Tread Marks

Those treads come with some wayward controls.

2_1In the world of racing games, introducing new and unique features to attract buyers can be a challenge. After all, the goal is always to get from point A to point B faster than your opponent. Longbow Digital Arts, a small US-based developer, tosses an unusual albeit questionably delivered concept into the mix with Tread Marks. Your objective is still to get to the finish line first, but in this case you must do so driving one of several different tanks, laden with weaponry that’s equally destructive and blindingly colorful.

You begin the game by choosing one of 20 tanks, ranging from the small, nimble Dwarf to the larger Dreadnought to one of several futuristic “liquid” hovertanks. You then move on to a second screen where you choose from one of over 50 terrain maps, select what type of AI tanks will be present, their numbers and skill level, and whether you want to race around or just kill each other outright.

In Race mode you must navigate a course laid out on the map by driving through sets of pylons along the way. Keeping your focus on the course is offset by the distraction of staying in one piece, as your opponents will use every weapon available to slow you down. In the event you lose your bearings a white arrow floats over your tank indicating the direction to the next checkpoint, with a map in the lower left hand of the screen that shows your location and that of your opponents. You can’t die in Race mode, but it is possible to have your turret knocked off, eliminating your offensive capacity temporarily. Alongside standard racing is deathmatch, which also lets you team up with other tanks.

7_1This all sounds nice and fun but unfortunately the game is marred by a gravitational model that’s much too lunar, turning every facet of driving into a grind. The modified physics allow for spectacular jumps as a result, but at the same time give the impression that none of the vehicles carry any mass. This is further hampered by a lack of track grip resulting in uncontrollable slides, usually ending you up in a ditch courtesy of forward momentum. The awkward third-person camera with its low field of view doesn’t help much in this regard, and neither does the unwieldy interface.

But as an independent software developer, Longbow Digital Arts has done a good job overall (developing a 3D action game with their resources couldn’t have been an easy ride). A few of the engine’s cooler aspects include the particle effects, which look good but are delivered in blinding amounts. By far the most impressive feature is the destructible terrain. Pitched battles scar the landscape with smoldering craters that actually change the shape of the world, with heavier weapons delivering more pronounced damage.

Tread Marks has its moments of creative energy and tidbits of clever design, but at the end it’s only halfway through its intended mark of providing a fun, playable arcade tank game. The frequently unbearable zero-G physics, camera and controls need some getting used to.

System Requirements: P II 233 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 350 MB HDD, 8 MB Video, Win98

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