A fairly entertaining computer artillery game in the vein of 'Worms', 'Tanks', and 'Gorillas', available as freeware, but with buyable expansion packs.

Description:

With many of the first computers created solely to calculate weapon trajectories, it could be said that artillery computer games are as old as their medium. The concept, with minor variations from game to game, is basic: fire weapons at an enemy on the other side of the screen to do damage. Pocket Tanks takes two tanks, one for each player, and places them on opposite sides of a randomly designed, easily destroyable landscape. Each player picks ten weapons before the game begins, and uses these weapons to make big holes in the ground, knock their opponents' tank every which way, and, most importantly, get points for good hits. Each player exchanges fire with the other, and the person with the most points at the end of the ten volley-sets wins.

Pocket Tanks is playable in three different modes: One Player, Two Players, and Target Practice. The first option pits you against a computer-controlled tank. (It has modifiable difficulty levels on a 1-10 scale, but save for the first few notches, the differences in strength are so small as to almost be unnoticable.) It plays fairly well, but is not nearly as hard on its highest levels as a game reliant on trajectory and power should make it.

Two Player simply makes both tanks player-controlled; the competitors have to share the keyboard, so make sure you avoid playing with bad sports. The controls, by the way, are easy to learn: changing power and angle, firing, and moving your tank (a boon, though it can only be used 5 times a game) all can be done with the mouse and/or keyboard. The author claims there is a high score list available for two-player mode; let me know if you find it, since I certainly haven't. Target Practice makes both tanks player-controlled, as well, but goes on for an infinite number of rounds and allows you to test any weapon you want, instead of picking from a random list before the game. Any game can be exited from by pressing the ESC key.

There is also an options screen, which allows you to alter the size of the blast radius, the different types of landscapes available, and so forth. The best options, though, are the turret and wind settings. Normally, if you're blasted onto the side of a wall or somesuch, the game kindly resets your turret so it was facing at the same angle relative to the screen as it was before. If you turn this off, the game immediately gets a lot harder. If you need yet another challenge, you can turn on the wind setting, which makes your projectiles go longer or shorter than they normally would--and if you want a real brain-buster, you can make this variable.

The system requirements are so low as to be moot for any computer made since, oh, 1998: an OS Win95 or up, DirectX 3, 32 MB memory, a 233Mhz CPU, and a video card that supports the 800x600 revolution. Pocket Tanks runs on both DOS and Macintosh.

Pros/Cons:

Well, it's addicting, it looks nice enough, and it's free. A game only takes about 5-10 minutes, making it a good way to take a break or a very tempting time-filler. And there's just enough luck involved, especially if you turn wind on, to boost the replay value fairly strongly. The graphics are nothing to write home about, but are still sharp and crisp; a particularly nice job was done with the explosions. As mentioned before, the system requirements are absurdly low, so this can be easily played on any recent machine. There are no strings attached to download Pocket Tanks: just don't sell it yourself, and you're good to go. Pocket Tanks Deluxe is available from the author (see below) for approximately $16 USD. It doubles the number of weapons to 60, giving even more value and playability to the game.

Although there's nothing really that hateable about Pocket Tanks (or PTD), it does fall flat in a few places. The music, while nice, is the exact same for every title screen and every game, which can get grating after a while. Network play isn't included in the two-player mode, something I would think would be easy to add and highly entertaining for its users. Finally, the bonus packs are rather highly overpriced. Considering that you can go into a store today and buy, say, StarCraft for $15, asking the same just for some new weapons (which are nice, but...) is a bit absurd. There are some extra bonus packs of 5 weapons that are downloadable for free with PTD, but others cost $7.50 in themselves to get. Not that Pocket Tanks isn't playable with just its basic set, though.

Weapons:

Pocket Tanks' crowning strength, though, is probably its weapons. To give an idea of their variegation, I've listed five from each version below with a brief description.

