Brought to us from the developers behind Warbirds, Superhero Squad Online and iM1A2 Abrams, M4 Tank Brigade is a straightforward World War Two simulator where you control the American forces in the various theaters of conflict in WWII. Now, straightforward games can be a joy to play, but they can also be a right pain if simplified too far. In the case of M4 Tank Brigade, they are well and truly in the former. You win missions by blowing up your enemies tanks. Kill more of them than they do of you and how you achieve this is left up to your own understanding of ‘strategy’. You can send all your tanks in a frontal assault, but don’t expect to get very far. You can create pincer movements, outflank them, encircle and trap them, divide and conquer… The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. It’s not a case of charging in and hoping for the best; you do need to plan how you’ll win. Different units have their own strengths and weaknesses, and getting these wrong will cost you dearly. Scouts are weak in a direct fight, but pack the same punch and will out maneuver any tank they cross. Have a plan in place by all means, but be prepared to improvise! As Patton himself once said; “Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.” And when you’ve got dozens of Tanks exchanging shells, the battle plan is never going to last long.
Happily, the game stays away from the “one shot kill” theme of gaming. Whilst you can penetrate your opponents armour with one shot and watch smugly as they become reduced to fire and shrapnel, it’ll more often than not take a few shells to ensure they’re never coming back. The amount of damage you can inflict is surprisingly detailed! You can knock off tracks, cripple suspension units, hit the drivetrain and even disable turrets. If you’re a slightly sadistic player, you can reduce your foe into a sitting metal duck full of explosive material before blowing them to smithereens. But be warned, what you inflict on others can also be returned. If a tank does become crippled, then it’s as good as dead. Although you can still move without tracks and ruined suspension, don’t expect to last long!
Luckily, there is a very simple way around this potential dilemma; you can control every vehicle. Now, this may sound slightly tedious in the scheme of things, especially when you’re controlling 20 plus units, but fear not! Whilst you can control them all individually, you can also move them en masse in their pre-determined brigades or as their units. Move the command vehicle, and the others in the unit will follow. It’s a shame [at time of writing] that there is not “select all” option available, allowing you to move all units and steamroll your opponent into the dirt, but with this game having constant updates, it could soon become a feature. The game doesn’t suffer without it, mind, but it would certainly help when you have to move all units across the map to reach the objective. It could also be useful if your plan of attack goes horribly wrong and you find yourself losing tanks every couple of seconds because you didn’t realise they had Tiger tanks. And you’ll always be able to tell what models the tanks are, because they’re very well detailed. Even as sillhouttes on the horizon, you’ll instantly be able to tell who’s friendly and who’s foe, and even what tanks they are. Don’t expect PS4 or Xbox One graphics here, but they still pack heaps of detail. The terrain can be a bit flat and copy-pasted in places, but that is being addressed in a later update.
But that’s okay, because you can call in airstrikes or artillery barrages, and there is nothing sweeter in this game than seeing those P51’s come over and turn the tables in your favour. Or do it against your last opponent as the ultimate ‘over-the-top’ kill. That said, with 20 plus guns at your disposable, you’re pretty much packing your own artillery barrages without the help of howitzers. Just don’t rely on the AI too much to do the work for you. There will be instances of them trying to shoot through the terrain instead of over it, which would make for an interesting feature if the terrain featured a damage-responsive engine (think Battlefield’s Frostbite or Red Faction’s GeoMod engines). This may be overstretching the game as it currently stands, but it would certainly be a very enjoyable addition further down the line.
In terms of controls, there are a couple of niggles. Having driven 18 tonne IFVs & APCs before (pictures available upon request) this may come across as just being picky. Once you let off the throttle, the tanks will all roll a considerable distance, even on flat ground. Downhill makes it so much worse to the point them become almost unstoppable if you were at full speed. Now, in reality, this just wouldn’t occur. Tanks will roll short distances under their own momentum, but you’re talking a couple of lengths at best on rough terrain. Similarly, stamping on the brakes in M4 Tank Brigade didn’t slow the tanks down nearly quickly enough: it felt more like a hand brake in the Need For Speed games, albeit without the tyre squeal. Those aside, driving the tanks is easy, even if they don’t always feel like tanks. At full throttle, then can become quite twitchy and the gun sights (in 1st person) wouldn’t move with the turret, which was quite peculiar. The turret would swivel, and then the gun sights would glide into place a second or so later. A Switching to 3rd person view is great and having the turret move with the mouse is great too, but there’s no aiming receptacle so you’re clueless as to where the main gun is pointing unless you check the minimap. I’m under the strong impression that the game is going to have a number of rolling updates over the course of 2016, so hopefully these will be addressed.
Overall, this is a good game with plenty of challenge to keep you entertained. With the promise of rolling updates throughout 2016 (including new maps, terrain alterations and new tanks), this game looks to become a very promising title. If first impressions count, then M4 Tank Brigade has made a very good one indeed!
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