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Posted on Nov 23, 2011 in Electronic Games

Tanking In Battlefield 3 and Red Orchestra 2

By Charlie Hall

The undisputed king of multiplayer shooters these past few years has been the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (MW) series. The allure is their frenetic pace and multiple-kill streaks their ultimate payoff. After a dozen or more kills you can call in attack choppers, jet fighters, and artillery of various shapes and sizes. But these AI assistants rarely give you the control that a simulator can offer. Makers of FPS games are rightfully concerned with getting you back into the environment they designed, behind the small arms they modeled and the perks they granted you over the last few hundred matches. High-end flight simulators have spiraled off into a niche all their own. Considering that many gamers don’t have the patience (or the budget) to properly rig up three screens, a HOTAS set, and learn the pre-flight checklist on an A-10, what are you to do when you need some time behind the wheel of a proper war machine?


Let’s talk tanks.

This holiday season has given us two unique takes on vehicular combat of an intimate variety: Battlefield 3 (BF3) and Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad (RO2). Comparing the tanks in these games tells us a lot about how the games themselves are designed and the kind of gamer each will appeal to. The games even share a similar weapon system.

Battlefield 3 is the latest in a long line of mixed unit multiplayer combat games from the developers at DICE. Instead of being earned through feats of marksmanship a la MW, vehicles in BF3 are essentially free for the taking. Spawn in, wait in line, and take control of an M1 Abrams or T-90A.

A T-90A being repaired by an industrious engineer with what is clearly the world’s hottest Benzomatic propane torch. This scene ended poorly. Objective C was overrun, the repairman killed, and the tank captured by the Americans. My advice is simple: stand behind the tank when making field repairs.

Once inside, both tanks perform essentially the same. There are two positions, the main gunner/driver position and the remote machine gunner position. The main gunner engages targets at range with the awesomely powerful armor piercing rounds fired by the main gun. When the rounds are loosed down range the entire machine rears back on its haunches, dust shivers from its flanks, and the long barrel recoils into the turret. All the while the remote gunner is chattering away at infantry targets, nimbly picking off anti-tank troops that the gunner/driver will be unable to engage with the main gun.

Urban settings are challenging for tanks in BF3 just as they are in the real world. Infantry is hard to spot. Had I been properly kitted out it would have been a simple matter to slap a few bricks of C4 to the hull of this passing M1 and roast these tankers alive.

The notable difference between driving a tank and playing any other role in BF3 are the visuals. The design conceit inside these tanks is that they are completely automated. Your view is a zoomed in version of CCTV camera, complete with a hazy green tinge and digital artifacts. Frankly, it’s a bit like assaulting fortified positions from the back room of a convenience store.

As a compromise for the democratized allocation of armored vehicles tanks are fairly fragile in BF3, ensuring that many different hands will touch the throttle in a single round. Even an experienced team of tankers, working together and communicating via voice chat, can only last so long in the open. The damage they take is not location specific, and a few rounds from a simple RPG are all that stand between them and the long, cold wait for a respawn.

Hits registered on tanks in BF3 are unspectacular. The tank is damaged in an anonymous way, and its life bar is decreased. The explosion generally emanates directly from the top of the vehicle regardless of the direction it’s hit from…

… but when they are knocked out the results are spectacular. My tank here nearly rolled over from the impact of a T-90A shell. The turret slid off and crushed my erstwhile repairman against a curb.

Tankers’ incentive for staying hull down for hours on end are the powerful unlocks available to them. Zooming optics turn your main gun into a sniper rifle, allowing you to stand off camouflaged against a mountainside and bracket rounds in on unsuspecting enemies across the map. Infrared smoke mortars hide you from the prying eyes of chopper pilots and fighter jocks, while thermal vision allows you to fire from behind the cover of wrecked buildings and burning fuel depots. One of the final unlocks even opens up a third seat in the tank which turns you into an armored laser designator lighting up targets for your team’s many other guided weapons systems.

The tank HUD in BF3 communicates a lot of information to the player, including orientation of the main gun in relation to the hull. Simple iconography and transparency leave plenty of room to find targets. The middle of my screen shows an enemy tank, to the right a triangle designating an infantryman. Note the coaxial heavy machine gun bolted to Crunch Time’s main gun. This upgrade, while slow to fire, offs most soft targets with a single round.

