Previews stub

Digitanks Preview

Posted on October 20, 2010

The graphics of Tron, the hilarious-yet-dorky aspirations of War Games, and a wave of indie innovation coalesce into a classic artillery-styled game by Lunar Workshop. Digitanks is all about careful placement of tanks and artillery in turn-based play, inevitably advancing to a game of hilltop supremacy: get in position, fortify your squadron, and rain pixilated balls of light down upon the opposition. Artillery games of the past stopped there, offering little more than an arcade battlefield for two passer-bys; Digitanks adds an expected level of strategy by enabling the construction and research of computer hardware-themed structures and upgrades. A few fancy buildings won't bring many artillery veterans back to the scene, although the gameplay just might.

Digitanks' reticule has been trained on developing the in-depth strategy mode for the last few months. Players are greeted by a self-deprecating poem when initiating a new strategy game - you are told to save Digiville from an evil assailant, although the story is as minimalist as it gets. Each game starts with a couple of tanks on the field and a CPU (the headquarters), as well as a download prompt for 'updates,' which are geared toward upgrading your vehicles and optimizing buildings. The entire game is centered around an electronic world we know well, and while it isn't necessary to have a hardware background, it does add to the amusing setting of Digitanks. You build buffers to expand territory and convoy supplies to tanks, loaders to assemble the military, power supplies and batteries to keep things operational, and download/install updates (hopefully not those pesky Windows updates) for higher-tech units.

I found the strategy to center around supply lines: each tank must be provided supplies from buffers in order to maintain a hit point or attack/defense bonus. These supply lines resemble a flow of electrons across the field of play (which has destructible terrain!), and can be interrupted primarily by a situational vehicle. Rogues have highest default movement speed and a supply line interrupting torpedo, making short work of any overextended armies. If your enemy has besieged you within the confines of your loaders and CPU, it's time to send a rogue through the supply lines of those tanks, break them, and force the enemy back home. Three other types of tanks are currently usable: Mechanized Infantry (light), Main Tanks (heavy), and Artillery (support). Each tank is specialized to keep play flowing smoothly, so if your opponent has a brigade of main tanks treading across the bumpy, Tron-esque terrain, a barrage of artillery will soften them up for your own main tanks.

Time requirements to complete a game vary depending on strategy - I was able to rush my opponents and win within an hour most of the time, but some games went on a bit longer than that. Strategy mode consists of a series of tits-and-tats until higher tiered troops hit the field, making it challenging to decide when it is safe to attack. A simple artillery mode removes the structures and creates a faster-paced game, leaving in place only tanks. Most artillery games have some sort of wind resistance or height-to-target calculations, but Digitanks hones in on angle of orientation and attack/defense energy level assignments. If you wanted to completely ignore those elements, you could probably grind your way through the game by simple right-clicking on the targets and hoping for the best.

It's not all bits and bytes for Digitanks. With only a week to go before the planned launch of October 31st, a lack of save functionality severely hamstrings the intended longevity of play, and an inability to set the number of opponents sometimes forces an early quit. Advanced structures and vehicles take tens of turns to construct, occasionally resulting in spam-clicking the 'End Turn' button to see the cool stuff, and the slow pace hinders this further. Camera control for indie games is notorious for being hit-or-miss, and Digitanks' use of a non-standard subset of mouse clicks feels clumsy at best; nevertheless, command hotkeys are placed naturally and generally make up for movement. Separate from the more tactile issues, the game's integrated upgrade ("download") system requires some study to completely understand, even with the help of a short tutorial. I also had problems with the sound: the few effects present were abnormally loud in comparison to the rest of my system, resulting in some fidgeting with volume to preserve my ear drums. Sadly, there was no music at the time of this preview, but I've been told there are plans to add something.

Digitanks craves to fill a gap in a genre that has long been dominated only by flash games; the visuals are reminiscent of early cyberpunk settings and promise to fully immerse you in the digital town for which you are dueling. We've also been told about how awesome multiplayer will be, so things could change completely when it is in place! In the end, Digitanks is a quirky, humorous niche game that wants nothing more than to be loved.