World of Tanks: now that's a good and vague title. Roll it around your gamer's brain for a second and see what images float up. Maybe an MMO, with gangs of player tanks raiding factories and defeating massive tank bosses for spare parts. Or it could be some horrible sim that features more than 800 different rivet types and models your crew's gradual descent into insanity if you forget to let them out for toilet breaks. I even had a vision of a Sims-style life sim that was like Dinosaurs but with tanks; the dad tank coming home from work with a tie hanging off his gun barrel, the kid tanks playfully ramming his treads.
World of Tanks is, thankfully, none of these. In fact, it's a lightweight multiplayer action game of tank warfare with a mass of persistent elements. Players pick their tank, kit it out, dive into a battle with some 30 to 60 other tanks, get blown up (or, more rarely, fail to get blown up through a mysterious process known as "winning") and then it's straight back into the tank management menu with an extra handful of credits and research points to do some more fiddling.
The matches themselves are organised in an enjoyably punchy way. They're all team-based, and within 20 seconds of clicking the Battle button you're there, packed in at the starting point with the rest of your skittish metal crew. And then you're away! Trundling off in the direction of the enemy team, ideally following the tracks of someone bigger or faster than you.
Combat itself is also punchy, by which I mean the shells that everyone fires are somewhat prayer-inducing. One shot kills are not uncommon, and if you survive a direct hit you'll often be slowed or temporarily immobilised by it. You know, as if you're not slow enough already. The result is fighting that's more ponderous than most action games, and centred around ambushes, camping, ganging up and furious reversing as you realise you're in a terrible place.
Which isn't to say it's lacking excitement. A standard engagement in World of Tanks might go like this: you and some ponderous tank destroyer are heading around a hill to flank the enemy. Far too late, you spot an enemy light tank in some bushes dead ahead of you, already taking aim. You veer away from him to give the tank destroyer line of sight and grit your teeth in preparation for the hit, which goes thundering into your side, shakes your own targeting reticule into nothing and gouges out some of your armour.
As you're lining up your shot for a second time, you're raked with fire from somewhere else; your evasive manoeuvring has dragged you in sight of some other bastard. Expecting to die at any second, you go wheeling back towards the first enemy tank and start driving straight down the barrel of his gun. It's suicide. Except the tank destroyer gets a shot off first, the guy bursts into flames and you slot yourself neatly into his cover.
To clarify, World of Tanks is about as much of a simulator as your average Call of Duty game. A knowledge of tank tactics might help you not look like a newbie in your first hour with the game (you'll already have the wisdom of sticking to low ground so only your turret is visible, say), but your status is given away by your beginner's tank anyway. The full game will "simulate" more than 150 armoured vehicles from Germany, the Soviet Union and America, but it runs in a window by default and is controlled strictly with a mouse, WASD and, occasionally, the number keys.