Available for: Xbox One (tested), Xbox 360, PS4 (coming soon) and PC
Like one of the hulking metal war machines it showcases in abundance, World of Tanks has rolled onto the Xbox One after successful tours of duty on PC and Xbox 360. This free-to-play title might initially seem like a pretty basic shooter with heavily armoured vehicles taking the place of soft, fleshy humans, but it's actually a very different proposition from a gameplay perspective, offering a nuanced and deeply tactical challenge.
To state the obvious, you're not moving around on two legs but two caterpillar tracks, and this has a massive impact on how you explore the vast, feature-rich battlefields which populate the game. You can move forwards and backwards – no sneaky strafing here – and you turn very slowly. As a result of these limitations movement needs to be carefully considered and finding appropriate cover becomes essential. Drifting away from the protection of buildings and other cover usually results in your vehicle being pounding by enemy shells.
While solid cover is your friend, there are other elements of scenery which can be totally ignored - after all, you're in a massive tank and shouldn't allow feeble wooden sheds or wobbly walls stand in your way. In many circumstances you can simply smash through many things which might initially appear to be obstacles, and this allows you to surprise your opponents by approaching them in cover before bursting through and blasting them to pieces.
World of Tanks is incredibly tense at times, and a lot of that is to do with the fact that unlike your typical shooter, you're not discharging a fast-acting machine gun but a cannon that has to be sluggishly reloaded after each volley. You have to make each and every shot count in this game. Snap-shots are rarely an option as you need to wait for your targeting reticle to reach a certain size before pulling the trigger, otherwise your shell is likely to pass harmlessly over its intended target.
The consequences of missing a shot, especially in close quarters combat with a tank of equal or greater size, can be disastrous, making one-on-one encounters exciting and challenging. You also need to take into account that each tank has different damage zones; hitting one head-on is usually the worst option, as the tank has heavier protection on its front. The sides and back are weaker, but if you're precise enough you can knock out its treads or turret, effectively ending the battle in one shot.
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All of this makes for a slower, more methodical shooter, where each and every movement needs to be carefully planned with due care being paid to the lay of the land and available cover.
It's also worth noting that every player has a different role; the small, weaker tanks are scouts and it's their job to spot the enemy so the slower, more powerful tanks can trundle in and take them out. This vital task means that newcomers can drop into the game and still be useful even though they don't have immediate access to the more potent vehicles. Points are handed out for spotting enemies as well as taking them out, so even if your gun is silent for the entire round, that doesn't mean that you can't contribute and earn experience points.
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And experience is what it's all about, really. To unlock new tanks, upgrades, crews and much more besides you need to grind away at the game for quite some time. As a freemium release you can drop into World of Tanks without spending a single penny, but you are constantly tempted to open your wallet by the presence of premium rewards.
Real-world cash can be spent on gold – World of Tanks' in-game currency – that allows you to unlock more powerful tanks and speed up the rate at which you earn experience. While you can ignore such temptations and with enough perseverance become an adept player, there's no denying that shelling out actual cash enables you to fast-track your military career. Later in the game you have to invest some serious time in order to progress without resorting to buying gold, and while it's an enjoyable experience throughout, it can feel like a grind at times.
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With cross-platform connectivity and a large collection of fans already playing and enjoying the game, World of Tanks offers a vibrant and active community to team up with and fight against. Unpredictable human opponents keep each and every match interesting, and the tactical depth baked into the game is remarkable.
Each map calls for different strategies, and these evolve and develop depending on what kind of tank you're driving, or what kind of enemies you're fighting against. You'll also need to work as a team, spotting enemy tanks and calling in fire requests from your larger, heavier allies.
Unlike most FPS titles where teammates are in constant competition to see who can bag the most scalps, World of Tanks calls for a deeper sense of cooperation. The faster, smaller tanks can't win the skirmish without the aid of their bigger siblings, and vice versa.
World of Tanks on Xbox One certainly looks the part, with improved models, textures and visual effects which make good use of the more powerful hardware. There are some disappointments to consider – driving your tank through some smaller structures merely results in them vanishing immediately rather than collapsing realistically, but this is a minor quibble when you consider how large and complex the game's maps are.
If you find a chance to take a breather amid the chaos of warfare then you'll be rewarded with some gorgeous vistas and breathtaking, picture-postcard backdrops. You can watch the sunlight catch blades of grass as they dance in the wind, or witness the sun setting on a mountainous Italian hamlet – all before these sleeping environments are reduced to rubble by incoming shells.
World of Tanks on Xbox One is a fantastic update of an already impressive online title which harnesses the power of Microsoft's console to deliver a slick and visually striking package.
There's no barrier to entry thanks to the freemium approach, but this is a double-edged sword as the game can become a grind unless you're willing to invest real money.
However, it's such a compelling, deep and addictive experience that you might not begrudge dropping a few quid on premium currency, and even if you do, you have nothing to lose by taking it for a spin across some crater-filled battlefields.