When it first released alongside the PSVR last October, Battlezone quickly proved to be one of the headset’s first killer apps. The game was an addicting arcade-style shooter that put players behind the turret of a high-tech tank, allowing solo pilots or squads of armchair tank commanders to team up and tackle a hostile AI core. Despite its minimalist aesthetic, it was a surprisingly exhilarating and immersive game that made a great argument for the strengths of VR. Now, more than six months after rumbling onto the PS4, Rebellion’s retro-futurist game of tank combat is ready for a second tour of duty on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
If you’re expecting a simple remaster of Atari’s pioneering tank combat game, you’re in for a surprise. UK-based developer Rebellion has done quite a bit to inject new life into this ancient license. For starters, before you begin waging your campaign of mechanized domination, Battlezone plops players down in front of a rather imposing map made up of hundreds of hexagons. From here you choose your next objective. Missions vary from assaults on enemy bases, search and destroy missions, base defense, and hacking operations. While you undertake each mission, you’ll constantly be assaulted by lumbering enemy tanks, speedy recon vehicles, fixed gun emplacements, and even airborne drones, all who want nothing more than to reduce your tank into a pile of smoldering pixels.
A roguelike Norman Schwarzkopf and Timothy Leary would approve of
You see, death comes at a high cost in Battlezone. Rebellion has borrowed ideas from roguelikes for this tank-borne VR game. This means each world is prodecurally generated, and permadeath is a constant threat. Once your store of lives is exhausted it’s game over, and you’ll need to start your campaign from scratch. To succeed you’ll need to play it smart and bolster your defenses if you hope to make it to the evil AI that hides in a volcano at the center of the map. Successfully completing missions will net you troves data, which can then be spent to augment your tank’s weapons and update your armor, reload speed, etc.
Sure, it’s still just trippy, neon-saturated arcade shooter. But it’s a deceptively deep one. Between the layers of customization to the pulsing electro soundtrack, Battlezone delivers a near trance-inducing experience that will keep you glued to your controller as you work to clear arenas, collect data, and upgrade your tank into the ultimate killing machine.
This ain’t no pleasure cruise
You can’t waste too much time, however. As you progress through the game world the enemy power meter will gradually increase. Once it fills all the way, a boss tank, known as a Nemesis, will begin patrolling the map. These mighty tanks are a force to be reckoned with and can send even veteran tank commanders to an early grave in the blink of an eye.
Simply put, you don’t want to mess with these guys – that is, unless you’ve got a squad of friends at your side to help even the odds. If you happen to be flying solo, then it’s best to try to anticipate their movements on the map and plan your path to the AI core accordingly. Waste too much time on your trip and you’ll be forced to contend with half a dozen Nemesis tanks zigging and zagging across the world map, hoping to turn your new ride into scrap metal.
The Nemesis system is brilliant. It does a great job of upping the ante in a meaningful way by encouraging players to keep a close eye on what’s ahead, lest they find themselves crushed beneath the treads of these mechanized monsters.
At the helm of the behemoth
One of my most memorable gaming moments of 2016 was the sensation of rolling out of my hangar and into my first arena in Battlezone on the PSVR. Virtual reality delivers a field of depth and sense of scale that’s impossible to convey on a standard television. Battlezone uses this asset to great effect, making you really feel like you’re at the helm of a massive steel behemoth. Your vehicles have a palpable sense of mass, and the rush that comes from seeing artillery and drones explode all around your periphery never gets old.
While my honeymoon period with VR has long since passed, Battlezone still manages to impress on the Oculus Rift. The game runs great, and the stylish, retro-futurist aesthetics still manage to pull you in despite their minimalist design. I only wish the game supported a proper HOTAS setup to seal the deal. After all, games like Elite: Dangerous have proven just how well these sticks work for cockpit-based experiences. That said, you’d think Battlezone would be a dead ringer for HOTAS support. Sadly, you’ll need a joystick or your Touch or Vive controllers for this instead. Don’t get me wrong, they get the job done – but their absence does feel a missed opportunity.
I did have one nagging issue when playing with the Oculus Touch controls though. Controlling the arc of your shots is a bit loose, and I found it very easy to lose track of my cross-hairs in the heat of the battle, which left me open to taking multiple hits as I slowly inched my targeting reticle, which somehow had ended up positioned well over my head, back towards the enemies in front of me.
If you missed out on Battlezone when it landed on the PSVR, now is the time to dive in. Whether played solo or with friends, the game is an absolute blast. From the smart roguelike additions to the classic formula add some welcome depth to the package. And the flashy, Tron-style visuals and pumping soundtrack come together to create a nearly hypnotic experience. Developer Rebellion deserves a lot of credit. Not only have they resurrected a classic franchise and made it relevant again. They’ve also managed to harness VR’s greatest strengths to create an irresistible arcade shooter that no Rift or Vive owner should be without.
If you’ve been waiting for an addicting arcade-style shooter with a challenge, you can rest easy now. Battlezone is fast-paced, tough as nails, and nothing short of sublime. So what are you waiting for? Suit up, roll out, and die a hero!
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Oculus Rift (reviewed) HTC Vive ; Publisher: Rebellion ; Developer: Rebellion ; Players: 1-4. ; Released: May 11, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on Oculus Store copy of Battlezone provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.