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Review by: Pete Hines
Published: September 8, 1998
Banking on a hope that fans of Total Annihilation (TA) are still thirsty for more of the same, Cavedog recently released an expansion with new maps, missions, and scenarios called TA: Battle Tactics (TABT). If you had to use one word to describe TABT, it would be “more.” If you had two more words, they might be “so what?” It’s a good question and one that we’ll look at further. Are all of the maps and missions worth your hard-earned money? Let’s first look at what you get.
TABT offers 100 missions that are broken into scenarios for Arm and Core, and then further subdivided according to the length of each mission. The length is a guesstimate of how long it will take an experienced player to finish these missions if they play on the medium difficulty level: very short (5-10 minutes), short (10-20), medium (20-40), and long (40+). I found these approximations to be fairly accurate on average, but the missions occasionally ran longer or shorter. The campaigns lack a real storyline, and so I liked that I could jump into any of the missions without worrying about the order or finishing previous missions. If, after playing TA and then Starcraft, you feel that a game needs a certain personality, you’re not going to find it in TABT. It really sticks with the gameplay and action and offers nothing else in the way of variety, intriguing storylines, and so forth.
The theory behind these missions is that they introduce you to different elements of RTS, so that you become a better player by honing these skills. The Arm and Core missions aren’t exact mirrors of one another, although they do touch on a lot of the same themes. I mean, there are only so many things you need to know about in a strategy game. Shorter missions focus on a single concept while longer missions combine several. For example, things you learn and practice in the very short missions include controlling crawling bombs and defending against air attacks, as well as using your Commander’s D-Gun and effectively scouting out enemy territory. Longer missions stress building comprehensive defenses, quickly building up large stores of resources, performing amphibious assaults and using transport ships.
There’s also a bunch of new maps to try out for multiplayer games. Of course, there’s a lot of maps already out there thanks to the editor that Cavedog put out via the Internet and in the first expansion, Core Contingency. The small manual that accompanies TABT offers a brief description of how to complete each mission, beyond what you get in the briefings. It also has info on a few cheat codes that players might find useful for both single and multiplayer games. Otherwise, that’s really about it. TABT is definitely geared more towards the single-player aficionado who steers clear of multiplayer games. The FX and music are unchanged, as are the graphics.
I can see where Cavedog might have been going with this. If TABT is intended to be a sort of “hand-holding” expansion for people who want to learn how to play an RTS game, then I think the idea was good. One of our writers started playing TABT with just that intention, to learn how to play a new genre he’d never tried before. The problem is the game doesn’t really do that. Sure it tells you what you’re supposed to learn, but I was expecting a sort of walkthrough for some of the missions to say, “You should try this,” or “Here’s why that’s a good way to get killed.” The game didn’t have any of that, and as a result my writer friend tried a dozen or so missions, got creamed almost instantly in all of them, and gave up. If you want to teach someone about tactics in an RTS game, it should almost be a scripted setup where players are eased into the process, doing some things on their own and being told what to do for other parts.
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