When I was just getting into the 2600 I was still ignorant to the complexity that some games managed to achieve. So imagine my surprise when I plopped Robot Tank into my 2600 for the first time. It is quite clear that Robot Tank was made to be Activision’s answer to Atari’s Battlezone, and it really feels like it. Also reading the back of the box, this game apparently takes place in October 2019, so it is the perfect time for me to review it. Funnily enough, the prediction of a robotized military is not that far off, though instead of robotic tanks we use drones instead. Personally I’m glad Atari didn’t have another hissy fit over Robot Tank because of its similarity to Battlezone, mainly because I think Robot Tank is superior to Battlezone, at least the home ports of it. So let’s start where we always do, the graphics.
This game is absolutely gorgeous. The color, oh, the color, this is incredible. The layout of the screen is quite simple, you have a large HUD, with four icons, I’ll go more into those later, realtime radar, your lives and an oversized Activision logo. Unlike with many gave of this type, the oversized HUD takes up less space than the actual viewing area, which is a nice change. Unlike with the 2600 port of Battlezone, you don’t see your tank, you’re simply looking through a screen, but what you see is absolutely wonderful. Scrolling terrain, and what might actually be a first for video games, view bobbing, the entire viewing area will raise and lower as you move along giving the illusion of the uneven ground beneath your treads. Also it seems Robot Tank borrowed from Enduro in that it has a day/night cycle and different weather effects like fog and rain that will affect your tank in different ways, actually this agme borrows more from Enduro than some might think.
The sounds are a mix of gravelly engines, heavy weapon fire, and explosions, and they fit the game perfectly. Nothing really stands out all too much, the explosion seems to rely too much on a pseudo echo effect and the engine is just the one from Combat all over again, but they work well with the game. Though I will say, hearing the enemy fire a shot somewhere deep in the darkness and hearing the projectile whizzing towards you will illicit panic in anybody.
Robot Tank is to Battlezone what Enduro is to Pole Position, it is a far more arcade-y experience that isn’t as much about score as it is about surviving as long as possible. You will be placed one on one against the enemy tanks which may seem like a copout but once you get into the game a bit you’ll realize that this was for the best. Your adversaries take the strategy of the best offence is a good defense as they are ruthlessly aggressive and will disable your tank one piece at a time if you aren’t fast enough. There are some helpful exploits at your disposal that will keep you alive for longer, mainly that you can off-screen the enemy shot and it will simply cease to be, you can also shoot the shot with your own if you’re desperate, this isn’t a simulation like Battlezone. The day/night cycle and weather will also have a far greater effect on you thank you think. At night the enemy tanks are completely invisible except when they fire at you, randomly firing is surprisingly effective but whatever you do, don’t stop moving. Fog will reduce your visibility to only very close range but you can still see the enemy tanks so get right in there and fire away. Rain will be your downfall as your speed is halved and so is your maneuverability, I’d recommend fleeing and avoidance until the rain is over. Snow just makes it impossible to aim as your tank is slippy sliding all over the darn place so avoidance is recommended as well.
The four icons flanking the radar screen are your vital systems that are responsible for keeping you in fighting shape. Depending on where an enemy hits you, they will be destroyed, sometimes an enemy shot will get you in one shot so be thankful when it’s only one of your systems. The ‘V’ stands for video and when that is damaged your view will cut out periodically blinding you for short periods of time. The ‘C’ stands for cannons, when that is damaged your shots per minute drop drastically as sometimes your cannon just won’t fire. The ‘R’ stands for radar, I think you can guess what happens when that goes out. The ‘T’ stands for treads, if these are damaged you’re a sitting duck as your movement speed and maneuverability are slowed to a crawl. The only system you can live without is the radar but any of the other three are a guaranteed death, slow or otherwise.
Robot Tank is an excellent counterpart to Atari’s Batllezone, both are great games in their own right though I’d have to say that Robot Tank edges out with its more arcade like gameplay, focusing more on survival than all out war. Copies of Robot Tank are cheap and plentiful with the cheapest loose copies on Ebay being less than ten dollars each and with boxed copies sitting around the 20-40 dollar range. This is an excellent game that everybody should have in their collection.