Genre: Simulation Developer: Realtime Games Software Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1991
Combat simulations have always been big on PCs, but bringing them home to consoles proved to be a bit difficult during the 16-bit era, due to the limitations of the hardware. Given the Genesis’s lack of 3D prowess, many believed that games using polygons were beyond its abilities. Several titles, including M-1 Abrams Battle Tank, sought to prove otherwise. And like those other titles, the latter suffered from all the problems inherent with taking games designed for a more powerful system with a full keyboard and mouse and putting them on a console that at the time supported a pad with only three buttons.
The concept is simple: take command of one of the military’s most powerful weapons and perform a series of pre-set objectives, such as defending a base or leading an attack. The Third World War has started and you’re tasked with keeping the advancing Soviets out of Germany. It’s ironic that the game was ported two whole years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet arrived just in time for the end of the Soviet Union. Ironic, but ultimately irrelevant, since wiping up the floor with the Evil Empire is always going to be as much fun as killing Nazis is. That kind of stuff never gets old.
There was a certain machismo to it, I guess. Plowing along in sixty-three tons of mobile death with only the steady hum of the motor in the air. Suddenly, targets appeared on the horizon. Hostiles! Your gunner swerved the massive cannon in their direction and waited for a lock. A few seconds of anxious silence was followed by a thundering bellow as you launched a SABOT round at the oncoming enemy. More anxious waiting…and BOOM! Target destroyed! Ah yes, the smell of napalm in the morning and all that, I suppose.
The best part was that instead of simple handheld weaponry, you got a whole tank this time around! Armor-piercing rounds, HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) and all kinds of other goodies came pre-loaded, and the Abrams was fully stocked with defensive counter measures as well. Ride into an ambush and slink away under a smoke discharge! The Ruskies tossed everything they had at you, from Tank Destroyers to Mi-24 Hind Helicopters, and sure, you had to use a bit of imagination to fully envision the battle in all its glory, you could change to any of three view points. It wasn’t Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on the Xbox 360, but we’re talking 16-bit, remember?
Though the flat-shaded polygonal graphics may seem primitive by today’s standards, it’s important to remember that this game was originally released on PC in 1989, the same year the Genesis made its debut. It was actually quite exhilarating to see 3D in any sense on the console back then. You didn’t mind the miniscule frame rate, or the sluggish and unintuitive controls…wait, yes you did. In fact, you minded them enough to almost stop playing. See, Battle Tank was designed around a keyboard and mouse, not a three-button pad. This severe reduction in control made the game very difficult to get into for all but the most dedicated of gamers. There was simply too much to do during combat to really make effective use of all the tank’s equipment, and getting them to work in a tight spot overshadowed any good impression they might have made.
It was a shame, since the mission selection was quite diverse. Abrams is one of the first console titles to feature the dreaded escort mission, but Realtime Games thankfully kept most of the crop to those involving straight-up action. I liked that the majority had you seeking out the enemy forces or destroying a bridge. Sitting around and waiting to be attacked is never fun, and if it hadn’t been for the excessively steep learning curve and severely handicapped controls, I don’t see how anyone would not have played M-1 Abrams Battle Tank well into the night. Even so, those willing to take the time necessary to master it were in for a decent game, despite the visuals.
That, more so than the control, is probably what’s going to drive off newcomers checking M-1 out for the first time. With all the next generation hoopla over presentation, those unfamiliar with the early days of 3D might be unable to get past its look. Add the aforementioned problems, and it’s understandable to see why it gets overlooked. Those willing to get past the dated visuals and cumbersome control scheme might actually enjoy it. I say give it a chance. If you get tired of dying quickly, there’s an invincibility code that you can use until you get the hang of things. A shortcut to be sure, but hey, all’s fair in love and war!
SCORE: 6 out of 10