The BattleTanx series is largely forgotten today, but back when tank games were still popular, the BattleTanx games were seen as the best ones around. While tank games have largely been replaced by faster third person action games, it can be fun to look back at the dead genre. Both games in the series have aged surprisingly well and are still fun today if you can get past the horribly dated graphics.
BattleTanx also sets itself apart with its surprisingly detailed story. In 2001 a virus destroyed 99% of all females on Earth. Civilization collapses all around the world, with former military soldiers starting barbaric tank gangs. Most of the action takes place in huge, empty cities with no signs of life other than the other guys in tanks trying to blow you to pieces. Things get a little bit lighter in the sequel, but not by much. It did, however, inspire a spiritual successor by the name of World Destruction League: Thunder Tanks, an arena combat-style game for the PlayStation 2.
BattleTanx was originally slated to be a Nintendo 64 port of the obscure 3DO title Battlesport, but 3DO marketing thought that some changes had to be made. At the time, 3DO (the company) was losing money and no longer supported their dead system. They could not afford to screw up and thus changed the setting, characters, story, and some parts of the gameplay so much that it no longer resembled the original Battlesport at all, and 3DO released the title renamed BattleTanx. Somehow, it turned out to be one of the best action games on the system.
The first BattleTanx game begins with an intro, explaining the story and background. It starts off with the main character, Griffin Spade, proposing to his soon-to-be wife, Madison. Unfortunately, the deadly virus is just now spreading, and the collapsing US government is setting up a quarantine zone. All the surviving women in North America are taken away. Needless to say, no one was happy about this. Civil unrest starts and eventually The US government falls. Barbaric tank gangs such as The Urban Decay, a group of disfigured or mutated people dead set on spreading anarchy or The Skull Riderz, a bike gang that uses tank parts to turn their motorcycles into super fast assault vehicles called mototanks, now control the United States. The Dark Angels, the largest tank gang in the world, currently hold the Quarantine Zone. They are a death cult believing that the virus was a divine sign and that it is up to them to end the world. Griffin can't stand the thought of Madison, the love of his life, being held by these people and is determined to do anything to save her. He hijacks a tank and amasses a small army to help him tear a trail of burning death through the country and save Madison.
Griffin's journey takes him all across the United States, from New York, through Chicago, all the way to San Francisco. There are three types of levels in Campaign mode. The first type has you just destroying all enemies. These are usually in an open, maze-like area, usually a city. The second type of level is more linear, usually involving crossing a stretch of land and getting to the goal. The linear levels tend to be full of traps and have a very methodical feel to them. Most of the challenge comes from memorizing where enemy installments and land mines are. The last type of level is by far the longest, and called a Queenlord mission. Queenlord is essentially capture the flag, but instead of a flag, it's one of the last women on Earth. You usually get allies to help you out and patrol your base, but they don't last long. Enemy bases are always guarded by powerful turrets and have a huge Goliath tank in the way. Some missions have you vastly outnumbered and require rescuing up to three Queenlords.
BattleTanx also has RPG elements in its story mode. Whenever an enemy tank is destroyed, it leaves behind a star. You can usually shoot or run over the dead tank's wreckage to get it. Stars increase your maximum health, refill some ammunition, and repair your tank. While there is no way to gauge how strong your tank is, such as a level number, picking up a star basically levels up your tank. Power from stars carries over from level to level, so picking them up early on is important. Otherwise, you will be outgunned in later levels.
Also to help you along, there are a variety of weapons to pick up, scattered through the levels. Weapons are usually guarded by enemy installments, but always make up for it by being extremely powerful. Some of the more interesting weapons are guided missiles, which when fired, have you controlling the actual missile. Sure, it turns your tank into a sitting duck, but they can be very useful in the linear levels, if anything to scout out what's ahead. Another one of the more interesting weapons is The Gun Buddy, which lets you spawn an annoying enemy installment of your own to harass any opposing tanks that get near. These are very useful in the queenlord levels, especially during the segments when your base goes under a lot of fire. The king of all weapons, however, is the nuke. Nukes are very rare and hidden very well. If you manage to find one regardless and detonate it, the nuke will level any and all buildings around it, destroy all installments in the area, and heavily damage all tanks, including your own. It's a very risky weapon, but when used effectively, nukes can be so powerful that it almost feels like cheating.
