If there’s one thing you can’t knock Wargaming for, it’s knowing their audience. World of Tanks is about as niche as shooters get, designed for those people whose favourite part of any other shooter is clambering atop a set of caterpillar tracks to lay waste to their unlucky enemies. There is no out-of-tank mode here; you are the tank, and the squishy humans who may or may not be pulling your levers and yanking your cranks on the inside are completely irrelevant.
Developed originally for the PC, the Xbox 360 Edition of World of Tanks is a little lighter on maps and features, but provides the same level of instant-access action that made it such a hit on home computers.
Because tanks are not inherently fast, the developers counterbalance the relatively slow pace of the gameplay by removing the waiting around from almost every other process. You begin in your garage, where selecting a tank and pressing A drops you straight into a match via a twenty second loading screen. Defeat will see you bounced straight back to your garage, where you’ll receive the rewards for the match when it ends, even if you’re already neck-deep in another conflict.
There are three modes that operate on a terribly imbalanced rotation system. I played seven matches in a row and I saw nothing but Standard Mode: a team deathmatch where the objective is to either wipe out the enemy team or capture their base. Assault is a more enjoyable mode, wherein one team has a base to defend against the opposition, but it rarely rotates in. There is also Encounter, which is a kind of King of the Hill affair where you set out to capture and hold a neutral base somewhere on the map. It’s a shame you can’t vote for your preferred mode, and it’s a shame there aren’t more to choose from, but World of Tank’s constantly evolving nature means more will almost certainly be added later.
The attention to detail in the tanks themselves is commendable. If you’re the sort who gets their jollies looking at pictures of these old steel behemoths, you’re in for a treat. There are tons of them in World of Tanks, unlocked by researching and buying them for your garage. They come in three varieties: Light, Medium and Heavy, but there are several tiers to each type. It’s not explained in much depth, and the upgrade paths may be more comprehensive than it seems on the surface if you take the time to understand the system, but there’s not much incentive to do so unless you’re really going all-out to be the best. That said, World of Tanks isn’t really designed for the casual gamer; its accessibility would seem to fly in the face of that statement, but there’s something hardcore and culty about the whole shebang.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the action itself that will separate the curious from the hooked. Incredibly slow-paced for most of the average match, as soon as both sides spot each other it can all be over in minutes. You can set up sniper spots by hiding your ten-ton tank in a bush (no, really) and use a lighter vehicle to goad enemies into revealing their positions; you can split your team to flank the enemy on both sides; you can drive directly at them firing your cannon blindly and roaring Ride of the Valkyries if you really want to, but you’ll do it all at a fairly sedate pace regardless. Learning which tanks do what is useful, and you’ll need to experiment with upgrades and unlocks to find a decent balance, but be aware that tweaks and perks are just that – it’s not really possible to cobble together a world-beating monster tank from the bits and pieces available; it’s more about fine-tuning your hog and finding the balance between speed, armour and firepower.
Graphically, World of Tanks is inconsistent. It’s not on par with big budget AAA games, however, and its free to play tag excuses some shortcomings. The environments themselves aren’t bad, and obviously the tanks are wonderfully detailed, but uneven physics will cause the odd raised eyebrow. For instance, you can blow up a building, but not a bush; you can drive straight through a house, but not a brick wall. A tank can become invisible by hiding in a bush or get stuck half on its side at the foot of a hill. You should really be allowed to destroy everything you survey, from trees and tanks to rocks and pretty little streams, but you can’t, and the fact that you’re in a tank will make you constantly forget that and therefore make you constantly disappointed when a solitary elm defies your impotent cannon-rage.
A major boon is the free to play model itself. Yes, there is an option to spend real money to unlock tanks and perks, but it’s never essential and it doesn’t imbalance the game. Someone who pays for the premium experience will earn more silver and XP, but not in such a way that makes them unstoppable. Most advantages are either slight or cosmetic, and you’re never penalised for not opening your wallet. It’s a credit to Wargaming, and to Microsoft for not messing with the model when they picked up the publishing duty.
VERDICT: If you’re looking for a no-frills multiplayer experience without the overblown pomp of something like Call of Duty or Battlefield, World of Tanks offers a drop-in, instant access alternative that may not be revolutionary, but is purposefully angled towards a very particular market. The slow-pace and low-rent visuals will be off-putting to some, and it’s not an easy game to understand when you lift up the hood and start poking around, but World of Tanks is surprisingly simplistic in its approach to the actual action, which, let’s be honest, is the important bit.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is free-to-play and available to download via Xbox Live.