Retrospective: Wild Metal Country

Rockstar juvenilia.

Faster, little space-tank, faster.

My trusty Manta is haring along a mountain ledge with a lynch-mob of hostile vehicles nipping at its heels. Mine dispenser empty and hull integrity a hair's breadth from 'Totally Screwed', my only hope now is flight. As long as I keep weaving and stay lucky I might just escape - I might reach the nearest teleport station with my cargo of pods intact.

Assuming I remain focussed, that is. Cresting a small rise my speeding war machine almost flips over. Only deft fingerwork keeps the broad caterpillars in contact with the ground. The vehicle is still twitching, still striving to regain lost speed, when an incoming gravity shell lifts it into the air and hurls it unceremoniously off the mountain.

Tank is now toboggan. Out of control, I plummet towards certain-ish death. If the landing is hard, it's curtains. If there are hostiles below, it's curtains. If I somehow survive the descent but end up on my turret, it's probably curtains. I'm careering towards a John Lewis textiles department of doom.

The last cliff kiss isn't fatal, but neither is it kind. The Manta ends up inverted, floundering on its back like an overturned beetle. Normally I'd rotate the cannon and pump a shot into the earth to jolt myself upright. This time that's not an option as I'm so badly mauled the splash damage would finish me. No, my only chance now is to tap 'R' and wait for the recovery chopper to arrive. Fingers-crossed my pursuers haven't decided to follow their quarry down the slope.

White blips on the scanner. That's not good. Like a castle dweller evacuating his bowels over the battlements, an enemy AFV is dumping mines over the ledge edge. I watch helplessly as the lethal cylinders bounce past. Then something bigger tumbles into view. One of the mob has decided to follow me down.

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That uninspired FPS you are currently slogging through? Abandon it. Play this.

The pursuer lands with a bone-crunching thump right next to my armoured avatar. I wince, awaiting the kill-shot, then realise he too is turret-side down. Ha! You should have stayed up there my friend. Now you're stranded like... Hey. What are you playing at? STOP!

My overturned companion has swiveled his weapon in my direction. There's a few feet of rock between muzzle and target, but it looks like the daft beggar is going to try a shot anyway. With the thwop-thwop of imminent salvation echoing down the valley, my foe slings his fateful shell. Shell strikes rock. Shell explodes ripping apart shell-slinger. Shell-slinger explodes ripping apart Manta. RIP little space-tank. I watch as a rainbow of multicoloured pods spews from my disintegrating chariot and bounces across the valley floor. I watch, and as I watch I mull over thoughts I've mulled over many times before.

"Wild Metal Country, you brilliant, quirky, exhilarating creature. Why aren't you better known? Why did you never get a sequel? Why did certain members of my profession think you warranted a measly 5 out of 10?"

Actually, I know the answer to that last one: some of my fellow play-assayers are 24-carat cretins who really didn't get on with the unusual-yet-inspired controls and superficially repetitive action.

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If it moves, slay it then then hoover up its health-restoring energy core.

If reviewers like Mr. Prolix had spent a little more time shepherding tanks up craggy mountainsides and powersliding them round tumbling landmines, he might have realised that DMA's approach to control isn't actually "clumsy and awkward" - it borders on genius.

Having separate forward and reverse keys for each caterpillar track permits wonderfully subtle manoeuvring. Plant two fingers diagonally on the square of four keys and your metal trundler spins on the spot. Depress the upper pair of keys and you move forward in a straight line. Momentarily lift a digit while in forward motion and the tank veers towards the side of the decelerating track. Add bumps and explosion shockwaves, great physics and various surface types, and you've got the recipe for amazingly tactile, improbably interesting movement. Returning to a WASD game after a day or two of Wild Metal Country feels like switching to Fosters after a summer on Budvar.

If DMA made a control-related mistake it was giving the novice player access to turreted tanks. Even for a veteran Wild Metalist tracking targets with the turret controls while in motion, is a tall order. After a few hours of dizzy disorientation and accidental cliff descents (the camera points in gun rather than hull direction) you're either going to stalk off in disgust, or have a eureka moment and realise that there's actually no need to turret-traverse. Your heavy-calibre shell delivery system can be aligned with incredible precision just using the track keys.

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