HIGH Watching a salvo of missiles arc across the sky and drop three enemy planes simultaneously.
LOW Dying on the final boss due to a lack of ammo drops.
WTF Are you absolutely sure this isn’t taking place inside a computer? Tanks drop data when they explode.
Rebellion made a bold move in holding on to Battlezone‘s original design aesthetic. The polyhedral tanks that consumed so many quarters in the early ’80s were iconic, but it would take an incredible feat to create a world in which their design made sense in modern times. This challenge makes Battlezone for the PSVR a real accomplishment because the developers – starting with those memorable tanks and building outwards – have created a virtual space where angular glowing hovertanks painted in bold primary colors absolutely works. Does it owe a lot to the design of TRON? Of course, but mostly because both are love letters to the aesthetics of early arcades. That love continues, and Battlezone makes a strong case for why it’s still relevant and interesting today.
As a VR tank simulator, Battlezone puts players inside the cockpit of a vehicle engaged in a desperate war against a nefarious AI. Cockpit sims are the bread and butter of the VR world, of course, giving players a chance to experience a whole world from the comfort of their chairs without breaking immersion. Battlezone does better than any game I’ve encountered with the design of the cockpit itself — everything looks like an ’80s conception of a dystopic future, with Commodore 64-style monitors flanking the pilot’s chair, offering vital information about the tank’s performance that can be checked with a glance. The game is completely convincing, and it was only minutes after starting that I found myself entirely comfortable glancing left, right, and up to peer through the tank’s ‘windows’ as I searched for my enemies.
The game is broken up between strategy and combat sections. Each campaign begins with a randomly generated map filled with combat encounters, boss fights, and sidestory events. The player has to choose a route through the various ‘battlezones’ as they move towards the AI’s volcano lair.
I was surprised at the amount of strategy that went into navigating the map. The AI core is guarded by 5 shield generators, which can be shut down by finding them and completing a challenging base assault mission. This is the big decision at the core of the strategy because every time the player makes a move, the enemy tanks get stronger. Take the time to drop more shields, and the boss tanks will be incredibly powerful, or rush straight for the core and it will be defended by a frustratingly huge force of less-powerful enemies. It’s a tough decision which ensures that every playthrough will be challenging in its own way.
The combat never disappoints. Movement is always smooth, the expansive arsenal has an option for every playstyle, and using the controller to aim while also being free to look around the screen is never confusing or overwhelming. The graphics are especially good at making the combat’s impact feel immediate — cannon shots blast pieces off of enemy tanks, and the AI vehicles have glowing cores of data hidden beneath their armor. The wide variety of enemy vehicles each have a distinctive profile that’s immediately recognizable in the heat of combat. After a few games any player will know how to deal with each threat with just a glance.
Battlezone‘s only real problem is one of balance, and frankly, it feels a little more difficult than it should.
The main issue is that players can unlock new weapons during a run, but these weapons can only be purchased in stores scattered around the map. Instead of simply letting players spend ‘data’ to upgrade their weapons (like they can with shields, reloading, and such) they have to save up funds for visits to a store, and these shops only have four or five different weapons, each with a completely random level. Unless a player is immensely skilled, their success in the end-game will be wholly dependent on the how powerful the weapons they stumbled across in their run were, and how much money they managed to save up.
I played a dozen campaigns and got to the final boss plenty of times, but I only made it through when I’d lucked into finding a high-level missile launcher and autocannon. I have no idea why the developers don’t let players upgrade the starting tanks with data left over at the end of each campaign – a simple change like that would make the game far more accessible and ensure that players never felt like their time was wasted, since even a poor showing would allow them to put resources towards improving their chances on the next attempt.
After the campaign, I sampled a few games of Battlezone‘s multiplayer. While the game works well with more than one hero tank since the enemies scale up appropriately, I noticed a recurring problem with control responsiveness. While movement worked perfectly, there was a half-second delay any time I fired a weapon. I don’t know if this was a lag issue, but it happened consistently. I never saw any other flaws that would suggest a connectivity issue and it didn’t wind up being that much of a problem, but it was odd.
In the end, Battlezone is an incredible VR experience. It’s enough of a full-featured tank simulator that it would be a great time played with standard controls on a normal television, but the perfect immersion takes that already-great play and elevates it to something truly special. Among the eight PSVR launch titles, Battlezone is the best at creating a seamless world for the player to inhabit, and even with a few balance problems in the campaign, it stands as one of the best arguments for getting PSVR.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Rebellion. It is currently available on PSVR. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PSVR. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence. The violence here is as harmless as it comes, it’s just AI tanks blasting away at remote-controlled tanks. Yes, it’s a story about AI going to war and humans fighting for survival, but by and large there are never any people in danger – just AI fighting against drone.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are visual cues that go along with all of the game’s audio information, so there shouldn’t have any trouble.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!
So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.
In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!
If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!