Battlezone is as nearly as old as I am, since making its debut in 1980 with state of the art 3D visuals and competitive gameplay. It was basically tank vs tank, but what Atari did at that time for a 9-year-old boy in a smelly arcade was to make you feel like you were in a real battle.
Over time there have been many relaunches and updates, including a version for Xbox Live Arcade in 2008. Lately though, PS4 VR gamers have seen a version released that makes you feel like you are in the actual tank, all for no reason other than to make you want to throw up. Thankfully that version – without the big chunk of metal on your head – is what were are playing here today on Xbox One. But does it bring back good memories or ones that I want to repress?
The story and premise is a simple, but nonetheless effective, tale. You play as one of the last remaining humans, the leader of a resistance group. Your enemy is an aggressive AI and your task is to drive your tank, destroying all the foes thrown at you, before eventually heading towards a volcano for the final confrontation and an end to computer tyranny. How you get to the volcano and the journey you take is completely up to you.
In the campaign mode, you travel across randomly generated maps and battlezones to get to your target. A map highlights a number of missions and targets to achieve. For example, you may need to destroy four tanks or the enemies base. When the mission is completed you get to restock your supplies, upgrade and then on you go getting closer to your objective.
The battle itself is where the heart of Battlezone lies and playing it is good fun, at least to begin with, but the tension and repetitive nature does start to wane after a while. The controls are simple to get to grips with and you basically have a number of attacks that can be changed and upgraded as you progress through the levels in the campaign. But it is how you decide on your strategy which is the key to living and dying in the battle zone. You can, of course, be the gung-ho hero type driving your tank straight at the enemy, screaming insults and going for glory. When I did this it was like a suicide run and was completely unsuccessful. The best way is to be cautious and stealthy in approach, hiding behind barriers and sneaking around the enemy, using your targeted missiles only on the flying robots. Success rewards the patient tank driver. Or I’m just a bit useless and a bit of a coward. You decide.
Battlezone can be played alone or in a co-op mode with friends and randoms. I do think that co-op is where the longevity and fun of this game belongs. Working out strategies and tactics can be rewarding with friends, but communication is key and that’s where playing with silent randoms might just be its downfall.
The AI itself is very good and gets harder as you complete missions. There are actually four difficulty options and a campaign length setting that determines how many encounters you have on the way to the final fight. But, as I said before, after the umpteenth time of playing a zone the interest does start to fade somewhat. Thankfully the gameplay overall is a good bit of fun, especially when taken in short bursts, and the random element to it does keep the playability going.
Visually and it has to be said that Battlezone comes over brilliantly with its futuristic look and fresh, clean lines and neon palette. It’s a modern day TRON design with some nice effects and a great battlefield design. Menus are crisp while being perfectly pleasant, and the inside of the cockpit looks good, even though I imagine it would look better still in VR. Once again the visuals do get a bit familiar the more you play, and I would like to have seen some variations in style, but I don’t think that this is that type of game, so can’t really sit here and knock the development team for that. The soundtrack and effects are top notch with some great noise and battle thunder throughout.
In short then, I have loved playing Battlezone in quick sharp bursts. It’s a great game to play with friends, working out strategies to finish each level. There are enough variations in difficulty and the AI is very good. It does get familiar and the patterns start to wane quite quickly, but it is certainly a good game to hit up for a quick burst of fun. The graphics are good, the sound is excellent and the gameplay is very solid. It just doesn’t have the same wow factor as it did in 1980 in a smoky West London arcade, but if you’re looking for some tank on tank action, then you can do much worse than this.