Man Tanks and Power Armour

PhotobucketThe concept of armour has been around for centuries now. It started off with boneplates and wooden shields. Different parts of the world started modernising, giving us entire suits made of metal or tightly woven leather that offered unrivalled protection against swords and melee attacks. Armour now consists of bulletproof plates behind tightly bound Kevlar offering decent manoeuvrability and protection, whilst remaining subtle enough to allow camouflage. If games are anything to go by, in the future we will continue this trend by wearing the equivalent of a car’s worth of steel.

You have to admit it, any game these days featuring a military force a little while into the future will have them bound up inside so much armour that if a train were to hit them, you would need to worry about the derailment more. I could understand it if it was just popping up once or twice, but with the frequency that it now seems to be occurring; I really do have to question the practicality of a tank that you can hang up in your wardrobe.

The guilty parties that I can think of being crammed into combat – ready tin cans include Fallout 3, Gears of War, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Halo and Section 8; but this barely scratches the surface, as you could probably name even more. What is it about being a soldier in the age of spaceships that makes something twig in your mind that says ‘I don’t like zips, I’d much rather be welded into my armour’?

Glowing knees, elbows and shoulders give a tactical advantage. Perhaps.

Glowing knees, elbows and shoulders give a tactical advantage. Probably.

The first major criticism is that they can’t be that manoeuvrable surely? That much metal is usually best used in applications that involve wheels or tracks, an efficient way to move all that weight around. Wrapping up your arms and legs in such materials surely can’t make it that easy to move. Even with mechanical assistance built in to the suit you are going to be limited at what you can do. I’d like to see a Space Marine attempt a cart wheel or hand stand.

To their credit, such massive amounts of plate armour must be good at absorbing a lot of damage, but therein lies another problem. Isn’t the point of safe combat (that term being used quite loosely) to try and avoid being hit rather than embracing it and being able to soak it all up? If you’re faced with a wall of hot lead and missiles coming your way, surely being able to move out of its path is more effective than braving it in the face and hoping the armour is as well made as you hope?

Along a similar note to avoiding the test of armour versus whatever high velocity explosive thing is coming towards you, what happened to good old fashioned cover and concealment? Surely the element of surprise is a weapon that can never go out of date. Then why is power armour always shiny and silver, or green, or bright red? Surely it makes more sense that you can stay hidden, for example if you ever have to be on the run from anything, which considering we are talking about games here, is almost always the case.

Being able to hide in a tree or a bush would surely be quite handy, not that you could climb in to one anyway, simply because you will have the combined weight of a British seaside town in high August on your body. Surely the most subtle place you would be able to hide is in a car park, and that relies on you being able to squat over and pretend you are a conceptual motor vehicle.

A 1.5 metre shoulder span. Someone mustve been good at rugby in school...

A 1.5 metre shoulder span makes every door, alcove and niche a fresh challenge.

Another thing to consider is how useful you actually are, being a massive chunk of man tank rather than a durable combat soldier. Sure, stomping around in the open with relative safety has its advantages, but what happens when you need to head inside? Just looking at pictures of these armoured troops, it appears that half of them would struggle getting through doors, let alone getting around the winding corridors of say, an office. Perhaps a church or community centre will be open enough to break in to and shoot up, but unless you’re really nasty that does seem a tad counter productive.

You can also forget about fighting on the first floor of most standard buildings, and for that matter, the ground floor if there is an underground parking structure. It’s amazing that the solid earth beneath a platoon of big metal soldiers doesn’t make more of an attempt to try and swallow them up, let alone a man made structure built to support furniture and people wearing fabric based garments. I wonder how much fuel orbital drop ships must have to use in order to simply take off with these mammoth men on board? Our helicopters of today struggle enough with our relatively lightweight variety of foot soldier.

So what is power armour actually good at? I suppose it does look rather imposing, a much taller than average person stomping towards you in what looks like a suit made on Scrapheap Challenge. Then again does this just make the wearer the priority target? I guess this might mean you would make a good distraction should you ever be required to wear one, as the bullet magnet properties of these things seem to be quite obvious.