At the end of each level, the game grades how well you performed, mostly based on how many times you died and how fast you cleared the level. The par time is usually pretty easy to beat and extra lives are awarded for reaching enough points on the score. There is also a bonus game where you play as a powerful Goliath tank and try to blow up hordes of other tanks until they destroy you. There are 17 levels in total, making this somewhat long for an action game. It also gives plenty of chances to rack up points and earn way more extra lives than you need.
Besides single player mode, there are a variety of multiplayer games in BattleTanx. Annihilation pits two to four teams of tanks against each other until only one team remains. This involves one human player and usually dozens of AI controlled tanks on all sides. Battlelord is pretty much the same as Queenlord, but fairer and more balanced. Death Match has one tank from a player at a time on the battlefield, and whoever racks up the most kills wins. Family Mode is a lot like Deathmatch, except it requires that you use items when possible. It plays much faster and more brutal than the other modes. In general, all of the multiplayer modes are a blast with friends and can still be fun against the computer.
BattleTanx may have looked cutting edge back in the day, but like most of its type, it can seem a bit dated now. The graphics, outside of the hand drawn cutscenes, are a mess of jagged polygons. Textures tend to get repeated a lot, making some of the more maze-like levels confusing without radar. If you do not have a memory card, BattleTanx has no save feature outside of an archaic password system. Not all of the passwords work either, as the ones at the end of bonus levels bring up the "invalid password" message.
BattleTanx strangely never left the United States, was never ported anywhere else, and never received any kind of international release. Despite this, it was never rare or valuable, just really obscure. Strangely enough, BattleTanx made enough money to warrant a sequel that turned out to eclipse it in just about every way.
BattleTanx: Global Assault improves upon the first BattleTanx in many ways, including more tanks, more weapons, a much longer Campaign, and much better multiplayer. While the story mode removes any RPG elements, it still maintains the core that makes the whole experience so enjoyable.
BattleTanx: Global Assault starts on a much more positive note than the first. The year is 2006, which probably seemed a ways off back when the game came out. It's revealed that while the virus did spread all over the world, it died down and was finally contained. Griffin and Madison brought order to the western United States and both became leaders of their respective tank gangs. They also have a son, Brandon, who has very strong psychic abilities that his parents are not aware of at first. He ends up getting kidnapped and is used to develop a powerful new weapon called The Edge. The conflict escalates and takes Griffin and Madison all over the United States and Europe, with the fate of their son and the world hanging in the balance.
The main character of the first BattleTanx. He finds himself in a very similar situation to the first game, ready to do anything to rescue a loved one.
Madison seems to have learned how to drive a tank during her years between games and is now one of the most powerful queenlords in the world. She fights alongside Griffin with her own tank gang, Madison's Militia.
The main antagonist in BattleTanx: Global Assault. Cassandra is a very powerful psychic and leader of The Storm Ravens. She plans to develop a new weapon called The Edge using Brandon's psychic abilities.
Griffin and Madison's son. He possesses strong psychic abilities and is kidnapped by Cassandra early on. His rescue becomes the mission throughout the game. In multiplayer mode, Brandon is leader of his own tank faction. His symbol is a stuffed bear that is on fire, which is used as a logo for 3DO for this game.
In addition to having a much longer and more detailed story, BattleTanx: Global Assault adds many new types of tanks to use. Before, there were only three tanks, which were the standard M1A1 Abrams, the fast but fragile Mototank, and the durable Goliath. Now there are 11. The new tanks show a lot of creativity, some of the more interesting ones being the Hover Tank, which can levitate itself to avoid landmines; the Flippy, which can flip on its side by using the shoulder buttons for strafing; the Inferno, a tank that uses napalm instead of regular tank shells; and the Rhino, which is impervious to frontal attacks, but vulnerable on the sides and rear.
Campaign mode improves upon the previous game in many ways. The RPG elements are removed, which may seem like a step backwards, but in its place come many different selectable tanks, most unlocked as the game progresses. Each tank has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. A great example is how the Rattler is very fast and very strong, but it runs out of bullets fast and is not very durable. The Goliath is very strong and very durable, but is not very fast and has a poor rate of fire. While there is usually no "wrong" tank for each mission, some are clearly better suited for certain missions than others.
