Disclaimer: despite being around for the best part of a year, TABS is still listed as being in the preview stages of development. As such, there are quite a few bugs in this game. Regardless of this, it’s still ridiculously entertaining. More on that later.
Having been pushed towards playing this for the first time by a plucky 8-year-old with a penchant for Minecraft, I was apprehensive about whether or not this would be my cup of tea. A cursory glance at some screenshots did little to deter my mental eye-rolling as I tried to feign interest in what looked like a game which had been knocked together by a five-year-old with little understanding of computer programming. Googly-eyed characters and a simple-yet-solid graphic style give this the appearance of a game aimed at a much younger audience, yet the minute the first fight gets underway you know that you’ll come back to this again and again.
In true classic gaming form, this is Red Vs Blue taken to the extreme as you find yourself posed with the task of defeating your opponent (AI/Human) by any means necessary. Despite the fact that there is a surprising amount of depth and strategy to the matches once you actually start to really dig into it, the battles themselves are ‘hands off’ with all of the unrelenting action being driven by AI on both sides of the divide.
It’s difficult to define exactly what genre TABS fits into (although it is definitely attempting to be a strategy game) because of its ludicrous nature and abject levels of hilarity. The main mechanic involves you selecting from a range of available units each of which has a cost depending on its strength, skills and effectiveness.
Levels usually have either a unit number limit or a maximum available spend which has to be considered as you make your selection (to begin with you have one era/genre of characters to work with and more unlock as you progress through the campaign). TABS has a very simple premise in that you pick your units and place them on the arena/battlefield as you see fit and then you relinquish control once you are confident of an assured victory.
As you have nothing to think about once you have committed your army to the forefront of the action, you are instead given control over a floating free-free camera and the ability to slow-down time for either cinematic slo-mo or something akin to freeze-frame which doesn’t quite bring the action to a full standstill. It’s impossible to witness every last spectacle which then happens (or at least not in any kind of close detail) and much of the joy of TABS is found in catching a glimpse of a stand-out moment or seeing an event coming and making sure that you are planted firmly in the thick of the action. I have found myself recording countless clips of matches just for one specific moment of utter genius amongst the madness and this is definitely one of those games where you’ll have plenty to share with your friends as you try to recall your heroic escapades and legends of your army’s unwavering fortitude.
As mentioned before, screenshots cannot do this game justice – you’ll see that from the pics alongside this review (I pride myself on a good screenshot, usually, so it pains me to post some of these) – but the minute the game sets in motion it’s a joy to behold (often because it’s so well stylized and often because the characters do things they probably shouldn’t with hilarious consequences.
Thanks to the AI-driven nature of the game there is a good chance that an event will occur in a match that pretty much breaks everything (in a good way) or leaves you in stitches while it tries to rectify the issues. This could be anything from units getting stuck on the environment and the game not being able to play itself out effectively through to a unit ‘going rogue’ and managing to do things it shouldn’t. Whatever happens though, it’s always funny.
While the hilarious nature of the game never really fades thanks to the seemingly endless random combinations of combatants, your understanding of how to counteract different unit types quickly grows and it’s here that the game really comes into its own.
Some of the levels seem impossible to begin with and it’s very easy to get drawn into just slinging units down with no real consideration in the hope of overwhelming a challenging opponent, however you can be incredibly canny in your choices if you take the time to consider your options more carefully. A case in point would be one of my matches against the Reaper when I was given limited resources to defend myself.
The Reaper is slow-moving but has the ability to strike multiple opponents at once and deals massive amounts of damage if it gets close enough. During one particular skirmish my team were wiped out in moments and the first few attempts at stacking higher-level units on the ground came to no avail. No matter the base strength or attacking attributes of my chosen soldiers, the Reaper was waltzing through them like they were nothing and leaving utter devastation in its wake.
By chance I dropped an archer into the mix on a vantage point and noticed that he was able to strike with reasonable accuracy but lacked enough power to wear his opponent down. On the next round I chose Ice Archers and set them in a group to see how they fared. Their arrows caused the Reaper to slow down considerably and after a couple of attempts at repositioning them I finally managed to beat the level (still a very close call though).
It’s moments like these which make the game so replayable and once you start to dabble with the sandbox mode you can create epic battles just for the chaos it will create. Add in to the mix an almost endless multiplayer mode and the promise of additional units, levels and eras/styles of warfare and it certainly shows promise that TABS will go on to become a bit of a sleeper hit in the coming months. Considering the fact that I pretty much wrote this game off before I even started it up, I have to admit that I’m more than a little surprised by how much I am enjoying it.
If you’ve got Game Pass on Xbox you can get it for free, but the preview version is still pretty cheap if you prefer other platforms. Prepare yourself for some madness and get ready to laugh at some absolute nonsense.
Written and Published In Weed World Magazine Issue 144