You might say that they would be useful to take down armoured vehicles due to their improved metal padding that regular men do not seem to use, but hold on there. Thinking about this practically for a second brings a ton of bricks down on a lot of games. It really does depend on the game as to how the player handles armour confrontations. Being the juicy innards of what is basically a big stompy robot doesn’t sound like a war simulation like Operation Flashpoint.

I think hes smiling in there. I know I would be if I was that safe.

I think he's smiling in there. I know I would be if I was that safe.

The kind of games where this armour does appear usually means you can survive at least one hit from a tank, but because a tank is basically a big gun on wheels designed to kill other tanks, surely wearing a tank yourself makes you more vulnerable? Sure if you were hiding in a ditch an anti tank round wouldn’t do you any favours, but then again, realistically you would not be a priority target. That big metal man approaching the tank does however require a bit of urgency, therefore a lovely anti armour shell is likely to embed itself in his chest.

With the invention of guerilla warfare replacing what used to be two armies facing each other like bowling pins, hoping the enemy doesn’t get too many strikes, subtlety is now as bigger weapon as any. Sure, sometimes a show of force is enough to win the battle, but a man in what is essentially a scaled up version of medieval armour with all the optional extras doesn’t have the same intimidation factor as say, air support or the random chaos of artillery strikes.

Initially then, yes, power armour might give you the edge over the grunty little foot soldiers that have the misfortune of encountering you on a bad day. Any military strategist worth his salt ration however will soon adapt his tactics to keep his squishier forces away from you and deploy something much larger with heavier armour, but possibly not the inconvenience of legs slowing it down. Since weapons and armour tend to have a relationship of very much one-upmanship over each other, standing up to a tank designed to take out the calibre of plating you have protecting your tits, it is a bit of a coin toss when seeing who comes out better.

Heavy space armour can look quite cool, but it is possibly being overused to the point where it isn’t fun and original anymore, and there definitely isn’t enough in the practical uses argument for it to warrant the trend to continue.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.


  1. DuelistVash /

    Wow, where to start on how stupid this article is. The bit where you mention running FROM something is almost always the case, I think you are playing games incorrectly, you have the armour so you can run TOWARDS the enemy.

    In Warhammer 40,000 and HALO the guy in the big armour is genetically modified to be able to be able to use the armour effectively.

    In Section 8 the armour is massive as they drop you out of a ship, and in most cases you need at least a helmet to breath as you never know what enviroment you’ll enter.

    The guys in Gears don’t even have that large a suit of armour, it’s more like a modernised version of tactical gear that the army or SWAT would have.

    In the end power armour looks cool and will always have a place in sci-fi games, I for one wouldn’t want to be stuck on an alien planet in the stuff we wear now.

  2. “there definitely isn’t enough in the practical uses argument to warrant the trend to continue.”

    What exactly are you suggesting?

    I’m pretty sure you play video games because they let you do things you can’t do in normal life, like blow things up. Would you prefer it if Halo had never existed, and Bungie had made a stealth game? Or one where you piloted a drone and guided missiles to pixelated targets? Did you like Gears of War because of how cool you felt, or do you wish it had conformed to reality? And did you enjoy Starcraft? Look at the marines and their armor. Think about what you’re suggesting. FANTASY IN GAMES IS WHY WE PLAY THEM.

    But I still don’t understand your concluding statement. Trends can start out unrealistically, but they must decline rapidly for to be okay? Are you saying that any video game trend that does not have realistically practical arguments for it should decline? Hmm… Ya know what Mario, you needed to stop jumping on guys a loooong time ago. Realistically, that’s totally implausible. If you wanna get through each level with the highest possible chance of survival, you should just bring a gun. Cap all those Goombas from fifty yards away. Why are you getting so close?? Come on. Please people, no more jumping on enemies in platform games. Can we please just give all our video game heroes high caliber rifles and be done with it?

  3. Space combat is mostly about flying your space ship over the other guys planet and dropping nukes on it. While amusingly genocidal this doesn’t make for as good a game as stomping about in Space armour.

  4. Maybe its just meant to be funny guys…

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