As this latest generation of handhelds launched with augmented reality capability packed in, it's not surprising to see developers pumping out a few titles to take advantage of the new tech. Unfortunately - as Table Top Tanks shows - certain hardware limitations can get in the way. At just $3.95, it's a cheap download-only title; but is it worth even that? Keep reading to find out.
So what's it all about? To start with, you place physical, actual pieces of paper called "AR cards" on a flat surface somewhere in your home (or wherever you want to play). Then you point the Vita at the cards, and the Vita then replaces the cards on the screen with tanks, barriers, and other things like that. Because you're then interacting with physical objects, you can move around the cards to get a different view of the battlefield.
Confused? Watch this.
But what do you actually do? Table Top Tanks features two single player modes: solo challenges, a tutorial mode offering up 15 challenges, and solo creator in which you start a match in either a created level or pick from one of the pre-designed maps.
Solo challenges features 15 levels running the gauntlet of skills from aiming and maneuvering your tank, to familiarizing you with the Capture The Flag, Two vs. Two, and Last Man Standing levels. You unlock them as you play, beginning with Little Maze Run - a simple check point run - which, oddly enough, has nothing to do with mazes.
The solo creator is an exhibition / creation mode hybrid, in which you create a battlefield and battle it out against up to four opponents. It features three game types: Capture the flag, Two vs. Two, and Last Man Standing. You can tweak AI skill, have up to three AI tanks, and give combatants up to 10 lives.
In the battlefield editor, you can place real-world objects onto the virtual battlefield by assigning them a basic geometric shape - either cube, cylinder, or sphere - and then adjusting it to fit around the object.
While taking real world items and having them show up in game as obstacles is a novel idea, the feature shows the camera's limitations; objects are frequently out of focus because the AR cards require the PlayStation Vita to be a certain distance from the field. In addition, getting just the right lighting, let alone finding enough space, can pose a problem.
Table Top Tanks' control scheme is similar to most other downloadable shooters; it uses analogue aiming, while the shoulder buttons fire missiles and machine gun rounds. Although it's unclear how much, if any, damage the latter inflicts; the most effective strikes come via the missiles.
The camera control, on the other hand, is entirely based on motion. This is where you will see problems inherent with AR gaming rear their ugly head; you have to keep your PlayStation Vita close enough to keep the AR cards in range, while moving it to keep an eye on your tank. Unfortunately, this is incredibly awkward, and the game will frequently lose sight of the AR cards - wreaking havoc with your game.
The AI tanks function as decent opponents in place of human players; they will attack each other - rather than ganging up on you - and collect power ups, which may be key in tipping the battle in one tank's favor. Speaking of power ups, there are three types for weapons - consisting of various missiles - and defensive, such as shields, reverse controls, and invisibility. Shields and invisibility are the most useful, although reverse controls seem a bit odd.
On the multiplayer front, Table Top Tanks has ad-hoc play for up to four players. It plays out basically the same as a solo player mode; the same three play modes are included. Battlefields created in the solo mode are also available in multiplayer. Unfortunately, you're liable to face the same inherent augmented reality woes with cards going out of focus. Worse still, in this case you may accidentally strike an opponent while you're struggling with the camera; next thing you know, a bloody fight has broken out.
In the end, if you're looking for a cheap augmented reality shooter you can rope your friends into playing at least once, instead of Magic The Gathering, this isn't too bad for the incredibly low price. Just be prepared to hunt for good locations to play it in. If nothing else, this is nice cheap distraction between Resistance Burning Skies and the next big FPS.