Review: Totally Accurate Battle Simulator

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Review copy provided by developer

What do you call those games where you fight loose, noodley controls to perform the simplest tasks? Fumblecore? QWOP-likes? Infuriating? I played a riff on battle royale games that controlled like that called Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and it ended up being a great mix of hilarity and actual content. That surprised the hell out of me, and left me eager to see how the folks who made it would fare with their main game, Totally Accurate Battle Simulator. Now that I have it, and have fumbled around with its floppy Early Access armies, I find myself surprised yet again at how much fun this thing is, even beyond what I was expecting.

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It’s right there in the title, this is an extremely accurate simulator of historical battles, if you assume the wars of antiquity were fought with googly-eyed mammoths and drunken wheelbarrow racers. Whether dinking around in Sandbox mode or trying your hand at the many Campaign challenges already present, you will always have a small battlefield to work with. The field is divided down the middle, with red and blue forces limited to their respective sides. You choose and place soldiers from a variety of time periods and civilizations, and then click start. From that point on the battle is out of your hands, as your wibbly-wobbly troops wobble their wibbles to war, crashing ranks together in a cacophony of limbs, blades, arrows, snakes, and straw.

A general goes to war with the army he has, and in your case it’s a horde of gormless, boneless chickens yanked along by a drunken, invisible puppeteer. Your troops flop on their feet, flail their arms like spastic muppets, hook their weapons on walls, and scoot face-first through the dirt propelled by their butts. Any dreams you may have of forming perfect phalanxes, advancing troops under focused arrow volleys, or flanking formations with clever maneuvers must be put to rest now, because your soldiers will be lucky to not trip and drown in six inches of water. This is chaos, pure and simple, and the only control you have over it is the makeup of the walking disasters that catalyze it.

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And it is fucking hilarious. The beauty of TABS is not the same as something like Surgeon Simulator or Octodad; you’re not struggling to achieve something normal, you’re mashing flailing idiots into other flailing idiots. The opposing forces of every battle are taken from the same pool of units, separated into thematic groups like cavemen, villagers, knights, and vikings. A group will have a range of units, from clubbers and rock throwers to mammoths and bone wizards for the cavemen, for example, and each is worth a certain number of points. In the Sandbox you can use the point values of each side to judge their relative power, while in the Campaign you are limited to a certain number of points to beat each challenge. The important part, though, is that every unit is equally stupid and ridiculous, from the halflings that rocket face-first into foes to the longships that are carried onto the field and unceremoniously flung at their foes.

It can’t be ignored that TABS is still in Early Access, though that fact only rears its grotesque, incomplete head in a few places. Most notably for me is that the game likes to crash, specifically when you try to exit anyway and it just can’t seem to seal the deal. The interface is sparse and there’s no connective tissue between the Campaign levels, they’re just a sequence of challenges with goofy names and goofier battles. There are promised features on the horizon like three more groups of units (including natural enemies pirates and ninjas) and a unit creator which I simply cannot wait to see in action. But all of this is in fact fairly easily ignored when you’re lining up headbutting vikings against bales of hay with arms and legs.

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Spectacle makes for some of the most memorable moments in gaming, and TABS is designed first and foremost to generate spectacle. Slowing down and zooming in to ground level to see your squires flail against knights, your cavemen explode skyward as a catapult shot slams into their ranks, your mammoths crash through hordes of farmers, and your ballista bolts tear through halflings like a railgun is all you need to put a smile on your face. All the flailing and floppy physics in the world are here not to inspire frustration, but laughter as you assemble armies of googly-eyed rubbermen and watch them slap each other silly. Even fresh into Early Access, Totally Accurate Battle Simulator feels like a total package of chaos and fun, giving you simple tools to watch simple armies beat the tar out of each other in hilarious fashion.

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