This isn’t a game about being a tank-obsessed Basil Zaharoff, but it may be if you try really, really hard.
Arms Trade Tycoon: Tanks is all about raising your company to prominence of the likes of Vickers or UVZ, just really focused on AFV production above all else. And if you know anything about me or my life goal of putting a laser on a T-55, you’ll understand that I pounced at the chance to preview it.
Arms Trade Tycoon: Tanks Early Access version gives you the chance to play as a British manufacturer from 1914 to 1934, though my interest petered out a lot sooner. You have the run of an entire factory dedicated to solely to tank production before the first tank in the world is manufactured. Yet you persevere, even without the Great War that historically created the demand for a clanking metal with tracks and guns. Instead, my first design saw action against the Belgians in Africa. It’s a minor nitpick, really, as this ahistorical approach justifies having a bunch of tank manufacturers around providing vehicles for a million small wars.
But designing a tank is not a small process! Each one is combination of components – the hull, the sponsons, the tracks, etc.. The parts are then made up of “modifications” like hatches, track extenders and – stretching the definition of components – assembly methods like riveting. All of them are based on existing historical designs. It’s not exactly a physics simulator: you won’t be free-handing hull shapes to make MK IV be triangular, for example.
But you’ll still be able to crank out a frankentank by choosing the parts that best fit your manufacturing capabilities to create a machine that can win government contracts – and maybe ever wars. It’s a fun process – you research components and modifications, slap them together in the Engineering office, and then try to fit them into a cohesive shape in the Design office. This is where I ran into the first issues when I finally managed to make a tank that exceeded the weight limits of the hulls. But tank design metrics matter even before you go overboard: as the tank becomes more mechanically complex, heavy, and requiring more staffing, design issues start to crop up.
You fix these design flaws by throwing money at the issue. But before you can do that, you need to build the dang tank and put it through its paces. Yes, you can hop into it and drive it through a test track, scaling obstacles and shooting targets. I don’t know what does mechanically, though, as there’s a separate off-screen testing process that actually unlocks the design-fixing process. Never the less, the hands-on driving challenge provides an exciting diversion in a game where you’re mostly navigating screens and ogling menus.
But you’re not building the tanks for yourself. In Arms Trade Tycoon: Tanks, you get to bid on government contracts. If you win, you get the real reason to build 20 of your Mark I Mk 2A6 Ausf. Ž Obr. 1921: money. A design is evaluated by how it stacks up against the contest requirements. Each tank is given a points score which you can then manipulate by fiddling with the price, order size and delivery time. I imagine this will be the funny bit in the main game as this is where you can do actual arms traders shit, like submitting a design that’s miles better than the opponent’s while not being that much more expensive than his design, then charging a real premium. Or you can try and win points by selling off your warehouse stock at barely above manufacturing price – targeting the austerity centers of the beancounter brain might just make them miss the fact that your design has but a single fixed gun aimed at the real-rigth. And once your tanks go to war, you can actually see how they fare on the field!
Granted, the game isn’t called “Lockheed-Martin Tycoon,” so bribes and other political shenanigans aren’t in (yet?). A feature that should be present but didn’t work for me is capturing and reverse engineering enemy tanks. Personally, I’d love to see how it works in the final version – it would be hilarious if I could manage to capture, copy and improve enemy tanks in time to have my superior versions meet them in the field. This has to be a crucial bit of the gameplay loop as there is only so much you can do when, as a British manufacturer, you start out only able to research British WW1 designs. I promise I could make the Saint-Chamond work!
Arms Trade Tycoon: Tanks is an exiting title. It may not be the Kerbal Space Program of tanks, but it doesn’t have to be. Once all the parts are in place, it should be a fun combo of a tycoon, designer, and tank driving game. There’s but one technical detail that’s bothering me: all those loading screens when you switch between factory departments. I don’t know if they can fix that, but hey, even the T-34 needed some work before we got the T-34/85!