From Pocket Tanks:
  • Single Shot: A generic explosive, with a small blast radius but a decent amount of points.
  • Homing Missile: Fire away with this weapon. However strongly you shoot it, it'll drop straight down whenever it passes over the enemy's tank. Small number of points.
  • Hail Storm: When this lands, it'll produce a small stream of... water, or something, that rolls downhill and damages the tank whenever it touches it. Best used in valleys for high points.
  • Tracer: Does no damage, but fires five different objects. When they land, they display how much you would have to tilt your turret in that direction to hit the spot where they landed. Excellent for targeting enemies.
  • Worm: Likely an homage to the most successful artillery game to date, the Worm can either go through air or ground, following a curved path either way. Good for a nice amount of points, though often hard to aim.

From Pocket Tanks Deluxe (some may only be available in bonus packs):
  • Big Dirtball: Like the Dirtball of Pocket Tanks (which covers an enemy and makes its shots do damage to itself), except with a more expansive radius.
  • Jump Jets: Fires your own tank in the direction you choose, which is good when your enemy has a lock on your position.
  • Mega Nuke: Creates a gargantuan crater, hits basically anything on its quarter of the screen, and awards a pretty high amount of points.
  • Super Laser: Fires straight from wherever it is shot, goes through the ground. Good for when you need to hit the enemy, no matter what.
  • Chaos Grenade: Possibly the best weapon in the game and unarguably the coolest-looking one, the Grenade bounces a few times, then, when nearest your enemy, it explodes, giving off the effects of 10 or so random weapons from the game--simultaneously. Almost worth the price of admission itself.

Strategies:

  • Use Tracers as a Beginner

  • After you've played more than a few times, you'll begin to naturally sense how much you need to fire, and at what angle, to hit an enemy. Until then, though, it's best to get a Tracer or two to use at the beginning, and get a feel for how much you need to alter the angle. The same goes for when you're beginning to play with wind for the first time, since the power-angle combinations you've grown used to won't work anymore. Later, though, try to avoid them, since the computer loves to pick them first and they do no damage.
  • The Power of Combinations

  • If you see some weapons on the pregame selection screen that "go together", make sure to snap them up before the computer does. For example, the Napalm and Hail Storm weapons, when used after a Jackhammer or Pile Driver (which both send a tank into a narrow crevice), can resort in some seriously high point totals. On the Deluxe edition, a Crater Maker (or anything that makes a wide, curved valley), Bouncy Dirt, and Fission Bomb, in that order, combine to make one of the best strategies in the game--as long as your opponent doesn't escape it.
  • Pick Underrated Weapons

  • The AI is fairly good at picking most of its weapons, but sometimes the decisions it makes are rather odd. The computer tends to severely overpick Tracers, Crazy Ivans, Lasers, and Ground Hogs, among other weapons. Use these idiosyncracies to your advantage and snap up all the Chain Reactions, Napalms, Dirtballs, Potholes, and other high-scoring devices before your opponent does.
  • The Best Offense Is A Good Defense

  • Say you're up by 30 points or so with one round to go, but your opponent has a fix on your position and a Sniper Rifle or some other high-point, small-radius weapon. If moving your tank isn't an option, it may be best to just cover yourself in a Dirtball, Dirt Slinger, or other such device, especially if you don't think you can hit your opponent. Your enemy's weapon will often just hit the exterior of the dirtball and explode, causing you little to no damage. The Deluxe Edition's Dome Protect seems to have been made with this exact strategy in mind.

Producer:

Pocket Tanks (and Pocket Tanks Deluxe) were both made by BlitWise Productions (found at http://www.blitwise.com), and released on February 8, 2002. BlitWise is comprised of exactly one person: Michael P. Welch, the creator of Amiga's Scorched Tanks and the fairly popular 'Breakout' clone 'DX-Ball'. The music was composed by Eliran Ben-Ishai. Welch spent over a year of free time designing and coding the game, and hopes that he has created a program that is easy to use, entertaining to play, and enjoyable by the whole family (without, by any means, being the stereotypical 'family game').

Conclusion:

Welch seems to have succeeded, since both his 4-year-old daughter and the whole of my AP Computer Science class have become enamored by the game of Pocket Tanks. It may not be for you, but it doesn't hurt to give it a try and find out.

Sources:
Pocket Tanks readme.txt
http://www.blitwise.com/aboutus.html

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