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Title: Deathtank Zwei
Developer: Lobotomy
Publisher: Sega
Date Published: 1997
Platforms: Sega Saturn

Ah, Deathtank. In my consideration, the finest multiplayer video game known to humanity. But enough gushing, let's give you the facts.

During the era of the Saturn, Sega were keen to pick up third party titles to complement their strong first party line up. They managed to pick up the licences to Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, and employed the little known code shop Lobotomy to port them. Lobotomy were previously known for their first person shooter Exhumed (a.k.a. Powerslave (US), Egypt 1999: Resurrection Of Pharaoh (Japan)) and so they seemed an obvious choice. Lobotomy, taking this seemingly difficult task in hand, decided to code up a sequel to the mini game hidden in Exhumed to throw in with Quake and Duke Nukem. Come the time of release, they'd honed this sequel into Deathtank Zwei, and included it as an unlockable feature in Duke Nukem 3D as a bonus for having both a Quake and Duke Nukem 3D save file present.

So what is it? At first glance it doesn't look very special. Players sit around the same screen and each control in real time a tank. The view is side on 2D of a mountain range, with the tank sitting on the ground at some point. Above the tank is an arrow which shows the length of the shot, and the angle of the parabola. Ballistics, that's what it's all about in Deathtank Zwei when you get down to the meat of the game. The round starts and all the players (and there can be up to seven of them) aim and fire at each other. After a few hits you die. It's your typical last man standing scenario.

If that was it, it'd be a blip on the radar, but Lobotomy have created a stand out product with a few simple steps:

  • Up to seven players around one TV - the Saturn's standard multitap converts one controller port into six
  • Large range of weaponary and tools - it's easy to specialise your game
  • Skill based gameplay - you do need to practise to get good

After every round, the game tots up the points scored. Points mean cash. Cash means better weapons. Better weapons mean more points. Examples of additional weapons are user guidable missiles, nukes, rolling mines, and very frightening things called Death's Heads. Tools are also available: jump jets, hover coils, and shields. In game your tank can only move very slowly; jump jets let you jump a short distance against the force of gravity allowing your tank to get out of the way of a locked in opponent. Hover coils turn off gravity and allow you to float around the screen for a period of time.

So what do you need to get together for a game of Deathtank? At a bare minimum you'll need a TV, a Saturn, a Saturn multitap, a few pads, a copy of the Saturn version of Duke Nukem 3D, and a copy of either Quake or Exhumed. Oh, and some friends. And an hour or so to get a few rounds in. As a general idea, me and my friends usually play thirty to fifty rounds in a session, although we have managed two hundred and fifty in a single game (which took six plus hours).

Over the years, several key tactics have emerged which I'll try and detail here:

  • The 'be obscenely good with missiles' strategy - a good strategy as this allows you to kill snipe (stealing a kill with a missile after the other players have worn the poor target down. Also lets you shoot hovering tanks out of the air to much applause.
  • The hover coil and MIRV combination - position your arrow directly up, and select a MIRV as your weapon. Hover over your target, fire the MIRV, and jink to one side. The four warheads from the MIRV will all land on the same target obliterating it.
  • Hiding offscreen and lobbing in nukes - on reflection this may not be a valid technique outside Europe. Due to a technical quirk in the SCART video cable standard, images tend to be shifted slightly to the left which creates a hiding area slightly offscreen. It can be effective to hide there, fire a spotter shot with the normal cannon, then fire a nuke along the same lines.

The game gets a lot more involved than just these three tactics, but explaning more here wouldn't be warrented. Suffice to say, it's something one really ought to experience. I know the conditions for getting a game together look a little difficult, so here's an open invitation. If anyone in the UK would like to experience a game of Deathtank, come to http://www.gamiko.com/ and introduce yourself to my circle of friends. The next time we have a game, feel free to come along.

The are several PC clones of Deathtank floating around online in varying states of development. Conceptually it's a reasonably simple game, but it seems that the big effort comes in gameplay tuning. I've tried a few of these clones and although the ideas are good they're not quite there yet. They also seem to be focussing on internet play, and the main charm of Deathtank is having a large group of your friends swearing at each other in the same room. Unfortunately, shortly after completing Quake Lobotomy split up and the chances of an official Deathtank Drei look slim at best. Ezra Dreisbach (the director of Lobotomy at the time) was last seen working on the Playstation 2 port of Baldur's Gate and the rest of Lobotomy have scattered to the wind. A shame.

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