Each tank also has a value, which is how many tank bucks it costs to use it. When you die, you respawn at the start of the level and choose which tank you want to use. If a tank costs more tank bucks than you have, then you are unable to use it. The game is over once you are out of tank bucks. It's a strange system, but it allows for different ways to approach situations rather than trying the same way over and over again until you get it perfect. You get tank bucks by either finding them hidden throughout the levels or by earning them by having a good score when the game grades you at the end of each level.
The missions themselves have also become more varied. Two new types of levels were added. The first is called a convoy mission. These involve protecting a group of trucks from other tanks and enemy installments. These are usually very frustrating, as many escort missions are. Thankfully, there are only two convoy levels and the first one is not that bad. The other one is very unfair though, expecting you to protect it from landmines by either carefully tossing grenades, the hardest weapon to aim in the game at them, or running right into them, killing yourself. The other new type of mission has you destroying a target. These types of mission are far more standard, usually involving blowing up a specific building or enemy. One memorable level has you demolishing a weaponized Eiffel Tower and another against The Capital Building in Washingto, D.C. which has become a fortress for the enemy.
BattleTanx: Global Assault also adds a few new weapons, the biggest and most impressive one being The Edge. The Edge shoots a psychic wave and confuses all enemies in an area. As the game goes, The Edge gets more and more powerful, to the point where it outright controls enemy's minds and makes them switch to your side. This powerful attack can only be used once per level and is only in Campaign mode. A more traditional new weapon is the Bouncing Betty. Bouncing Betties are like landmines, only instead of simply exploding, they jet up in the air like a rocket and spray laser beams all over the place. Additionally, nukes have been depowered a bit, if only to make them more fair. You can hide from nukes by going into an underground bunker until it explodes. Underground bunkers are not in every level though, so sometimes nukes are just as strong as they were in the last game.
In addition to the campaign, there are other modes of play too. All of the multiplayer games return, along with a few new ones. Frenzy is kind of like battlelord, except there are queenlords all over the place and the first to take ten back to their base wins. Hold 'Em has players trying to survive against an unending wave of enemies with the last player standing victorious. Convoy also appears as a multiplayer game, even if it is not a very good one. It has one player defending and others attacking the convoy. Lastly, there is Tank Wars, which gives all players unlimited lives and puts AI controlled allies on all sides. Whoever kills the most in the time limit wins.
BattleTanx: Global Assault vastly improves over its predecessor and is without a doubt, the best tank game ever made, arguably the best multiplayer game on the N64, and one of 3DO's greatest achievements. Sadly, 3DO fell hard after the 90s were over and the company churned out lots of really bad licensed games and the infamous Army Men series.
BattleTanx: Global Assault was ported to the PlayStation in 2000. There were a few improvements such as new maps and three creative new tanks. They are the Bulldog, which has a huge mortar cannon; the Shredder, which has a huge gattling gun; and the Demolition Vehicle, which is pretty much a kamikaze tank. Unfortunately, the this version also has long load times, a much worse framerate, and some slowdown. Both versions are perfectly playable; it just depends on whether you want better gameplay or more features.
BattleTanx on the Game Boy Color was released around the same time as BattleTanx: Global Assault on the PlayStation. It follows the plot of the first game and uses scaled down, chiptune rendtions of music from the second. The gameplay is a bit different too, now playing more like an overhead shooter.
The major flaw in the portable BattleTanx is the wonky controls. You use the up button to move forward and the left and right buttons to turn your tank's turret. While this does capture the feel of the larger, 3D games, it takes a bit of getting used to and could have been implemented much better.
As you move around and destroy things, you can pick up new weapons. These new weapons have to be used before going back to normal shots, eliminating a lot of the strategy in using them. The B button isn't even used, so once again, this could have been implemented better too.
Problems aside, BattleTanx on the Gameboy Color can still be fun, but the poor controls keep it from greatness. It's also very brief, only ten short levels to be exact, and can be beaten in one sitting. There are passwords, but they are for the most part, unnecessary.