Updated: March 8, 2012
Zero Ballistics was one of my candidates for the eleventh Linux game compilation. But then, after playing the game for a while, I decided it deserved its own separate article. Not because it has special graphics, a long and elaborate plot or perhaps requires a fancy card just to run at low settings. Nope. The game could not be simpler, lighter or ordinary, from the purely technical perspective. You drive a tank and shoot your enemies. As simple as that. And this is what makes Zero Ballistics such a lovely, addictive title.
Don't be underwhelmed by the modest setting. If you happen to visit the official page, you will learn the game was last updated in 2008, an ancient history in computer terms. The forums are silent or spammed by bots, there's no media noise. For all practical purposes, it's dead, forgotten. But it's available in the repositories, and if you install it, you won't regret it. Follow me.
The game is all about driving a tank, or rather an armored vehicle that looks like part Mad Max part Carmageddon, shooting your cannon, missiles and machine guns at your opponents. You can fight alone or in teams. Being good at killing others will earn you points, which you can then use to upgrade your vehicle. But let's start slowly.
After you create your player, you have the ability to customize your vehicle. For the first few rounds, you should probably go with the default settings, then adjust the configuration to your liking. The game will periodically remind you that you can indeed outfit your tank to match your game style. If you like close and bloody encounters, you will prefer high-explosive rounds, machine guns and mines, if you're more of a sterile type, you'll probably go for the efficiency of armor-piercing shells, lasers and guided missiles.
All of your vehicles will have a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, plus two skills, which can be either offensive or defensive. You will be able to control the two weapons using the left and right mouse buttons, while special magic skills are triggered periodically and need time replenishing. But they will sure come handy in the heat of the battle. For example, laying down mines is a useful feature, especially if you're being chased. Just remember that those mines will hurt you just as badly as your foes.
But now, the game begins in earnest. Your little tank enjoys all the benefits of soft physics. The shooting is independent of your driving, so you truly play in three dimensions. You can aim while hurling forward or reversing or turning sharply. The tricky dynamics take a few moments getting used to, but then you start enjoying yourself immensely. The combination of the wild, fast ride across the bumpy map and rapid gunfire is just splendid. Best of all, you will not always see where you're going, so you might hit mines, collide into trees or buildings or jump, losing your aim.
Killing enemies takes skill, especially since they're doing exactly the same thing - driving, evading enemy guns while aiming theirs. You will find yourself in an elaborate firing dance, with guided missiles zooming above your head and shells exploding all around. Your tank is not impervious to environmental damage, so avoid slamming into objects, especially if you're already wounded, because you will die.
You have to be careful with your aim. And the game would be pointless if it disregarded ballistics, now would it? Especially when you attempt long-range shots, you will notice the subtle firing arc, forcing you to superelevate and compensate. Fully 3D fun, soft, elegant, fast-paced, mindless and simple. Not since the DOS days have I enjoyed a title so much. There's nothing more therapeutic for your geeky nerves than this.
There aren't that many maps, however they don't get boring. The fact you are free to drive as you please opens a new dimension of unpredictability that makes up for the scarcity of levels. Moreover, the bots aren't that dumb either. If I'm not mistaken, they get progressively better over time. However, the major focus is on online gaming against fellow human players. They won't be nice to you, so beware. Again, failure will mostly elicit laughter rather than anger or dismay. And here's me exploding into a thousand fiery pieces.
Against all odds, Zero Ballistics manages to be the perfect recipe for innocent fun and anger management. It is old, obsolete, abandoned, and probably partially responsible for the world's recurring would-be economy crises, but it manages to offer the perfect blend of fun, challenge, violence, and transcending emotional physics that will make you burble with glee like a happy retard, I mean a responsible Linux user.
Zero Ballistics happens to be one of the best arcade leaning toward first person shooter games I've discovered lately, probably three years late. Still, I intend to keep it on my disk and fire it up occasionally, especially when I'm in the mood for some fast-paced no-brainer gaming. There are times for expensive 30GB strategies and war games, and there are times when the primal child craves its one hour of attention. All in all, deducing weak graphics and the scarcity of options, Zero Ballistics still gets a handsome 9/10. Try it, you will love it.