There’s really not all that many games from the 70s and 80s more iconic that Battlezone. Sure, you’ve got Pong, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and several others, but Battlezone was a defining game. Now, with the PlayStation VR just under a fortnight away, Rebellion are hoping that it can be that again for VR.
The wireframe vector graphics of the 1980 original are out the window, replaced with a chunky polygonal style that’s full of neon lights and often quite vibrant colours. It’s a style that works well for VR, not being too complicated, but looking nice and attractive, even if I do find myself having to lean forward to make out the words on an in-game screen.
Even taking away the VR factor, Battlezone is a great shooter, but it’s being on PlayStation VR that really makes it special. As various things about the game’s workings were being explained to me, I was animatedly talking back, pointing in the real world at virtual things that I liked the look of or wanted to know more about. It’s no doubt a familiar sight for the devs at Rebellion to see people waving their arms about at nothingness.
Once you’re actually playing the game, though, it’s all done via the DualShock 4. This is a game where straight up first person shooter controls work perfectly well, as you’re sat in the cockpit of the tank, controlling the tank as opposed to your in-game body.
There’s a good selection of different guns, from cannons and machine guns to unguided and lock on missiles. These are then backed up by special abilities, like the EMP that will disable everything in a certain proximity, ROT will poison tanks, Vampire will steal health.
They compliment the nine different tank chassis, which give you a different starting point and focus for you to build upon. The light tank is obviously faster and more nimble than the more heavily armoured heavy tank, but there’s also more specialised anti-mine tanks, and so on. From that point, you can spend the Data you pick up on missions to boost certain stats or buy more weapons. One particular favourite of mine is a Gears of War-like faster reload, where a second tap in the right area can cut the reload time and, with absolute timing, even give you a clip of more powerful ammo.
Unlike with Eve: Valkyrie or RIGS, there aren’t any parts of the game that use head tracking. If you want to lock onto a target with a guided missile, you have to hold that lock by turning the tank and altering the pitch of your chosen weapon. That doesn’t mean you won’t be looking all around you, though. You’ll be naturally turning your head when you spot a ping on the radar to your right, looking up to spot flying enemies, or simply glancing down at your team’s status monitor.
That’s right, there’s full drop-in, drop-out online co-op for Battlezone and, while having three friends with PSVR and the game will make this a rather exclusive club, it’s a lot of fun to play with other people. The difficulty ramps up quite significantly, with more enemies flooding the screen and tougher enemies appearing sooner as well.
That in mind, you might want a designated healer on your team, who funnels upgrades into that particular stat, while others can then focus on getting beefier guns to take out turrets and heavy tanks, or deal mass damage to lighter enemy vehicles.
You’ll want to be flexible, because the campaign structure can keep throwing different things at you. Moving across the hex-based map, you’re ultimate goal is the volcano on the right hand side, which is the game’s final boss, and while enemies get tougher the longer you take, you’ll want to wend your way past at least some of the shield generators to lessen the final challenge.
Each hex can be one of several different missions. All of these are relatively short and bite-sized, but vary from just killing things to taking out convoys, rushing to hack an enemy tower before they can hack yours, defending a tower, and so on, with different enemies each time. The shield generator missions are larger scale, three section challenges, fighting your way through to a large arena and fighting off waves of enemies while taking it down. Woe betide you if the Nemesis tanks find you at the same time, these very tough enemies don’t just dish out an awful lot of damage but buff nearby AI as well!
Thankfully, you do have the odd respite with event hexes, a little like the Community Chest in Monopoly, and you’ll do well to make use of the shops. They provide you a small selection of the weapons and abilities that you’ve unlocked, giving you the difficult choice of deciding whether you’ll replace you level 2 single lock missile launcher with a level 4 one, or soldier on and hope you can afford a much more powerful one later on.
This structure will be familiar to any fan of the roguelike genre. Once you run out of lives, that’s it, you’re sent all the way back to the start to pick a new tank and start fighting across a freshly generated map from scratch. However, there is an overarching metagame, where you unlock new weapon blueprints and more powerful abilities, and might see these pop up in the shops.
Where many early VR games have been criticised for not offering too many reasons to return, this is a VR game that will keep you coming back for more. There’s plenty of incentive to start over again and see if you can get further, and when you throw being able to play with your friends into the mix, it could be one of the better launch titles for the system.