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Armoured Warfare: Company of Tanks on Android vs World of Tanks: Blitz on iPad

Bringing a whole new meaning to mobile warfare
Product: Company of Tanks | Developer: Critical Force Entertainment | Format: Android, iPad, Windows Phone | Genre: Action, Multiplayer, Shooter, Simulation
Company of Tanks Android, thumbnail 1
Nature abhors a vacuum. So, like green shoots breaking up the concrete of an abandoned parking lot, the success of World of Tanks on PC ensured that similar games would arrive for mobile.

Now, of course, Wargaming has provided us with the real deal in the form of World of Tanks: Blitz. That, however, is (currently) iOS only.

Luckily, for Android gamers, that legion of mimics is still out there to delve into. And one of the better candidates is Company of Tanks.

Having played both side by side, it's fascinating how the same source material resulted in such different titles. They look pretty similar on the surface, but the play experience on each is quite distinct. And it's made me question my assumptions as to why Blitz made such a splash on the App Store.

But first, let's take a look at the game itself. It makes no secret of its inspiration. The core offering being online multi-player tank battles with upgradable, unlockable vehicles.

Tim Spaninks, the lead designer at studio Critical Force Entertainment was similarly forthcoming. "World of Tanks on PC made us realize that there was a huge gap in the market on the mobile platforms for tank-related shooter games," he told us. "The demand was high and at the time there were no quality games around in this area. We're in the business of making quality multi-player shooters on mobile, so this was right up our alley."

However, he was at pains to point out that Company of Tanks came out for Android and Windows Phone in December 2013. That's six months before Wargaming stomped onto the app store. So Critical Force are, in fact, the pioneers on mobile territory.

The way the games are different becomes noticeable as soon as you've passed the simple tutorial for Company of Tanks. Whereas the focus for Blitz is on team battles, CoT offers both team and solo deathmatches, and tilts toward the latter.

I'm not sure this is by design, however. There don't seem to be anywhere near as many people playing CoT, so opposition can be a bit sparse. And while a solo deathmatch can be satisfying one-on-one, playing a team game with two per side feels a bit sparse.

Perhaps inevitably, the game lacks the high level of polish you see in Wargames's adaptation - especially in the visuals.

They have a striking, slightly cartoonish look about them. Maps looks good enough at first and the game feels smooth, even if it makes my Android phone a little too hot for comfort.

When you've played for a while, though, you notice clipping problems. The edges of buildings disappear as you skirt them, and tanks get stuck in gaps they ought to fit through.

While neither game claims to be a simulation, the level of historical modelling is also much lower in Company of Tanks. Its iOS counterpart has impressively realistic models for a range of real fighting vehicles. While the more limited roster in CoT picks from the same pool, they look far less realistic on screen.

That irks me, because tanks are something that interest me. But deep down, I know it's not something that's important in games.

Spaninks agrees. "Many historically themed games seem to focus too much on accuracy when fun and gameplay should be the main priority," he said. "It is a game after all. Especially on mobile a lot of people are looking for a quick, bite-sized, fun experience. That's what we set out to deliver with Company of Tanks."

It still feels like a loss. There's no real armour or damage modelling in the Android game, so rear shots don't seem more effective than front shots. You can't aim to shoot the tracks off the opposition to leave them sitting ducks.

One thing both games share is a determination to make the little guy fun to play. Light tanks ought just to be quick snacks for their bigger siblings. But a skilled player in both games can use their maneuverability to make them hard to hit, while raining down return shots.

As you delve deeper into the game, that "bite-sized" tilt becomes more and more apparent. Games tend to be shorter, with four minute timers. The real differentiation, though, is that while Blitz feels like a halfway house between a shooter and a simulator, CoT is an arcade game at heart.

You might have guessed this from some of the simplifications we've already discussed. It's the controls that stand out, though. Your turret aim whips round like greased lighning in the Android game. And there's a forgiving joystick that doesn't care much about which the front or the back of your tank is. It just goes in the direction you're expecting, regardless.

This cuts both ways. A lot of the tactical play in Blitz is completely lost, as is some of the skill. It was always marvelous to see top players smoothly handling their mechanical behemoths in that game. Here, anyone can do it with a little practice.

Yet at the same time, it's a more level playing field and it's more exciting. This is a game where reflexes still rule and twitch tells the difference between winning and losing.

Spaninks was clear that this was a deliberate design choice. "It's fast-paced and arcade-like compared to World of Tank's slow-paced strategical nature," he explained. "Company of Tanks is just straight up shooter fun and is not pretending to be anything else."

This ought not to work. If several years of mobile gaming have taught me anything, it's that standard shooter fare doesn't work well on the platform. You need more detailed and nuanced controls than a touchscreen can provide.

Yet Company of Tanks is only "fast-paced" in comparison to its inspiration. When compared with console shooters, it's positively turgid. That slight slowing down is enough to make this simplified shooter play in satisfying way on mobile.

Another aspect of this simpler play model that I enjoyed was the stripped down upgrade process. The technology trees in World of Tanks could be annoying, and underpinned the monetisation model. Here you just pick a tank and spend in-game gold on pushing up numbers for damage, speed, armour and the like.

Of course, this free to play game still needs to make its developers a profit. You can buy in-game currency of course, but Company of Tanks supplements this by flashing you lots of ads. It doesn't interrupt the game, but it does feel a bit tacky.

It seems to be working for Critical Force. Spaninks told me that the game has had 420,000 Android downloads, and can reach 40,000 sessions on a busy day. It also recently come out on Windows Phone.

He was at some pains to explain how they'd built the profit model. "We didn't want to exploit our players and the game should be a complete and fun experience for anyone," he said. "For us that's what free to play is all about. Not about restricting superior content or making the player wait for timers to complete unless they pay up."

That admirable attitude was also backed up with disarming honesty. "With this ideology it's a lot harder to actually make a lot of money," he continued. "Therefore the monetization of Company of Tanks has not been much of a success yet."

That's a shame. While it lacks the detail and unique balance between twitch and tactics that makes World of Tanks such a joy, this is an accessible and entertaining game. And since it's free, there's no risk to trying it out. 

Until such time as Wargaming see fit to port their masterpiece, Android gamers looking to fill the game would do well to do just that.

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Reviewer photo
Matt Thrower 24 September 2014
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