BattleTanx (N64) Review

  • Title: BattleTanx
  • Developed and Published by 3DO
  • Released: December 1998
  • Platform: Nintendo 64

BattleTanx is the first game in a short series of tank action games by 3DO.  The series consists of BattleTanx for the N64, BattleTanx: Global Assault for the N64, BattleTanx: Global Assault for the Playstation (a port, but different enough to be listed as its own game), and BattleTanx for the Game Boy Color; while 3DO did make a few more tank games after this, before going bankrupt, even though the gameplay stayed similar they started a new series, consisting of World Destruction League (WDL) ThunderTanks (PS1 and PS2) and WDL WarJetz (PS2).   The BattleTanx games are great single and multiplayer third person tank combat games full of explosions and destruction.  I first played BattleTanx in BattleTanx: Global Assault for the N64, which I bought, and loved, back in 2000.  As a result, this review will frequently compare this game to its sequel that I know so well; I can’t help it.

The backstory for BattleTanx is that recently, there was a plague that killed 99.9% of all women on Earth.  In the aftermath, the government collapsed, cities were nuked, and roving tank gangs now rule America.  Everybody who matters has a tank, and spends all of their free time driving around in it shooting at stuff.  Basically, it’s the perfect setup for a destruction-themed series! 🙂

Just like BattleTanx: Global Assault, the first Battletanx is quite short and easy — I started it yesterday, and finished it today just a few hours of gameplay later. Still, also just like the sequel, it’s a great game. The incredibly fun shooting and destroying action is just as great here as it is in the sequel — while I’ve owned the second game for 10 years, I’d never played the first one until now.   BattleTanx’s graphics aren’t amazing, but they are good enough.  The fog is a bit distracting, and you can shoot farther than you can see — and can be hit by enemies out in the fog — things which do not happen often in the second game, but are constant issues here.  Still, you can see arrow markers on enemies farther out than you can see, so their fire should not be a complete surprise.  Also the draw distance isn’t terrible, it’s just closer than the second game, or many later N64 games for that matter.  This is clearly a first effort.  Still, overall the game looks reasonably nice.  There is a good variety of environments, lots of different buildings to blow up, nice destruction animations and explosions, and more.  There are also, of course, the many enemy tanks and turrets to destroy.  Blowing up buildings, running over cars, and flattening fences and lightposts with the game’s variety of weapons and powerups is endlessly entertaining.

The levels are well designed, with many hidden areas full of items (and turrets) and good, if straightforward and often somewhat gridlike, building layouts.  The levels in this game aren’t as unique and varied as Global Assault levels, but still they are more than fun enough to drive around in and destroy for this game to more than stand on its own.   You can’t just drive from your base to the enemies, you’ll have lots of walls, destructible obstacles, minefields, and other hazards to deal with along the way.  There are no terrain variations in this game, it’s all flat (Global Assault is similar, but at least does have underground tunnels to go through; this doesn’t have that, it’s just flat).  As always it’s also silly how those little cement barricades can completely stop a tank, if they’re not the destructible ones.  Oh well, they have to create level layouts somehow, it wouldn’t be as challenging if you could just destroy everything.  Still, even though it makes perfect sense, in these games I do find myself sometimes wishing that I could blow everything up.  It’s annoying that some buildings can’t be destroyed, blowing stuff up is fun.  🙂  Overall, the game may be short, but it’s so much fun along the way that I don’t care.

The music does a good job of keeping up the tempo too.  It’s good stuff, similar to Global Assault’s soundtrack.  It’s kind of rock-like so it isn’t my favorite kind of music, but for a game like this it works perfectly.

