It took me a week or so, and I'm not even sure what compelled me to do it, but I finally managed to track down the meaning of Tanarus: It's an Etruscan acronym for "today's confused newbie will become tomorrow's gleeful death merchant."
That's malarkey, of course, but it pretty much sums up what it takes to begin grooving on the intense action Tanarus has to offer. Death - or at least a temporary, virtual facsimile of it - will inevitably dog you as you struggle to get a handle on the vehicles, weapons, and tactics in this multiplayer tank-combat simulation. It can be bewildering at first, and the learning curve might seem steep compared with what you''re getting out of it.
Fortunately, every day is a good day to die in Tanarus - if you heed the lessons each failure has to offer. Do that, and it won't be very long before you'll begin not only to acquit yourself with honor on the field of battle, but actually start dishing out some punishment of your own.
Superficially, Tanarus is sort of a cross between M1 Tank Platoon, Multiplayer BattleTech, and capture the flag. The action takes place online in one of eight arenas, nearly all of which contain four teams that can consist of up to five players each (the exception is ten on ten, which lets two teams of ten square off). Getting into action is a simple matter of selecting the team you'd like to join, choosing a tank and outfitting it with various weapons and modules, and then plunging into combat.
Your obvious mission is to force your will upon the enemy - in plain English, to blast them to smithereens. With each kill you earn points needed to advance in rank (private, corporal, etc.), which in turn determines things such as what arenas you can play in and whether or not you can form your own team. But the ultimate goal is to capture the flag of one of the other three hostile forces: It not only shames them, but also rewards you with beaucoup points toward rank advancement.
You might be thinking this is all pretty straightforward stuff, but the beauty of Tanarus lies in the details. Naturally, each tank has a unique set of specs for armor and speed, but each also comes with a default weapon and some sort of special capabilities. The Chameleon, for instance, is armed with a lancer laser and has devices for both stealth (invisible to radar) and cloak (invisible to the eye), while the Devastator packs a cannon and a nano-repair device that repairs damage from enemy fire.
But choosing the tank that's right for you isn't as simple as grabbing the one with what you feel is the best basic equipment. Each tank has a certain number of bays you can fill with all sorts of goodies, from missile launchers and proximity mines to remote satellite control and battery superchargers.
Speed, firepower, stealth, and maneuverability all must be delicately balanced for you to achieve your maximum kill count (and highest survival rate), and coming up with the right tank AND the best configuration for your style of combat definitely takes some time. The good news is that you can experiment with all the tanks and their myriad configurations in one of the practice arenas where kills and deaths don't count.
To make things even more interesting, each team has a home base where you can head to undergo repairs, make equipment changes, or even pick a new tank. Because all tanks draw their power from internal batteries, how far and fast each tank can go depends on how close it is to a power source: your home base, friendly satellites, and captured recon stations (almost identical in function to your home base except they can be captured, and tank switches aren't allowed).
You might have the biggest, baddest tank in the world, but if you get outside the range of a power supply your battery will eventually lose its charge and you'll be reduced to a crawl - and a slow tank is a dead tank in Tanarus' arenas. Lose all your power at night (yes, there's a constant cycle of night and day), and you won't be able to activate your night-vision module. This dependence on power supply keeps the arenas from degenerating into scattered skirmishes and forces each team to coordinate its movements carefully, adding yet another layer of strategy to the mix.
Arenas dedicated to mano-a-mano battles are a good place to teach a braggart a lesson, but there's no doubt that Tanarus's real appeal lies in team play. It's hard to describe the satisfaction of pulling off a bloody ambush or the feeling of thanks you feel when a buddy saves you from inevitable destruction, but believe me when I say it's extremely rewarding. Play with the same teammates for a few battles, in fact, and you'll feel almost as if you know what they're thinking - provided, of course, that they aren't foul-mouthed hotheads - and once you join a team, that sense will only grow as you compete against other squads in league play.
I've always been willing to sacrifice graphics for better gameplay, but that's not even an issue in Tanarus if you've got a Direct3D card. You won't see every visual trick in the book here - firing a laser at night in close quarters reveals there are no lighting effects, for instance - but the game looks plenty good enough to help you suspend your disbelief. The frame rate can take a pretty big hit when you get five or six tanks onscreen at once, but the same is true of other online games that aren't nearly as visually impressive as Tanarus (Multiplayer BattleTech comes to mind).
Tanarus has been in beta testing for several months now, and it appears that the problems of latency have been reduced about as much as possible - which means how good the gameplay is for you depends mostly on how good an Internet provider you have. I tested the game through three different major providers and experienced satisfying results about 90 percent of the time on each.
But don't take my word for it: Download the shareware version and try it for free. True, you can only compete in practice arenas, have access to only one tank and one slot to save a preferred configuration (registered users can save up to three configs for each tank), but it should give you a good idea what sort of play you can expect. When you check it out, though, don't be surprised if the language occasionally gets coarse: There are a lot of younger players here, and some think nothing of letting fly with some pretty foul insults. There's an option to report offenders, but usually a simple "watch yer mouth" will remind them they're dealing with real people who just don't want to hear it.
Should Tanarus deliver the sort of action you crave, you're faced with the choice of downloading the game or buying it at retail; the retail version carries a $19.95 price tag, but with it you get one month of' free play, a soundtrack, an extra tank, and a map editor. (Because of Tanarus's design, though, the only way to play someone on a user-created map is if Sony Interactive accepts it and puts it on the server). Alternatively, you can download the game for free, but you'll start paying a monthly $9.95 fee for unlimited play from the get-go.
Some might think $9.95 per month is a little pricey for a single game - that's what Kesmai charges for all of its sundry online-only games on GameStorm, for example - but they need to remember that there's really no other game online like this one. And if it gets its hooks in you, you'll probably consider the price a bargain.