Battlezone might just be my favourite game on PlayStation VR. There, I said it. It looks great, it plays well, there’s four player co-op, and it’s just cruel enough to keep you coming back for more.
As the name might suggest, this is the distant ancestor to the classic 1980s arcade game, taking the tank battling at the core of that game and building it out into something much more varied and interesting.
By virtue of being on VR, you’re not staring through a little viewport, but actually sat within a tactile looking hover tank, gazing through the chunky polygonal neon world outside the windows with threats coming at you from every angle.
There’s now several different types of enemy vehicles, from a few differently sized tanks with more armour and shielding, to laser tanks, annoying little flying Hoppers, artillery, missile launchers, and several different types of artillery. They’re definitely not smart, simply heading roughly towards you or another objective, firing away as they do so. Each mission has these in different numbers and combinations, so one might have you trying to pluck half a dozen aerial enemies out of the sky, while another might challenge you with heavier tanks, the number and difficulty scaling up as the campaign goes on.
The Nemesis tanks are the game’s crushing wild cards. Each level you complete sees the AI difficulty increasing, going up level by level with each third level spawning a Nemesis tank on the campaign map, moving around in one of several patterns. Their energy cannons will punch through your shields with ease, their health is very high, and they also buff nearby enemies as well. Needless to say, you’ll want to avoid them, gear up substantially to face them, and preferably have four of you hammering away with high powered weapons.
Finding and mastering the various weapons is vital. The cannon’s shells dip, the unguided rockets spiral madly, lock on weapons take time to get a lock, the artillery requires that you’re stationary while you find the range. Each has a certain knack to it, with differing advantages and disadvantages dependant on the situation, but none use head tracking for aiming. Add in an optional active reload ability and just firing your guns takes plenty of thought and calculation.
Each of the nine different tank classes is a starting point, with a pair of weapons, an ability, and varying underlying stats. The heavy tank moves slowly and has low ammo, but can take damage and packs a punch, while the light tank is exactly what you’d expect in relation. There’s also more specialised options, unlocked by completing the campaign on various difficulties.
It’s a natural fit for co-op, to the point where going back to playing solo feels lonely and subdued, relying on cautious advances and retreat as opposed to blazing a trail with teammates by your side. You’ll need a good team, because the number of enemies coming at you goes up a lot, when in co-op. One player might specialise with lighter weaponry, another could be there to soak up damage, another pump Data into the healing stat to support. You’re able to revive a downed friendly within 30 seconds and avoid using one of your precious shared pool of lives.
Each campaign has you fighting from left to right across the map, trying to reach the final boss at their volcano lair, but what you’ll actually encounter is always randomised. There’s half a dozen different mission types, making use of the wide array of different maps and environments, and throwing up plenty of different combinations. Admittedly, they all boil down to killing all the enemies you see, but you could be defending a point, attacking an enemy base, hacking buildings, and so on, putting a light twist on the fighting.
Thankfully, there are other respites from the action. Events are little text scenarios that can benefit you, hinder you or even do nothing at all, while trading posts offer up a small selection of the weapons you’ve previously unlocked, for you to hem and haw about whether or not to add to your arsenal.
In that regard, it’s borrowing the “roguelike” structure, where each failed campaign sends you right back to the start, but all the weapon and abilities you’ve unlocked remain a possibility to show up, while successes unlock new tanks. It also gives the game license to be difficult. Shield generator missions, which help reduce the final boss’ difficulty, are three part struggles against more numerous enemies, that can easily sap some of your lives in the process, but other missions can occasionally catch you out with their difficulty.
The final boss is absolutely intended to be rock hard. On four separate occasions, I’ve reached the final boss, but I’ve never been able to meet and even try to defeat it. The final mission opens with a steady trickle of incoming enemies and power generators to take down, and it’s always been the end of me. Even on Easy difficulty, it’s crushing, and especially if a Nemesis tank happens to be there at the same time. That could be off putting for some, to butt against this kind of brick wall.
While I think the game looks great, there are certain limitations to PSVR that hamper it. There is noticeable aliasing on edges, and distant enemies can look indistinct, while text can be difficult to make out without bringing the various screens closer to you, whether in game or actually leaning closer. Even so, the game’s art style does a great job of overcoming these.
For me, Battlezone is easily one of the best games on PlayStation VR, even with a high price point. It’s retro futuristic tank combat is fun and engaging, while the randomised campaign, four player co-op and the challenge it can throw your way keep me wanting to come back and try to beat it time and again.