Recoil (PC) Review: Zipper’s Great Tank Action Game

Recoil is a simple and arcadey third-person tank shooter, a popular subgenre in the late ’90s.  I have quite a few tank shooters from this era, including Battletanx and Battletanx: Global Assault on the N64; Grudge Warriors, Battletanx: Global Assault (different and worse PS1 version), Steel Reign, and Tiny Tank on the PS1; Alien Front Online and Red Dog on Dreamcast; and this game on PC.  There’s also Shellshock (PC/PS1/Saturn), which is first-person but otherwise is similar to these others.  Perhaps tank shooters were popular because with the lower polygon counts possible back then, it was easier to render a basic tank than it was a person.  Regardless of the reason though, I really liked these games!  Most of the games I listed above are quite fun, and even the worst one, Grudge Warriors, isn’t entirely irredeemable.  Tank action games are usually fast and fun, and you get plenty of fun weapons to play around with in all of them.  It’s really too bad that this subgenre faded into nonexistence in the early 2000s, because these games are still good to great games, and it’d be fantastic to see newer games like them!  I know that they may seem similar to car combat games like Twisted Metal, but I’ve always liked tank games, but never cared much at all for Twisted Metal or Vigilante 8.  Maybe it’s the tanks, because tanks are more interesting to control in a game than cars are, to me at least, but I think the mission-based design, versus Twisted Metal or Vigilante 8’s more basic arena-combat design, is also part of it.  Regardless, it’s really unfortunate that tank combat games faded away.  Recoil really is a very good game, and Battletanx, Red Dog, and others are great fun games as well!  This genre shouldn’t have died off.

I first got Recoil in 2000, when I found it cheap ($5 new, I believe!), but I first played the game in summer 1999, shortly after the game’s release.  It impressed me a lot as both a single and a multi player game, and I knew that I wanted to play more of the game.  When I played the full game a little while later, I was not disappointed!  Recoil is great fun.  It’s a very fast game, with low gravity and high-speed, sort of FPS-ish but with tanks, controls and gameplay.  Great fun I wrote this review in the mid ’00s, years after buying the game, and it was a great choice, because it’s a very good game that too few people remember.  Recoil’s graphics aren’t quite as impressive as they were in 1999-2000, of course, but they still look good for the time, and the gameplay is as great as ever.  Most of the review text is unaltered, but I did add a bit to the review for this reposting.

Recoil Windows Front Cover

This is the small-box re-release. I have the original release in its oversized box.

  • Title: Recoil
  • Developer: Zipper Interactive
  • Publisher: Westwood Studios (EA)
  • Released: 1999
  • Review Originally written 5/5/2008; enhanced and posted here 8/27/2014

Recoil, by Zipper Interactive, which was an independent studio when this game was developed but is now a wholly owned Sony subsidiary, and published by Westwood Studios and distributed by their corporate parent EA, is a PC vehicular action game where you control a very fast moving tank.  The game has a cool box, even larger than the average size for a late ’90s PC game.  I quite liked it then, and it is still good.  The game’s plot involves your character’s consciousness being taken forward in time by a small group of rebels who are trying to defeat the evil computer system, the Network, which has taken over the world in their time.  They have hacked in to the Battle Force Tank (BFT), the Network’s latest and greatest weapon system, and given you control of it remotely, so you can save the future from the past, with the Network’s own weapon!  With the BFT you are tasked with saving the world from the Network.  The story is told with live-action videos between each chapter.  They are are quite strange and unique, as there is a lot of corruption and snow in the picture, the picture keeps getting cut off, and the actors are sometimes hard to hear and seem disjointed.  As a result it can be hard to make much sense out of the cutscenes, but it fits the theme of the game well.  These rebels are struggling to break through heavy jamming in order to send you these vital transmissions.  The story is quite easily ignored, however, and really doesn’t matter much.  It successfully serves as a decent enough excuse for the action and the videos are entertaining.  You don’t need anything more.  The game has only six “campaigns”, or levels, and there is a cutscene between each one.  The levels are large and open, and are designed very well, but still, there are not enough of them. In addition to the single player campaign, Recoil has LAN, modem, direct IP, and internet (via Westwood Chat) multiplayer options.  It’s too bad that there is no splitscreen because the multiplayer game is as great as the single player and it adds a lot to the far too short long single player campaign.  The quite short length of the campaign and missing splitscreen modes are two of Recoil’s few flaws.  The strengths are much greater.

