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War of the Human Tanks (PC) artwork

War of the Human Tanks (PC) review

"War is hell. Except, perhaps, for when itís drowning in chibi disposable soldiers. Even then, itís still kind of hellish."

War of the Human Tanks (PC) image

War of the Human Tanks is going to be a nightmare to pigeonhole but, what the hell, Iíll give it a go. Itís a kind of turn-based/real time strategy hybrid that plays out like a surreal re-imagining of Battleships if it had a bizarre advanced edition, book-ended by adorable still-framed anime girls exploring the morality of throwaway militias. About half the game plays out like a simplified visual novel chronicling the civil war of the imaginatively named country of Japon, who battle amongst themselves using humanised chibi robots that all just happen to be cute girls. These sections are long, dumping a libraryís worth of text on your lap backdropped to simple non-animated character portraits with very limited reactions, all set against a photographic background thatís been given a thin layer of photoshopping. Itís all very Meta, assuming that the player will identify with the protagonist by making him an anime-obsessed shut-in with an addiction for limited edition video games. He just happens to also be a strategic genius respected throughout the world. Some of that probably does resonate for a few of you; only the latter half for myself.

The plot itself is mired not only in pure weight of words, but heavily in anime tropes, wheeling out all the expected stereotypes and, odds are, youíll find yourself skipping most of the dialogue after a while. Iím not about to place blame; Human Tanks seems almost desperate to crush you in sheer volume of words, but it does try to advance a somewhat subtle sub-plot in the mistreatment of its ranks. Though programmed to be considerably less intelligent, the Tanks are given ample opportunity to endear themselves to the player. The aftermath of their first battle leaves them somewhat shaken by the loss of a long-standing colleague, while a tedious mission to hunt down stray Tanks in a forest leads them to spontaneously down arms to play an impromptu game of baseball where fly balls are shot down with bazooka fire, and third base might explode at any second.

The problem is that moments like this are buried beneath unending slews of paragraphs so often that genuinely touching or amusing moments are lost during frantic clicking or full on (and oft appreciated) text-skipping. Itís the usual zany manga fare served up by people with humongous eyes, and it probably wants to be considered a kind of serialised anime by playing (the same) intro and ending song at the end of every chapter. You can stop this by setting Movie Mode to off in the options.

PROTIP: Set Movie Mode to off.

Somewhere trapped in between all the exposition, though, is the actual warfare. War of the Human Tanks presents you with a simple hex grid, coats the entire thing in a permanent fog of war, then tasks both you and your enemy to fumble around in the darkness trying to blow each other up. It plays out in pseudo-real time; the map is always active, but units have to wait until theyíre able to receive a signal to move, then their modem resets after their action has taken place. Itís an interesting mechanic bolstered by the fact that the majority of the map is always going to be obscured and that your enemy operates under similar conditions. It can be quite tense waiting for your next move to come around, knowing that unseen activity is just beyond your visual range.

Different units bring in their own measures. Scouts are predictably lacking in offensive skills, but can forge ahead of the rest of your troops, mapping out larger areas of recon, while assault troops canít uncover as much hidden space, but possess a much higher aggressive range. Shock troops have a high activation rate, cover much larger movement areas, and employ explosives that have superior blast zones, but are fated to die in their own detonation. Some units are more useful than others; you can handily beat the game without ever needing the Interceptor soldier, who can safeguard selected areas from long-range bombardment, and no matter how well developed your Command unit becomes, itís rarely worth the risk of moving them out of whatever corner you have her hiding. Once they die, you see, you lose. The upshot is that destroying the oppositionís Command is grounds for instant victory.

Did I mention that every solider is a cute girl who makes an adorable ďAieeeeee!Ē cry just before she dies in a ball of fire? Every now and then, that still strikes me as a little odd in the face of how cut throat the battles are. Scouts can barely hold the handguns they use to slaughter smiling enemies with vacant red swirling eyes and aqua-blue pigtails. You can use the spoils of each victory to slowly develop advanced units, making them more deadly, or giving them the chance to survive more vicious onslaughts at the cost of taking up more room. In an odd turn, these could lead to blocking troops in at the start of several campaigns as you often start in claustrophobic corners of the maps, and units are unable to move through their allies. You can bolster spoils by taking part in free battles, which are usually just old levels replayed again, but the costly, heavy upgrades are unlikely to be achieved outside of a New Game +.

War of the Human Tanks offers four different endings with slightly differing branches required to unlock them, and the tense rapid-fire battles are both enjoyable and brief enough to stand up to repetition. Thereís no multiplayer options, which is a shame, because thatís a possibility that could certainly work with Human Tanks' ephemeral take on warfare, but what is offered is innovative and unique. Itís weird; the saturnine sweet hyperactive anime cuteness doesnít really have any right to exist in the face of merciless conflict, and it certainly sometimes shoots itself in the foot by trying too hard. But it all kind of.. works. It has this peculiar synergy probably born of the programming equivalent of a sugar rush that swirls everything together.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 09, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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pickhut posted February 10, 2014:

It really makes you wonder how much exposure the game would have gotten had the visuals been something more standard. Though, it likely got people who'd never played these kinds of games into experiencing the genre for the first time, so I guess that's not a bad thing.

This was a really descriptive and well-written review, pretty much got me reading everything to the end. Also wanted to point out a slight mistake in your 5th paragraph: "rest of you troops". But again, good review!
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EmP posted February 12, 2014:

Yeah, it's an odd one. It'll be to the surprise of none to learn that this game was released originally in Japan quite some time ago, and was ported over by a team who have made it their job to translate and port kooky Japanese Indie titles for the Western world to enjoy.

Thanks for the thoughts: Iím not sure how I missed this topic for so long. I was faffing around with the screen layout and was just ďoh, hey, feedback!Ē Thanks, too, for the typo catch. Just the one typo in a review these days; what would WQ say?

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