The amount of technology represented by the capabilities of BF3’s tanks is stunning, giving them incredible destructive power. Their interface is immediately recognizable to the player; point, click, and kill. They can support an infantry offensive and lead a breakout on their own, or become the focal point for highly sophisticated target acquisition. For more casual gamers they are the very best option for being mobile and engaged in the battle. But they are incredibly fragile, and once slowed make easy prey for any grunt with a rocket launcher.

Positive impacts shake the vehicle and ring in the players ears. The connection to your CCTV is interrupted as the entire vehicle absorbs the hit.

After a few more matches I should have access to a laser-guided fire-and-forget shell. Infantrymen can use their mobile designators to paint me a target, and I can hit it from behind cover. While I am familiar with the M982 Excaliber, I’m not entirely sure this is a “real” piece of kit available to modern tankers.

For gamers looking to spend more time learning their role, and how to communicate with their teammates, there is no substitute for RO2’s immersive tanking experience. What you’ll first notice when you climb inside the German Panzer IVG or the Russian T-34 is that you will actually climb inside them! Both vehicles have been painstakingly modeled from the inside out. Take command of a team of AI tankers, or drop in with friends. Either way, you’ll be able to look around inside the cabin and watch your comrades fighting, and dying alongside you.

The Panzer IVG modeled by Tripwire Interactive is a real thing of beauty. This cut-away proves they put the effort in, and the payoff is a fairly realistic penetration model. If you are a Russian tanker there is no reason to stand still against these things. Keep moving, keep firing, and don’t stay in the open for too long. Land a shell in the flank weapons magazine and you might just be rewarded with a spectacular explosion.

As the commander your job is to give the other men in your tank information and direction on where to go and what to shoot. When far from the action commanders can open the top hatch and use their binoculars to survey the battlefield. When entering urban areas with taller buildings they can button up and scan the horizon with the inbuilt periscope. If they remain topside snipers will pick them off, effectively blinding the tank.

Gunners are able to switch between regular and zoomed in optics. Unlike BF3 where a helpful neon asterisk marks every enemy for all to see, tankers in RO2 will need to be able to pick the enemy’s silhouette out at a distance through the haze of wintery weather or the smoke of incoming artillery rounds. Experience will tell you at what range the enemy is, giving the first shot that much more of a chance to strike home. Since each tank is meticulously modeled individual components will fail. Hit a T-34 in the glacis and the driver will have little more than a bruised ego, but bounce one off the mantlet and you have a good chance of killing the commander.

Ivan doesn’t have a lot of room to maneuver inside the T-34. When playing alone in a tank, an option some game modes give you, players can actively switch between all the positions.

Defending a tank at close range is a harrowing experience in RO2. What in BF3 is a remote-controlled turkey shoot becomes a white-knuckled game of cat and mouse. An axial MG-34 on the Panzer allows for a decent field of view, especially when you are leaned in over the iron sights. But the limited sweep means that you and the driver must be simpatico in order to find and fix the enemy effectively. The Russian-made T-34’s machinegun port is little more than a pinhole. You’ll have better luck running the enemy down than perforating them from the front seat.

Here a commander and gunner/loader work together to line up a Panzer for the kill.

Honestly, both tanks are better protected from the outside. You’ll have no better friend than a helpful infantry squad rooting out anti-tank troops and helping you make effective use of your high-velocity rounds. Better yet, you can work together to dynamically leapfrog across open ground. The tanks in RO2 will bring the average gamer to their knees with the challenging level of difficulty. But anyone with the luxury of time, and trusted teammates, can learn these vehicles and be rewarded.

About the Author

By night Charlie Hall is a writer for Gamers With Jobs ( His relevant interests range from pen-and-paper role playing games, to board games and electronic games of all types. By day he is a writer for CDW Government LLC. Follow him on Twitter @TheWanderer14, or send him hate mail at He, his wife, and daughter make their home in far northern Illinois. This summer you can find him crouched over his newly built PC, or prowling the vendor floor at GenCon in Indianapolis digging up new and exciting games to play and stories to write.




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