Vector Tanks, released last year by Peter Hirschberg, was a remake of the 1980 Atari arcade game Battlezone and hooked me instantly. Since then, Hirschberg has teamed up with a few other individuals to form BlipTime Studios. As a studio, the team has re-released his original game as Vector Tanks Classic, and more recently published a pseudo-sequel Vector Tanks EXTREME. And if the classic version is a rain shower, then Vector Tanks EXTREME is a friggin’ hurricane, and a retro-styled frag fest of the highest caliber. All hail neon carnage, glowing debris and frivolous nuclear mayhem!
Vector Tanks is unabashedly retro. The game is entirely comprised of outlines without texture or fill. The landscape is draw in dark purple lines, power-ups in bright purple lines, environmental obstacles in red, opponents in green, and projectiles and explosions in white and green. All else is black emptiness. Graphics whores have no business here, but will be missing out on one of the most over-the-top, action-packed games in the app store.
Played in a 3D perspective, the action in Vector Tanks EXTREME is fast and furious. In all honestly, you don’t stand much of a chance and you’re not likely to last long. The point of the game is simply to survive for as long as possible, taking down as many opponents as you can in the meantime and thereby increasing your score. Destroyed tanks will drop power-ups that you collect by driving over them, including a shield recharge, rapid fire, rail gun, homing missiles and nuclear bomb. These power-ups are essential to surviving the game, as your default cannon is slow on the fly and slower to reload. Jeeps, helicopters and three types of tanks will assail you from all directions as you play, and land mines will rip you apart if you’re not careful. Luckily, it’s every tank for itself and the enemies will fire on each other as well as on you.
Vector Tanks’ unique control scheme may take some getting used to, but is ultimately very effective. Using thumbs on each side of the screen, slide both thumbs up to move forward, and one thumb up or down on either side to turn. Tapping the center of the screen will fire your current weapon. Weapons are cumulative as you pick them up, but your most powerful weapon will always be equipped; when ammunition is depleted, your next most powerful weapon will become active.
Intensity: Intense, white-knuckle action is what Vector Tanks EXTREME is all about, and it delivers like no other game in the app store. I’ve praised games before for their nonstop action, but VTX takes nonstop action to a whole new level. It’s a game that really gets you worked up and your adrenaline pumping. Grandmaster Flash ought to write a song about it called “Green Lines”, being as Vector Tanks EXTREME has so much in common with cocaine. And yes, that’s an old-school reference for an old-school game; look it up, kiddies.
Double-Whammy Retro-Ferocity: Retro graphical stylings are the first whammy. Retro difficulty is the second whammy. Not only does VTX look old-school, but it will whup you old-school too. I warned you before the game would kill you quick, but here’s the tricky thang: it will keep you coming back for more.
Audio: One thing that’s not retro is the audio. Instead of the beeps and blips of old-timey arcade games, you will instead be immersed in the purr of your tank’s engine, the concussive bursts of explosions and the endless rattle and boom of large arms fire. Optionally, players can enable voice tracks by Jon St. John, well-known for his role as Duke Nukem, or Jeff Straub. Headphones gamers will also benefit from positional audio. There’s no music in the game, but the sound effects do a pretty good job of filling the silence. If one must have music, I recommend playing old-school rap on the stereo while you play; a game this old-school deserves no less.
Selectable Difficulty and Modes: Depending on how quickly you’d like to be destroyed, Combat mode allows you to choose from difficulty levels including Novice, Medium, Expert and iNsAnE! Surviving higher difficulty levels long enough will net you massive piles of bonus points. There’s also a Rage mode that grants you unlimited lives and firepower to wreak as much destruction as possible within two minutes. Of course, so much of Rage most is spent dead that it’s almost not fun. Almost. And, just in case you are lacking in Hardcore and overflowing with Weak Sauce, there’s a practice mode in which enemy tanks don’t shoot back.
No Multiplayer: A game like this desperately needs multiplayer. It screams for it. And not stupid four-player matches like Eliminate, but 8-16 players would be awesome.
Vector Tanks EXTREME is not for the faint of heart. But if action is your drug, then VTX is like crack. If you are foolish enough to be put off by the game’s retro graphics, then you deserve to be missing one of the best action experiences on the app store; frankly, I count the retro-stylings as one of the game’s assets. But I’m old-school and hardcore like that. I grew up playing games that demanded perfection, that didn’t hold your hand through to the end. Vector Tanks EXTREME is a welcome throwback to times when games were brutal and fun. And if that’s too intense a prospect for you, there’s always Vector Tanks Classic, a watered down version of the same great gameplay. But having whet my teeth on the EXTREME, I can’t go back. Oh yes, I’m extreme. It’s gallons of Mountain Dew and hours of tank battles for me.