Year or two ago a mate informed me of an RTS lurking in one of E3’s murkier corners called Tooth and Tail, said it seemed like the sort of thing that’s right up my alley. Discovering they were in an early alpha stage I burst into the developer’s Discord and waved my Starcraft cred about like a lawman’s badge which duly secured access. One swift Steam download later I opened it, curious to discover what rich new ideas so intrigued my associate, trembling with anticipation at the myriad of earthly delights to come. Immediately I was greeted with controller prompts. Oh dear. TnT is an RTS designed to be played on consoles, which feels like designing a casino that goes on the sun. To the developers credit (Pocketwatch games) it’s as solid an attempt can be made, focusing on a minimalist control scheme and fast paced matches lasting about 5 minutes or so. Allow me to describe how simple this all is in one paragraph or less
You control a rodent commander fellow who runs around a simple isometric 2d battlefield. Your HQ/resource centres are called Gristmills and you position farms around them to make money. You spend money on huts that automatically spawn units. One button summons all your dudes to a location, a second button calls only one set of dudes, hold either button down to force move them, tap it to attack-move. If you’re near a particular enemy these buttons allow you to focus that target. You start a game with a loadout of up to 6 different unit huts and defence structures and if your commander dies they quickly respawn at a Gristmill. There’s 24 different types of dude hut/defensive structure all with their strengths and weaknesses so it’s all about trying to pick the right ones and not getting them all killed. That’s it. That’s all Tooth and Tail is.
Now I’m an RTS guy to my core. Cut me and I bleed strategy (in Real Time) which is why a minimalistic approach doesn’t work for me at all. In fact it’s incredibly frustrating. Since I can only control the commander I can’t micro or macro with the sort of precision I’d prefer. Units make themselves and for the most part micro themselves. Jeez, I guess you have to sacrifice an enormous amount of functionality to get an RTS to work for controllers. It’s almost like it’s a fundamentally awful idea. I’m also not a fan of the whole ‘choose your unit loadout before a match’ mechanic, it’s very daunting to choose from the 24 provided which strikes as going completely against the design ethos of simple and accessible.
I suppose I can see the appeal here. For most people playing an RTS is like being forced to juggle dynamite, perhaps scaling back the level of entry is acceptable. And to the games credit the fundamentals of RTS are still there, ie scouting, composition, timing, map awareness, high ground, that sort of thing. But in this pursuit it sacrifices an awful lot of depth, and not just mechanically. I’m incredibly fond of Company of Heroes 1 and 2 and those are games I can play with a mug of tea in one hand. What kills it for me is simply that it’s far too shallow. You just make a bunch of units, run around with minimal effort and somebody wins in a few minutes. I don’t think I can enjoy an RTS where I can’t directly give commands to units and to do that effectively you’re going to need a Mouse and its partner the Keyboard.
I hardly played the game and that was that. Or so I thought. TnT got it’s full release the other day and it was downloadable in my Steam library. I guess I got a release copy for free because I played the alpha and hated it? Humblebrag of the century I know. Guess I’ll explore the single player some, see if I hate that too. Shocking plot twist, I almost liked it!
TnT’s setting is that of a world of adorable anthropomorphised woodland creatures engaged in a hearty civil dispute over who should be turned into liverwurst. It’s a squirrel-eat-falcon world out there, or something. Bizarro-world Redwall, if you will. There’s this juxtaposition of early industrial era optimism with the brutally grim reality of the carnivore land that is the animal kingdom, all viewed through a quasi-Russian lens. No matter how enlightened or developed society gets, it can only function because someone’s eating someone else. The actual story itself isn’t much to talk about, some characters all want to devour each other and rebuild society in their vision (amusingly the educated revolutionary chaps are working to install a capitalist democracy, har har), it’s the backdrop what makes it compelling. I’ll confess I didn’t actually finish it, I got about three quarters through and have packed it in out of the sheer frustration of having to engage in gameplay. Maybe if you beat the final level it sends you a cake? Dunno, don’t care.
Some nice art though.