capsule review

Atomic Cannon

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Scorched Earth is a turn-based ballistics-oriented strategy game that started life in the PC-DOS era and has spawned countless imitators over the years; Isotope 244 has dusted off the concept for Atomic Cannon, which has been ported to several different platforms, now including the Mac.

The idea is simple: You face off against an enemy tank. You adjust the angle of your cannon and the amount of force you use to shoot different kinds of artillery at your enemy, who fires back at you.

Like I said, this is an old game concept, so Atomic Cannon’s designers have tarted it up with a ton of options to keep you busy. You can play against up to eight computer-controlled opponents or other people (you each take turns on the same computer, hot seat style). Unfortunately, there’s no multiplayer capability for LANs or the Internet. You can also play through a set number of rounds, or deathmatch-style, where you try to destroy the other tanks before they get you.

When it’s your turn, you can select what weapon you want, adjust its trajectory and power, and fire. Alternately, you can buy or sell weapons using the credits you amass by successfully inflicting damage on other opponents. You can also move your tank and increase your armor or shields.

Atomic Cannon—so named for a dark period of our recent history when nuclear powers actually did develop battlefield artillery capable of delivering a nuclear payload—features a tremendous variety of options to tweak and tool performance suited for your machine, and has some really nice special effects. I love the graded and shaded plume effects when you launch a missile, for example, and some explosions have downright nifty particle effects.

You also have control over which landscapes Atomic Cannon displays, tank names and colors, font settings, and more game settings than you can shake a stick at—a dizzying number of options ranging from how many battles per deathmatch or how many rounds you’ll play to how often the wind changes direction, how hard the computer-controlled opponents are, how magnificent the explosions are and much more. In retrospect, maybe there’s a few too many—sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming deciding how you’re going to configure the game.

Having said that, the game’s graphics aren’t really that exceptional—they’re flatly drawn color graphics that are effective enough for what they are, but aren’t spectacular. Then again, Atomic Cannon is a Scorched Earth clone—straying too much from the simple tried-and-true formula is asking for trouble.

One place that I think Atomic Cannon did run into trouble is the soundtrack. I found the retro-’80s arcade game music irritating almost immediately, and went to switch it off in the game’s options screen right away.

What’s particularly neat about this game is how portable it is. In addition to Mac OS X, Atomic Cannon runs on Windows, Pocket PC and smartphones, so you can take the same game with you on a variety of different devices.

Did I mention Atomic Cannon is Universal ? That’s right, you can take it with you on your MacBook or any other Intel-based iMac.

The bottom line

Old school strategy gamers may prefer Scorched Earth, but outside of the annoying soundtrack, Atomic Cannon is a welcome update of the classic idea.

Tanks a million Atomic Cannon lets you choose from a dizzying array of options—perhaps too many—that include setting the landscapes, tank names, colors, and much more.
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