What's that coming over the hill - is it a monster? No, it's World of Tanks, a deeply bookish free-to-play game for Xbox 360 in which hooting metal buffalo spit balls of gunpowder at each other. Crafted by Wargaming West, the title is now available to download from Xbox Live, and there's a seven day trial for non-Gold subscribers.
Just getting started? Allow me to endow your brain with all the wisdom I've acquired during my time with the beta.
1. Know your tank
The basic tank archetypes are as follows: Medium, Heavy, Light, Tank Destroyer and Artillery. There are some general and fairly obvious rules to bear in mind - a Light tank isn't best-suited for frontline play, for instance, while most Heavies aren't nippy or inconspicuous enough to serve as stealth reconnaissance vehicles. Each tank is very much its own entity, however, so don't try to drive every tank in a class the same way. Pay attention to the stats.
2. Choose your upgrades to suit your style
If you're hoping to run rings around the foe, beef up that engine so you don't slow to a crawl on the slightest incline, and invest in some sturdier suspension. If you're going to hit them head on, buy a bigger gun and trade up to a tank with thicker armour. Stick to armour-piercing ammo till you know what you're doing: the High Explosive stuff inflicts huge damage (plus a bit of splash damage) when it penetrates a tank's carapace, but it doesn't penetrate very often.
3. Choose your nation
I haven't progressed far enough to offer an overview of how each country stacks up against the other, but according to online chatter, the Americans offer the most well-rounded assortment of tank types. You might want to start by climbing their tech tree, then.
4. When in doubt, hide
Visibility is everything in World of Tanks: all the armour in the world won't help if you fail to spot enemy Mediums sneaking through the underbrush and get caught in a crossfire. Once detected by your crew, tanks are flagged on the HUD and mini-map, making them easy to shoot at even when firing through penetrable cover. You can accessorise your tank with a camo net to lower the odds of its being seen (by 25 per cent), or equip some binoculars to increase its perception. However you equip yourself, be sure to position cover such as trees, bushes and the like between yourself and the enemy. Don't try to hide inside cover: bits of your tank may stick out.
5. Play as a team
Don't form a queue in the direction of the nearest target. Designate roles and stick to them - faster, feebler tanks on scouting or flanking duty, tough nuts down the centre, tanks with high gun accuracy or range to the rear. Put a headset on or make use of the radial chat wheel. Make space for each other to retreat - there's nothing worse than hitting reverse only to find yourself caught in a logjam - and be prepared to take a few hits for a wounded player. Focus fire on targets, rather than engaging individually - "kill stealing" is perfectly fine and dandy if it wins you the match.
6. Work the angles
A tank shell that hits your armour at a 90 degree angle has maximum penetration, so take a moment to familiarise yourself with the front of yours in garage view. Try to contrive for incoming fire to strike the sloped parts of your tank, maximising the odds of a glancing impact. Above all else, though, don't expose the sides of your chassis or treads to enemy fire: a few shots to the undercarriage may disable your movement, while a blow to the side of the turret may kill crew members and knock out your tank's ammo supply.
7. Shoot at the right bits
Needless to say, you'll want to aim for the sides and tracks of anything that points itself your way. Another good spot is the underside, which may be exposed while the tank is climbing a hill towards you. If you can't knock off hitpoints, try to disable the other vehicle so that the Heavies in your team can polish it off.
8. Don't sweat the microtransactions
You can unlock everything in the game just by playing it - eventually. Credits are awarded for losses as well as victories, so a losing streak isn't the end of the world. You'll earn more Credits per match if you fight in certain ways. Firstly, consider risking an attack on a higher tier tank for a big payout. Secondly, be sure to complete objectives such as base capture or defence. Thirdly, do a little light reconnaissance - you'll earn points for every tank you spot that's subsequently nobbled by an ally. Fourthly, wipe out ammo racks, tank crews and other components for a points boost. And finally, bear in mind that higher tier vehicles earn lower profits, to stop everybody defaulting to the very best tanks: if you want to make a fat stack, dust off one of your homelier vehicles.
Still having trouble? I heartily recommend this starter guide for PC players.