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Robot Tank for Atari 2600
According to just about everyone, Robot Tank was Activision’s attempt to make a VCS version of the popular Atari game Battlezone. Battlezone is great fully developed arcade classic, so when the game was scaled down to the VCS, something had to give, and where Battlezone was more of a tank combat simulation, Robot Tank is pure arcade.
This doesn’t mean it’s an inferior game, it just means they took a different approach that played to the strengths of the system. And play to those strengths, they did to the best of their ability. When you strip out the exacting gameplay of a sim, sometimes you get a pointless exercise in tedium, but in the case of Robot Tank you are left with a fast moving (sometime dizzying) gameplay experience that borrows just the right amount of “realism” from its inspiration. The resulting game flirts with greatness, but never quite attains it, for reasons I will mention later.
In Robot Tank you drive a tank and must take out enemy tank(s) before they kill you. Now here comes the negative limitations of the VCS — there is only one tank at a time on the screen, and they shoot these giant, kinda slow-enough moving shots at you. You, on the other hand, have guided shots that can take their shots out. What does this mean? It means that the game can be kind of easy at times, especially after you master the game. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean it is completely without challenge (just mostly).
The game add challenge by changing the weather conditions and time of day. Right when you think the game is a breeze you get an alert and then the fog, snow, rain, or night descends. Tracking the other tanks in this weather is tough since you will need to use the radar in the game (yes, radar in a 2600 game), which can be really rough.
Now the thing is, there is a big problem in this being the challenge of the game. See, the only way that you can be hurt by another tank in Robot Tank is if you are looking at the screen that is shooting you. So a tank fires at you — you turn away — they auto miss. You might say, alright, but now you just turned and are facing another deadly enemy! But remember I said that you only have one enemy at a time. You can just turn away from your enemies until the weather or time of day improves. It is a fatal flaw and one that really dials down the fun factor and potential on an otherwise very well-thought-out game.
It might only be marginally challenging once mastered, but Robot Tank is an impressive hunk of game. Furthermore, it has good sound, great gameplay and some of the best graphical effects going on the VCS. I just wished they had been able to put a second enemy or maybe had a more difficult gaming mode for experienced Robot Tankers to sink their teeth into. If they could, this easily would be a 5-star game, but as it is, I can only give the game 3 stars.