The story is told through cutscenes with comic book style artwork, with occasional in-engine scenes as well for scenes of tanks driving around. It looks pretty good, and I really like the style and presentation of the cutscenes. Global Assault used the same setup for its story, and one reason why I had wanted to play this game was to see the first part of the story. It’s a pretty simple tale of Griffin, your character, going on a journey across post-apocalyptic America with his tank army to get his wife back (she’s one of the lucky few women who survived the plague), but it works well enough for a simple, arcadey game like this. There’s enough story to keep you going, mostly about the various tank gangs you cross paths with during your travels, and it works. The sequel does have a better story, though, with actual drama and plot twists, which you won’t find here.  I do like the presentation of the cutscenes though, even if the actual story is fairly generic.

Where Battletanx does lack compared to Global Assault, however, is in variety. There are only three types of tanks in this game, and you only control one main one and one secondary one in the campaign; you can’t use the MotoTank. All enemies you fight will either be those three kinds of tanks or turrets, of which there are three or so variations. You fight a LOT of turrets in this game, definitely gets a little old… the sequel adds so many more types of tanks, it feels like a much more varied game.

Interestingly, most of the weapons from the second game were already in the first one; the second game adds a few more weapon types, but this game does at least have a wide variety of familiar weapons to choose from, from the guided missiles to the Swarmers, Gun Buddies, Invisibility, Health, Laser, Grenades, and even the Nuke. You lose all weapons you had when you die, though, and most powerups do not regenerate, so be careful when you collect them, you don’t want to get everything, die, and then be stuck having to use just your main gun for the rest of the level… it’s easy to do that.

In addition to the lacking variety of tanks (and all those turrets), the campaign also essentially only has two stage types, plus occasional bonus levels. All non bonus stages are either straightforward “get to the end of this path” levels, or BattleLord stages where you must capture all of the enemies’ QueenLords and bring them back to your base. The second game has much, much more level variety, with various mission objectives and more. It’s obviously something they put quite a bit of work into with that game, I think; I mean, this game is great fun, but it really is noticeable how much less gameplay variety this has. It really is all BattleLord (BattleTanx’s variant of Capture the Flag) stages and long, narrow levels you must get to the end of. Still, even if it’s lacking variety, it’s a lot of fun. BattleLord is a fantastic mode that is always fun (that was always by far the best multiplayer mode in Global Assault!), and “get to the end of the level” stuff is classic. I do like the bonus stages too, where you control a Goliath tank on a rail and see how many waves of enemy tanks you can withstand; you’ll get bonus lives if you survive longer.

Oh, and there’s no 2 player co-op campaign, like the second game has. While the game does support four player multiplayer, it’s versus only, with four modes. The most notable of course is BattleLord mode. You don’t have as many options as the second game, in modes, and there are only eight maps in this game in multiplayer (the sequel has more), but you can play with computers controlling any of the four spots in multiplayer, and the game is great fun. The BattleTanx games are some of the best multiplayer games on the N64, in my opinion, and that is no small statement, considering the great wealth of outstanding multiplayer games on the system.

Overall, short and easy, yes, and somewhat lacking in variety, but Battletanx is a great game. 85%.

Oh, and for anyone wondering, I am of course referring to the N64 version of Global Assault when I talk about it; there was a later Playstation port of the game, but the N64 original is definitely the better game. The PSX port is 2 player only, first, so it loses the great 4 player multiplayer that is one of the best features of both N64 games. It also has smaller areas than the N64 games, so the levels are less interesting to explore. They try to make up for this by adding more stages, but it’s not enough. It was presumably a technical limitation — you can only fit stages so large into the PSX’s small amount of RAM — but it’s one of those things that show off the advantages of carts, and the superiority of the N64 games. Still, if all you have is a Playstation, PSX BGTA is decent. Worth playing for series fans for the prerendered CG cutscenes and different levels, though in both cases the N64 versions are superior — I like the N64 comic book style art cutscenes better than the prerendered PSX ones, and the PSX version may have different levels, but as I’ve said they’re not as good.  Oh, and the game has CD audio music, of course, but even though it’s quite solid, I think I like the N64 games’ music better.  Still though, BTGA for the PSX isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll get around to finishing it sometime soon, I am interested to see what they did with the ending.  Also, decent graphics for the system.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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