but it's one of the better intro tunes I've heard so far. It's not even a very good rendition, but something about it works well even in this poor situation.

Tank Commander is a somewhat typical top-down tank shooter. You move around slowly, especially turning, and everything dies in one hit. You, the enemy, buildings, trees, the mud huts the local villagers seem to be living in.

At the start of the game you're allowed to pick your usual number of players and skill settings, but missions are entirely randomized, ranging from destroy enemy tanks to destroy enemy bases and fuel dumps.

In theory, this is a solid concept, an open-ended mission based shooter? This is what the '90s were built off of. Randomized? Sure. Except that the gameplay doesn't quite handle that.

The tank moves slowly, you don't get a decent speed and turning is very slow, you have to wait to visibly turn and there are no in-between states, what you see is what you get. To make this worse, you start off behind your base, a very awkward place to start because you have to annoyingly move past it every time. The game also likes throwing obstacles that slow you down, because of course it does.

You die in one hit and you restart the mission every time you do so. In short, everything that this game can do to make itself annoying, it does. Every time I thought I was close to winning the game would tear me back to reality. Oh, hey, what are these dots? Oh, mines. Yay.

The two lines indicate where you are, which is about as intuitive as it sounds.
It turns out what I was missing was that I could turn the turret, by holding down the fire key. This allows one to move and return fire without putting one in a suicidal position. I understand why someone would like this back in the day, but even with this advantage, I feel incredibly put upon here.
Firstly, we have the way bullets work. Your tank is very advanced, because bullets stay perfectly level with you; that is, if you shoot left and move up, the bullets will stay perfectly left of you. Meanwhile, what you actually hit seems to be weirdly small.
Sometimes airplanes pop up for a moment. These make a beeline straight for you, shooting once and then flying off. You can dodge...if the game allows you to. Supposedly there's some button that summons your own airstrike, but it costs a ton of fuel and shells, and you have a limited supply of those. I felt like I recived a sign when I tried to use the airstrike option and it restarted.

I wasn't exactly finding much to enjoy in the mission objectives, by the time you've reached the last of whatever objective you had, you might have forgotten whatever it is you were supposed to be doing. I won...once, but that was on the lowest skill setting. It's hard, but doable. I could eventually win the hardest difficulty, but this game is ticking me off.

I kind of like how a shooter of this kind has a limited amount of ammo, but the way the gun works hinders that. 1/10

Stationary turrets and tanks with exploitable, yet just random enough to be dangerous AI. 2/10


A randomized field in which some objects dwell. Interesting enough for a game of this era, but not good today. 3/10

Player Agency:
You know the complaints a lot of people have about tank controls? How they're slow and imprecise? This is the game that actually applies to, with the added bonus of a bunch of awkwardly placed keys that are vital to your mission, placed next to the restart button. 2/10

You can destroy some buildings, trees and minefields. 1/10

Misery. 0/10

This fits into that mold of Atari-era wargame/strategy game so well I'm not surprised that Atarimania includes this as one. 2/10


The intro music is far more ominous than this game deserves. Otherwise it's your typical Atari war game. 2/10

That's 13, some good ideas buried under something that just ticked me off.

The good news seems to be that 1984 is shaping up to be a quick year. The bad news is that I don't seem to be playing much of anything. I don't remember how many games I started with, somewhere in the 90s, but my working list has it down to 68. In the meantime, I better get back to trying to play that Armored Trooper Votoms game, it's been hanging in the air for longer than it should.

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