Augmented Reality, it’s brilliant isn’t it? Seriously it’s really cool! It lets you see things that aren’t really there without taking suspicious brightly coloured tablets. Both Nintendo and Sony’s portable consoles, the 3DS and the Vita, make use of the tech, although you’d never guess because there’s a distinct lack of decent games which utilise it and the magic cards that are shipped with every console. I guess you could say it’s too much of a novelty to base an entire game on it, but the idea hasn’t been completely scrapped yet. Some developers still have faith, one being UK studio Devil’s Details, and they have released a brand new AR game for the PlayStation Vita called Table Top Tanks.
Table Top Tanks puts a new spin on the genre by using the Vita’s Augmented Reality cards and camera to turn virtually any surface you can find into a miniature battlefield. Being able to blow up tanks in your bathtub, on your coffee table or even on your car dashboard was initially quite attractive to me and initially it’s very easy to set up; a couple taps on the touchscreen and seconds later the assault on the coffee table armies begins.
The size of the battleground depends entirely on how many AR cards you place, the more you use, the bigger the play area and more obstacles appear. Its a creative way to set up a game and it’s amusing to see how different surface areas fare. However problems begin to arise when expanding the play area. The more cards you use the trickier it seems to get. The angle, lighting and position of cards has to be just right to stop the game beeping at you, something that’s annoying if you just want to load up the game for a quick match. You don’t want to be fiddling around adjusting card positions on the train or in your local McDonalds do you?
Still, despite this annoyance, the gameplay is a lot more fully featured than other AR titles and it’s a surprisingly satisfying experience. There’s a single player campaign mode that starts you off with simple challenges, teaching you the ropes and demonstrating all the different game modes you’ll run into. Later on challenges become more complex, requiring you to complete multiple objectives such as capturing five flags while killing ten enemy tanks and shooting fifteen different targets placed around the arena in under five minutes. As you progress the difficulty does increase but it’s never overbearing, just encouraging. The tanks themselves come in ten different colours and there’s even DLC available (with more planned) letting you choose different types of tanks from different eras.
Thankfully all of these virtual objects are impressive enough graphically to turn even the dullest of surfaces into a worthy battleground. Power ups include shields, invisibility, bouncing missiles, homing missiles and a frustrating reverse the controls of opponents power up (which you’ll want to make sure you always pick up before the A.I, otherwise you’re boned). The power ups make games a little more unpredictable and very competitive when playing AD-HOC with friends, as everyone scrambles to get the air-strike.
How much you enjoy the campaign mode depends on how well you get on with the controls. The left analogue stick controls movement while the right controls aiming, with the right shoulder button firing missiles and the left firing a seemingly redundant and unimpressive machine gun. The touch screen functionality doesn’t extend past drawing a line flagging where you likes an airstrike to go. It sounds idiot proof but moving your tank around proves to be a bit temperamental. While playing the game I often found myself reversing into barriers when I wanted to evade enemies or getting stuck in between obstacles, wondering why my tank wasn’t going the direction I dictated. It’s not a persistent problem, moving the Vita around or moving around your play space lets you adjust the perspective accordingly, but on bigger levels, created by using more AR Cards, you’ll find yourself doing that more often.
If you still feel like that’s too confining or awkward, you could always try upscaling the game: heading to the game’s website lets you print of larger versions of the AR cards, turning your entire floor into a battlefield rather than just your kitchen counter. It’s an original feature that makes a four player AD-HOC multiplayer game a lot more interesting… assuming you’re lucky enough to have four friends who also have a Vita. If you don’t and you get bored with the single player you may very well enjoy Tabletop Tanks’ level creator. Here you’re given the choice between a small, medium or large map, and must place virtual shapes around your own real world objects and fill proposed objects with smoke, water or fire. It’s a cool feature which I has a lot of fun playing around with – seeing a real bottle of water you’ve placed leak virtual water around the battle field give you a chuckle, – with fire and smoke elements providing even more possibilities. Other options let you adjust A.I intelligence, the amount of flags, time and so on. Put simply there’s a lot of customisation for such a simple game.
For a very affordable price you get easily the most impressive AR game to date. It may not be jam-packed with features but if you were disappointed by the other AR games I think that Table Top Tanks could restore some faith that AR can provide stable foundations for an entire game.
Graphics: 3/5 - The graphics and virtual objects are brightly coloured and turn the drabbest of carpets into a fairly decent warzone.
Sound: 2/5 - There’s no soundtrack to speak off really, but the sound effects, explosions and tanks engines are acceptable.
Gameplay: 4/5 - It’s fun, has addictive qualities and there’s plenty of challenges on offer. Navigating some larger maps can sometimes be an issue, but it is easily rectified by moving your Vita around in the real world.
Longevity: 2/5 - Even if the campaign winds up boring you the AD-HOC multiplayer and level creators are redeeming features (and the novelty of playing on whatever surface you like never really gets old).
Overall: 3 out of 5
Definitely the best AR game yet and for the relatively low price you get plenty of features to keep you and onlookers entertained. Just try not to get annoyed with the placement of cards and awkwardly moving around your living room.
- Adam Radcliffe