For its time, Recoil has pretty good graphics.  The game consistently impresses technically and everything looks great.  There are lots of shiny weapon effects everywhere!  As the game focuses on vehicles and environments and not people, the game’s graphics have withstood the test of time quite well.  The very few human enemies don’t look as nice, but everything else looks great.  Environments are varied.  Each campaign, or level, has an entirely different setting, from beach to lava to city.  Destructible elements abound through the levels, so you don’t only have enemies to shoot at, but also environmental objects and even certain parts of the terrain.  Even limited terrain destruction like this is uncommon in games, and it’s awesome to see!  Weapon effects are particularly spectacular, with plenty of flashy explosions and lights.  The game has a good and somewhat unique graphical style that is shown through both the ingame graphics themselves and the style of the menus and cutscenes.  The great graphics were one of the more noteworthy things about Recoil in 1999-2000, but I at least think that the gameplay is almost as good as the graphics are.  The game’s sound and music is good too, though that is simply good, not truly exceptional. Even so, the soundtrack fits the game well and is well done. There is one technical issue to note, though. On newer computers the game has varied performance; on some machines it can be hard to get running properly, and it does have some bugs. This is probably part of why it died off online — many people were simply not able to play it anymore. If it runs or can be gotten to run on your system, however, it is well worth the effort.

Recoil Windows Create shell craters in the landscape

Recoil has simple controls, but they may take a little while to get used to. The game controls like a third-person (vehicular) shooter, with a variant of standard mouse and keyboard shooter controls.  The controls take a little getting used to, but quickly become second-nature.  You control the BFT’s movement, both driving forward and backward and turning left and right, with the keyboard.  Meanwhile, moving the camera, turret, and gunsight around is controlled with the mouse.  The camera does autocenter behind the BFT, but if you move the mouse around you are fully able to turn turret of the tank, and thus the camera, around so you can drive in one direction and shoot in another.  Of course, remember that vehicles in Recoil drive at high speeds, and will go flying in the air when they go over jumps.  I love the low gravity.  It gives the game something of a San Francisco Rush feel, which is fantastic.  It is a somewhat unique experience. The controls work great and let you both move very quickly and precisely shoot your targets.  Whether just driving around and exploring, or shooting at things, Recoil is fun and exciting to play.

In addition to the original tank form, as you progress through the game you gain the ability to transform the BFT into three new forms, including a boat, a hovercraft, and a submarine. These transformations aren’t as useful as they may sound, however, as most of the time you just use those other forms in the specific places they are needed — the submarine for underwater tunnels, the boat for crossing water, the hovercraft for going over lava or water — and use the tank the rest of the time.  The transformation element of the game should have been more significant than it is, but it acts as a barrier to keep you out of some areas until you complete the mission objectives which get you the upgrades as much as anything.  Still, driving around as the hovercraft is fun; as it should, it has very loose, slippery controls, but can go quite fast.  The submarine is fun to play as as well, and being underwater gives the game some variety.  Unfortunately, there are few underwater segments.   Too bad.

More useful, however, are the weapons your tank is armed with. Indeed, in many ways the game’s focal point is its variety of weapons.  In Recoil there are 18 weapons, with a weaker and stronger weapon mapped to each of the number keys from 1 to 9.  The weapons are quite varied and interesting, ranging from your basic slow white twingun and stronger red gunshots to bombs, rockets, mines, missiles, homing missiles, and even a mini-nuke.  You start out with only a few weapons, but quickly amass a large and impressive arsenal.  The weapon selection was one of Recoil’s selling-points, and it is easy to see why.  It is true that many weapons are stronger versions of previous weapons, but still, you have a lot of great options here, each unique.  Some of the weapons are pretty fun to use, and weapons and get quite powerful.  Another cool feature is that enemies are armed with the same kinds of weapons you are, and most of the time when you destroy an enemy they will drop a powerup that will either heal your health or will give you a refill of some of whatever weapon type it is that they use.  I like it when games have your characters and the enemies playing by the same rules.  This is a surprisingly rare thing, but Recoil does that with its weapons for sure.

Recoil Windows Multiple vehicle modes

In terms of level designs, Recoil does a very good job.  Campaigns are large, well designed, take some time to get through, and have plenty of large areas, alternate paths, and a variety of types of enemy vehicles that will try to oppose you.  It is just unfortunate that there are only six of them.  Each campaign has a very different theme and setting, from a forested beach to a burning lava mountain to a broken city, a Venice-like city of canals, and finally a large futuristic indoor installation. Each campaign is broken up into multiple mission objectives that you must accomplish, and sometimes there is flexibility about the order you do mission objectives in.  During the loading screen before each campaign you are given a voiced briefing detailing the details of each objective and where it is on a map of the level.  Once in game you are sent transmissions as you achieve each mission objective, telling you where to go next and what is going on in the story.  Pay attention to these if you want to avoid getting lost!  Missions may have four to six objectives to accomplish, and sometimes you can do them out of order in some of the more open, less linear levels, which is pretty cool.  Also extending things are the staticky live action cutscenes in between levels.  Even so, completing the game will not take long.  Once again, the game’s short length is its main drawback.  This game is so much fun that I wanted it to keep going!

