Battlezone VR Review – Tanks for the Memories (PSVR)
There are many games that attempt to emulate arcade gameplay, imbued with the fast-paced freneticism that would see players pile machines with hundreds of quarters in order to have just one last go. However, few games accurately mimic the arcade experience, with Battlezone VR utilizing the PlayStation VR headset not to provide a unique way of playing what is a pretty simplistic arcade shooter, but to instead make you feel as though you’re actually sitting in an arcade booth controlling a virtual tank.
Battlezone has been developed by Rebellion, a studio now best known for its middling Sniper Elite series and an unexpected choice to take the helm of this tank-based FPS. However, it’s clear that they approached this project with gusto from the minute you load up the game, wherein you’re instructed to “Insert Coin” before immediately being propelled into the action. Battlezone is proudly flying the flag for the source of its inspiration, and as a modernized remake of the 1980 Atari arcade game of the same name, it doesn’t really deviate from the formula established in this old title, which both benefits and hinders its success.
In terms of positives, Battlezone nails its aesthetic perfectly. The wire frame visual style echoes the 1980 original while providing it with a colorful spin, and while it doesn’t exactly push the boundaries or provide that “wow” factor of other PSVR games such as Batman: Arkham VR or even RIGS, it suits its style very well. The most impressive visual component is the interiors of the tanks themselves, which feature a number of screens outlining information such as your current objective, ammo, your position on the map, the status of your shields and more. It’s an inventive way of replacing a static HUD, and works wonders in immersing you in the game’s world.
The tanks also handle proficiently, gliding along the floor of each arena rather than clunkily traversing it as real-world tanks would. These are basically hover-tanks, boasting varying levels of agility depending upon which style of tank you choose from, with there being a variety to unlock by way of completing the game’s campaign. This campaign is structured in a roguelike format, with a randomized mission structure that ensures you’ll have a different experience each time you play. You can change the length of each campaign, opting for a short, medium or long play session, with the latter making the game clock in at around 3-4 hours.
No “I” in Team
Missions range from defeating waves of enemies, through to destroying bases and escort missions, though there isn’t an overwhelming amount of variety in this department and some feel woefully imbalanced. For instance, the missions in which you’re tasked with defending your team’s base can be over in mere seconds, with waves of enemies spawning directly on top of you until it’s nigh-on impossible to fight back. With the game’s hex map allowing you to refrain from taking on these missions, you’ll rarely find yourself in a team willing to try them out as a result of the increased risk they pose.
Battlezone can be played with up to three teammates, and the community surrounding this game is already one of its biggest selling points. Perhaps it’s the high expense of the PSVR that has managed to whittle out all the toxic players, or the headset’s built-in microphone ensuring that there’s an increased amount of communication, but my experience with playing alongside others in Battlezone has been uniformly positive. This is particularly helpful, as the game can be annoyingly obtuse unless you have someone offering you pointers.
Despite it featuring a tutorial, Battlezone refuses to hand its players crucial information necessary for them to complete their objectives. This is where its arcade aspirations prove to be detrimental, with it adopting that same “no holds barred” approach you’d typically see from an arcade machine looking to siphon as much money out of you as possible. For instance, rolling your tank up alongside a fallen teammate heals them and effectively brings them back into the game if they’ve lost a life — if I wasn’t told of this by another teammate, I’d likely still be none of the wiser given that there’s no on-screen pointers. Similarly, taking down enemies with the under-powered blaster awards you with ammo drops. Considering that your ammunition frequently depletes, some games I’d spend with not a rocket to my name, convinced that ammo drops were randomized. There’s refusing to hold the player’s hand and then there’s deliberately making a game more difficult for no discernible reason, and these functions should be made clear to the player from the outset.
The End Zone
However, once players are knowledgeable of these various unexplained features, actually playing Battlezone is a lot of fun. Though I’ve become increasingly soured by roguelike games that sacrifice intelligent level design for algorithms, this format doesn’t hurt the game in this instance, with it instead allowing a team to employ a strategy both inside and outside of the arena. The goal of each campaign is to reach the end of the hex map and fight the AI Core, a tough boss battle that will require each of your tanks to be powered up as much as possible, depending upon the difficulty setting you have chosen. Battlezone makes this journey more difficult by not allowing you to upgrade your weaponry or items after each round, with you instead tasked with making your way to one of the Supply tiles dotted around, wherein you’ll be able to buy new weapons or upgrade your existing guns, along with fitting your tank out with new kit that will aid you in each battle. In order to have the best chance of defeating the AI Core, you’re going to need to ensure that each of your teammates are efficiently armed, meaning that a mad dash towards the goal isn’t your best bet if you want to survive.
You’ll also need to work with your team in battle, as deciding to operate as a lone wolf while your teammates take down enemies in tandem will routinely result in you being swiftly overwhelmed. Keeping a track of your team’s positioning is vital, as in the more difficult missions you will often have to heal those whose tanks have been destroyed. Each player has a set of hearts for lives, and when these hearts are depleted they are out of the game. If each team member has all of their hearts taken away then it’s game over, with you not able to return to that campaign and ensuring that all of your progress was effectively for nothing. Weapon and tank upgrades aren’t carried over between campaigns, but completing them will unlock more powerful tanks to use whenever you wish.
This makes Battlezone challenging, but not overly so. Although a campaign can often be over just as quickly as it has begun, it’s incredibly rewarding when you successfully work alongside your team in order to make your way across its map, with it building a very real sense of camaraderie in the process. Even though I spent all of my time with the game playing alongside complete strangers, relationships were very quickly established as we all worked together to tackle each objective. I haven’t experienced this in a game since the days of playing Halo 2 religiously on the original Xbox, and it was great to play with people who had their microphones plugged in but weren’t using them to insult their teammates.
While Battlezone is a very simple game conceptually, Rebellion has done a great job of making the most of what’s there. Controlling the tanks in virtual reality is a joy, the free-form mission structure makes it endlessly replayable and it’s home to a fantastic community of helpful and friendly players. Although it may not be the most impressive VR game to make use of the PlayStation VR’s capabilities, it’s certainly one of the most complete, and deserves a shot if you’re in the mood for an old-school multiplayer game with a very modern twist.
Review code for Battlezone VR provided by publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.