As developer Rebellion describes it so well, Battlezone is the “mother of all tank games.” Way back in the ‘80s, Atari 2600’s first-person tank combat game was so popular it spawned numerous spin-offs with various evolutions of its own original vector graphics and restricted feature-set. Over 25 years later, Battlezone has been re-imagined again for PlayStation VR, delivering a virtual reality universe that re-uses the core concept of the original and brings it bang up-to-date with modern-day features, including a brilliant online co-op mode.
Controlling the Battlezone tank
In Battlezone, you’re plonked firmly into the seat of a futuristic tank in a neon-lit universe with the aim of destroying intergalactic forces. Looking around the cock-pit and getting used to your virtual home is your first task, and it’s an impressive sight. Various display panels reveal objectives, available weapons, and current armour status, while a radar serves to flag up enemies. During the campaign, you’ll find yourself using this cock-pit space regularly, looking around to check on health, switching between weapons and generally finding out where your enemies are, so getting the design right and feeling comfortable in your new VR vehicle was important – Rebellion gets this spot on.
The main campaign takes place on a hexagonal map which is procedurally-generated. You get to choose a Hex on the map that represents a mission, location, or event before you’re thrust into a futuristic arena to complete set objectives. After each mission you head back to the hub and choose a new Hex as you attempt to make your way across the map to the final boss battle. Objectives range from straight up shoot and kill missions to escort tasks and base capturing objectives, but they’re totally random as you play through the campaign so no playthrough is identical.
VR offers a unique viewpoint
The scale of the arena hits you immediately with tall structures towering over you and plenty of space to whizz around. Battlezone offers a futuristic Tron-like vibe with industrial areas decked in pastel shades, and colorful bright yellow explosions and gunfire that contrast deeply with many of the environments to deliver some visual pizazz. It’s a viewpoint that only VR can offer, and as you look high above attempting to track those pesky flying machines, or spot a ground-based enemy vehicle whizz past you at speed in your peripheral vision there’s a sense that you’re very much in the game.
Gameplay is simple to pick up thanks to a control scheme that feels totally natural. Coupled with the ability to survey your surroundings in 360 degrees with the PSVR headset, controls are handled by the left thumbstick for movement, the right thumbstick to control the target reticule, and R2 to fire, plus the ability to switch weapons to change strategies against different enemies (or for when you run out of bullets!). The tank glides around the areas, and unlike an actual modern-day tank, feels like it’s hovering just above the surface, which is perfect for manoeuvrability. Despite the simplicity of controls, Battlezone offers a real challenge.
As you complete missions or dawdle to complete your missions, enemies get more aggressive and difficult to defeat, and with only a set amount of lives it’s likely you’ll have to start over if you don’t adopt a strategy, which becomes even more apparent during four-player co-op. If you allow enemy power levels to get too high, they’ll drop a huge enemy (the Nemesis tank) onto the campaign map, which can soon overpower you, so getting the job done efficiently pay offs, and the best way to do this is through upgrades.
Prepare your loadouts
Tanks can be equipped with up to three weapons, which always includes a basic blaster for when you run out of ammo. There’s also machine guns, guided missiles and autocannons. As you blast away enemies or communication towers you can pick up extra ammo and data that can be used at supply points to upgrade your tank with the likes of better shields and the ability to heal faster. There’s a decent amount of choice allowing you to select your load-outs prior to each mission, choosing from the likes of light, medium, and heavy tanks. As you pick up data and spend it on adding upgrades, there’s a real feeling that you’re progressing and getting stronger.
Despite the addictive levelling up process, the action does get a little repetitive in the single-player campaign. Though you’re carrying out different missions you’re generally just moving around areas that all blend into one after a while, shooting like crazy at anything red on the map. A.I. isn’t the sharpest either. They’ll know exactly where you are and shoot in your direction, but they’re incapable of chasing you around the arena or using strategic manoeuvres to outwit you. The challenge of beating them really comes down to their strength in numbers. When they come at you in waves you’re bound to get damaged.
Find out about Battlezone’s online co-op mode overleaf.
In online four-player co-op, however, it’s a totally different experience. Yes, the A.I. enemies are still their dumb selves, but it’s that feeling of camaraderie and having to really work together to complete objectives that takes Battlezone to another level. Having totally forgot that the PSVR headset has a built-in mic, I was surprised at its crystal-clear quality in the multiplayer lobby.
Sat in a team of four-players, the leader of the group gets to choose our next step on the Hex map as we discuss strategy and fiddle with our load-outs. This is essentially the same campaign as the single-player option but once again totally randomised. The difference is that there are more enemies to contend with and they’re tougher, meaning that you have no choice but to work together.
Engaging co-op play with a team of four
Within moments, I’d paired up with another player as we opted to defend our own base from attack, while the other two headed off to attack the enemy base. We spent our time working in tandem, shouting out at where enemies were and backing each other up under each attack. Getting close to a friendly tank allows you to heal (you can heal even faster if you upgrade this skill), and we spent our time clearing enemies while keeping an eye on the HUD at our damage. A quick shout out over the mic, and my colleague would zoom over to heal me, and vice versa.
Soon enough, the other two players who had sped ahead to attack the other base called for back-up, and we headed over to help them out in the latter stages as the action got more intense and we needed to work as a team of four. This is really where Battlezone excels, and it gets incredibly addictive as you gain power with upgrades and work together to get through some challenging missions.
Battlezone has instant pick-up-and-play appeal in the single-player campaign for short bursts of action, but that’s really just a training session for the brilliant multiplayer component. Despite the action getting a little repetitive (regardless of what mission type you play), and the dodgy A.I., co-op feels like a strategic multiplayer game of old where players communicate verbally rather than being lone soldiers with their mics turned off. The result is a compelling multiplayer experience that is as intense as it is enjoyable. Without a doubt, Battlezone should be on every combat fan’s radar for PlayStation VR.