Tank Universal is an arcade tank game developed by Dialogue Design and published by Meridian4. Tank Universal. Now here's one that honest-to-god surprised me. Surprised me in a good way. That doesn't happen too often - at least not - surprised positively, and it justified a deeper and second look than my usual playthrough to reverse engineer that gut feeling.
Let's just say that the game developers definitely saw the tank scene in the original Tron and liked it. The game is obviously heavily inspired by that particular segment, but there's nothing in particular wrong with being inspired by something if the game that is thus inspired is well-made, and Tank Universal sure seems to be.
The game uses a virtual reality escape of a terminally-ill patient as the overarching framing device, and as a framing device it serves the purpose, but the one thing you'll probably notice during those sections, including the intro is that while the graphics engine may serve the purpose for the TRON-inspired aesthetic of the main game, it sure makes the "real world" segments jarring in their poor quality. Especially so since the gameworld proper actually might not be high-fidelity but its high in aesthetics, with good production values, whereas the "real world" segments seem very low-budget.
That aside, the actual gameworld is well presented and actually fairly detailed. While the game itself is fairly linear there's quite a few sections that reward exploration and investigating around. There's some care taken to the gameworld and while it's inspiration is obvious it has some very interesting elements of its own that add to the gameworld without seeming tacked on.
The thing that really stood out to me is the responsiveness of the controls. Vehicle sections in this day and age are rightly maligned because of ridiculous physics or unresponsive controls and Tank Universal has neither. It's not the most advanced control scheme, but it's very tight and responsive and works well with the mechanics. There was never a moment where I felt that I died because of the controls which is certainly noteworthy given recent examples of vehicles in games such as Mass Effect.
The gameplay is simultaneously simplistic but also very cerebral. Your goal is essentially to storm the enemy base to capture the "key" at the heart of said, and bring it back to your base. The game does a very good job of adding incremental difficulty through additional gameplay elements, such as having a battalion of tanks join you, increasingly elaborate fortresses with defenses that you have to to circumvent, to in the late game, where you have an elaborate system of capture point control to establish a "network hack" to give you the special abilities you need to circumvent the established defenses. Managing all this, while also having the real time tank combat up in your face, becomes a balancing act that never feels overwhelming to me, but always feels challenging, and that is the golden sweet spot of difficulty.
Progression through the game includes leveling and unlocking abilities, but it occurs very naturally as challenges arise through the plot of the game, rather than just feeling tacked on for no real point at all, as the Flashback remakes system did.
All in all, it's not a game that's going to set the world on fire, but its a good game, well-made and well-presented, and worth the 1.49$ that it's currently on sale for on Steam in a heartbeat. There really isn't a reason not to at least