Serving as Alan Miller’s last game for Activision, Robot Tank is a game that’s… familiar. Very much Activision’s answer to Atari’s Battlezone, Robot Tank plops players down in their very own tank and has them countering an invasion of enemy tanks onto U.S. soil. The ultimate objective is to prevent the enemy force from reaching Santa Clara, California. With gameplay that’s just as good as the majority of Activision’s catalog, it’s the heads-up display and mechanics that merit the most discussion.
The heads-up display is a big part of Robot Tank. The actual “window” looking out of the tank is arguably more important, but without the dash of devices housed inside the tank, players wouldn’t get far. The radar is a must as eyesight will only detect so much, especially in unfavorable weather conditions. Damage sensors assist in knowing what functionality has been lost – if it wasn’t already apparent. There’s a clock relaying the time and a counter of the enemy tanks destroyed as well as how many lives are left in the player’s stock.
One of the coolest mechanics of Robot Tank was the deterioration of the player’s tank. Rather than a one-hit kill scenario, the tank slowly lost functionality as it was barraged. There were a few parts that could be destroyed – video, cannons, radar, and treads – and when they were, the corresponding function would no longer work. It seemed random as to what would be destroyed, but it was challenging having to manage the tank when it wasn’t operating completely. Every kill in this weakened state was all the more enjoyable.
With that noted, one of the weirdest mechanics of Robot Tank, and probably one caused by the technology of the Atari 2600 rather than this game’s design, is the ability to guide the cannon fire. After being shot out of the cannon, it would move from side to side if the player did. This is something that has been present in quite a number of Activision’s games. It makes for interesting offensive and defensive maneuvering, but strips away any sort forethought into planning when and where to aim and shoot. The employed method is more in line with the fast-paced gameplay though, more so than one that would require thoughtful timing.
I wasn’t captivated with the gameplay of Robot Tank, but I appreciated the handful of interesting features and think it deserves a place in Activision’s catalog of quality Atari 2600 games. Originally there were three tiers of patches to earn. Each was awarded after destroying 48, 60, and 72 enemy tanks. Only the first is present in Activision Anthology. Although there is an additional gameplay mode to unlock with 37 kills – “breathing mode”.
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