One aspect of why the single player missions work so well is is the game’s great level design.  I love the many destructible objects and elements of the environment in the campaigns, such as trees, cranes, barrels, pillars, walls with hidden areas to find your way to, and more.  Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times you can reveal hidden areas or alternate paths this way.  At one point, for instance, by blasting part of a platform’s supports away, you create a ramp you can then jump off to an upper level with an alternate route to the next section and some nice powerups to find if you drive around up there.  To make getting lost in the large levels harder, the game has an automap on the onscreen HUD which marks the location of your current mission objective on it.  As a result it is hard to get lost, though sometimes it may be somewhat unclear about what exactly you are supposed to do, as the game does throw simple puzzles at you sometimes to keep things interesting.  Figuring out those puzzles is a fun part of the game and they are well done, though when you are stuck on something you might not think that of course.  Still, the game is much better off with puzzles than it would be without them.  For instance, sometimes you may need to find a somewhat hidden switch to shoot, or blast a beam of energy while it is crossing between two electrified pillars.  Assisting you here is the fact that, when you can shoot something, your target sight changes color from red to green so you always know when you are facing something that may be affected by your weapons. This will, for instance, let you know which bridge parts can be destroyed and when shooting at the thing won’t break it anymore. Recoil makes blowing things up easy!

When the game first came out, helping to make up for the sadly short campaign was a fantastic multiplayer mode.  Multiplayer requires multiple computers and multiple copies of the game, however, so actually playing them in this day and age might be difficult.  While Westwood Chat, the online service, actually is still operational thanks to a group of fans that took over the Westwood Chat servers for the purpose of maintaining Command & Conquer/Red Alert online play and who never removed Recoil’s room in the service, no one ever actually is playing in that room so the fact that it still exists is somewhat irrelevant, unfortunatley, unless someone could set up a game,  If anyone wants to, I’d love to play!  It’d be pretty fantastic to play Recoil in multiplayer again.  I liked playing Recoil online back in the early ’00s, and I’m sure it is still great fun now, in the rare occasion that a multiplayer Recoil game happens.  The game has a nice variety of maps, with six to eight maps available for multiplayer use.  One is a racing mode map which isn’t as good, but the rest of the maps are for standard deathmatch or teams. While they are based off of the tilesets of parts of the single player campaigns, the multiplayer levels are new levels and not just direct copies of the single-player levels.  They are much smaller than the sprawling single player maps, and are perfectly sized for small groups of players to battle it out.  The multiplayer maps are are all just as well designed as the single player levels. The city level is particularly great, with plenty of jumps and destructible elements and places to hide in both high and low.  Great map.  While people were still playing it online Recoil was a really good multiplayer game.  I don’t know what game would be quite like this today; tank action games are sadly dead, and shooters don’t play at all like this today either.  Someone should make a tank action game again!

In conclusion, Recoil is a very good third-person vehicular action game with great single and multi player play.  Almost every element of the game, from graphics to weapons to vehicles to level design, is very well thought out and well designed.  The only complaint is that it could have used more content, but everything that is here is great.  Recoil is an impressive effort from Zipper Interactive, and showed how well they could do the genre, an impression solidified by their next game after this one, MechWarrior 3.  MechWarrior 3 was one of, or perhaps the, last great mech sims for the PC, and it is a much more complex game than relatively simple and actioney Recoil.  After that they made the PC flight combat action/sim Crimson Skies, which, while not a super hardcore flight sim, compares well with space sims like X-Wing and Freespace, and is also a very good game.  But after three outstanding games, Zipper was bought by Sony, and didn’t make one more game that interested me after that.  It is truly too bad that Zipper got bought by Sony and turned out SOCOM modern-military shooters for years, until finally getting shut down as the series apparently faded in popularity and their attempt at a larger-scale multiplayer modern-military shooter, MAG, failed to catch on.  It was a sad end to a company that started off so, so well.  I would have loved to have seen a Recoil 2, or another mech or fighter simulation.  At least Recoil, MechWarrior 3, and Crimson Skies (PC) exist, though, and they’re great!  Absolutely play all three games.  I love Recoil.  It is a simple but fun action game with great gameplay, great level designs, and plenty of challenge and fun as well.  Great work!

Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Sound – 8/10
Single Player – 9/10
Multi Player – 9/10
Other/Value – 10/10

Overall – 91% (not an average) or A-.  While Recoil has aged, is short, and is sadly unplayable in multiplayer now, it is still a very good game.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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1 Response to Recoil (PC) Review: Zipper’s Great Tank Action Game

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