|Release: April 12, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
Countless video games have depicted World War II. But to the best of our knowledge, World of Tanks is the first free MMO in which every single player controls a classic tank. It's a fascinating premise, to be sure.
World of Tanks has technically left beta, but there are still some major additions to come, so bear that in mind before downloading. As it is, the game has one major downside and one major upside (well, besides that it's free). The downside is that because the developers emphasized realism to a great degree, the basic gameplay can be slow and tedious. The upside is that this title is carefully crafted so as to reward solid battlefied tactics and RPG strategy, and several yet-to-be-implemented game modes should be even more complex and interesting.
Anyone who's played a first-person shooter on a PC before will immediately catch on to the controls in World of Tanks. Moving is done with WASD (with A and D turning the tank rather than strafing, of course), and you aim your gun with the mouse. Don't think the mouse aiming allows for twitch shooting, however: You can point wherever you like, but the tank's gun adjusts slowly, so it can take a few seconds for the weapon to turn to face the direction you want it to. And while you can upgrade to faster tanks, it will take a lot of work before you're zipping around the battlefield. Similarly, most tanks have a low rate of fire, meaning that if you miss, it'll be a second before you can shoot again. Once your tank blows up, there's no respawning; all you can do is watch the rest of the tanks finish the battle, or leave the battle and get into a different one with another tank.
The reason for all this, of course, is realism. The developers brag that they carefully studied World War II tanks of the American, German, and Soviet variety, and based the in-game tanks' characteristics on their real-life counterparts. Even the modifications existed in real life, at least as prototypes. The developers deserve credit for their attention to detail, but the bottom line is that the minute-by-minute gameplay feels dull as a result.
That very same attention to detail, however, is the factor that makes this game a joy to play on a tactical level. As you level up and gain access to more tanks, you realize that each vehicle has its own purpose on the battlefield. Tank Destroyers, for example, feature strong armor in the front and powerful weaponry, but they're slow-moving and highly vulnerable to flanking. You can rack up a good kill count with this vehicle, but only if you manage to stay back from enemy tanks. Other tanks offer different tradeoffs, such as more power for less speed.
In addition, while the lack of respawning can be annoying, especially for beginners, it also forces you to play very carefully. You can't run out into the open, spray some shells in an enemy's general direction, and hope for the best, as you might do in a multiplayer FPS. Instead, you have to stay behind cover, roll out, take a shot, and roll back, until the advancing enemy is dead.
The most basic mode here—and thus far, the only one available—is a combination of team deathmatch and capture the flag. Two thirty-person teams are put together by the matchmaking system. A team can win by destroying the other team, or by capturing the other team's base. Most fights are over in five minutes or so, but a tie is declared after fifteen minutes. The matchmaking system is remarkably efficient; it never takes more than a couple of minutes to get into a fight, and the teams are usually evenly matched. After each battle, you earn several kinds of EXP, which you can spend to climb tech trees and improve your crew, as well as credits, which you can use to buy new tanks or upgrade your current one.