Robot Tank is, obviously, Activision's version of Battlezone, but the game was written so as to avoid licensing trouble with Atari. And, this 1983 release competes favorably with the 2600 version of Battlezone. Personally, I love both of those games, but I do prefer Robot Tank, and that's probably because of the great graphics and overall depth of the game.
Graphically, this game shows what talented programmers could produce for the 2600. Enemy tanks are only one color, but are fairly detailed and don't look as blocky as a lotof objects that have hurt the eyes of 2600 owners for years. When an enemy tank explodes, you get a nifty, spiraling graphic and the result when the player's tank is destroyed is just impressive -- it looks like a television set that has just lost reception. Furthermore, the weather and time change in this game, and the sense of snow, night, dawn, rain or whatever is conveyed very well. Activision was always known for pushing the abilities of the 2600, and that company gave Atari fans what they expected with Robot Tank.
This game is viewed in a "first person" perspective in that the player "sees" his view from (according to the manual) a broadcast from the front of the tank. Enemy tanks are tracked by a radar, and the player must spin around and get them in front of his vehicle to shoot at them.
The sound is pretty good, too, although it's nothing to write home about. You get explosions, the sound of cannons being fired, a warning alert when the player's tank has been hit and that type of thing. There's really not a whole lot in the way of sound effects here, but you really need to get a different game system if you're expecting great sound out of a 2600. The sound effects are serviceable and add to the overall atmosphere of the game. That's all I really want out the 2600's sound channel, anyway, and Activision didn't disappoint me.
So, the graphics and sound are fine, but what really makes this game shine is the absolute depth of it. Indeed, this game is fairly complex for a 2600 title. First of all, as I've mentioned, the time changes as the game progresses. It's easy to see tanks on a bright morning, while the player has to rely on his radar to spot enemies at night.
Better yet, the weather changes, too, and that adds a whole new dimension to the game. For example, enemies are difficult to spot in fog, snow and rain. Snow and rain interfere with the performance of the player's tank -- snow causes the vehicle to slide a bit while rain interferes with how fast the unit can move and spin on its treads. The weather changes daily, and that little feature just adds a lot to the enjoyment of the game.
But wait! There's more! If the player's tank is hit by an enemy shell, that doesn't necessarily mean the vehicle is destroyed. Instead, it can be damaged. A damaged tread impacts the tank's ability to move and turn, while firing the cannon is a hit and miss affair if the gun has been popped by a shell. If the view screen or radar have taken damage, visibility is affected.
As for goals, that's pretty simple -- blast as many tanks as possible. After a squadron of tanks is destroyed (a squad equals 12 units, by the way), a bonus tank is awarded to the player and the difficulty level increases.
So, there's a good amount of depth to the game, but it does suffer from some problems. First of all, only one enemy appears on the screen at a time. I know this game isn't realistic at all, but it would make a lot more sense to have the player rushed by two or three enemies at a time. Also, enemy tanks can't fire at the player unless his vehicle is facing them. That's always struck me as odd and limits the challenge of the game quite a bit.
Overall, this is a very solid title for the 2600 that competes favorably with Battlezone. While I enjoy that game, Robot Tank truly gives it a run for the money. This game demonstrates, once again, why Activision is still loved by 2600 fans.