There is one constant in the gaming world. No matter how far technology comes, no matter what new exciting control schemes or high value concepts come around, Retro is going nowhere fast. While this has often meant that PS Plus every month is filled with two dimensional platformers with pixel in their name, this is also true for the very essence of a retro game. I of course mean the short and bitty arcade titles that are designed in the simplest way possible. More for longevity in replayability rather than everlasting story campaigns with superfluous narratives and unnecessary plot points.
Battlezone is about as retro as it gets. The series originally arrived in 1980 as a vector based tank combat game in the arcades. The big difference between this and similar experiences surrounding it at the time was the periscope attached to the cabinet. This gave players an up close and personal look into the wireframe world they inhabited, becoming a very early precursor to virtual reality as we know it today. Battlezone has returned on various formats over the years however the reboot attempts have rare hit the mark without that added dimension to the gameplay. Now that PSVR is out Rebellion games has taken over to give Battlezone the facelift that the series deserves.
This time around things are a lot smoother. Gone are the tank controls of the original and in is a pleasing smoothness that sees your tank hovering around the Tron-esque environments with effortless grace. Combat is far more accessible with a variety of weapons at your disposal, ranging from simple cannons and machine guns to more devastatingly powerful mortar strikes and the fun to use lazer guided missiles that resemble green death that follows your aim. Unfortunately however these unlocks can take some time to unlock when you first get to grips with the game due to how the campaign progresses. After all, it’s not a modern retro revival without a bit of roguelike built in.
Campaigns progress across a randomly generated honeycomb grid. When you start a round you can pick how long you want the game to be and at what difficulty. Each portion of the map can either be a mission, supply point or a roleplay event that you have to overcome/ fail before you can continue to an adjacent piece. As you progress and complete events you can earn data as a currency that allows you to buy upgrades to your tank and weaponry, which is all standard affair of course however often it can feel like the currency doesn’t come quick enough, forcing you to strategically pick and choose which upgrades to take and what not to. It becomes a bit trial and error the first few times you do this as weapon descriptions can be a bit vague. Experimentation is key to getting the most out of Battlezone VR but these moments of wonder often get pushed to way side when you remember that this is a rogue-like and these have a reputation of being somewhat unforgiving.
Battlezone VR is no exception. There are many times that myself and Coop buddies have been left wondering “what the hell hit us” as we stared at a cracked windscreen and sparks coming out of the cockpit controls. If you are brazen with your approach to a mission then chances are you will die, which also brings about the unfortunate side effect of losing a life. These are shared between you and friends and you start with three. If these are depleted then it is game over and you have to start a whole new campaign fresh. This goes for easy mode as well, you won’t find any major respite there, in fact the margin of error for some missions can be incredibly slim and at times unfair. Especially when you spawn into a base defence mission next to a high power turret which either kills you in a five seconds or smashes your base before you even get to see what it looks like. Cooperative campaigns help somewhat by letting other players take a lot of the flack away from you. However as previously mentioned with lives you cannot just simply wade in and win. Luckily if you have a partner then you can heal off eachother which adds a neat touch of strategy to the proceedings. For sure, if you can bring someone into the game then you should do so. After a while you will get used to things, it’s mainly just those initial moments that will irk most. It would have been nice to be ignorant and complacent for a few moments in the game, especially if this is your first VR experience.
VR is what makes this game shine and I am sure we are going to see many examples like this over the PSVR launch period. Battlezone on its own would probably be an okay if forgettable game, however VR makes it all come together to make it something a bit different. The cockpit view is neat and the sheltered surrounds of the tank give you a sense of being in a vehicular death machine nicely. Thanks to this viewpoint I did not experience anything in the way of motion sickness to speak of, the only time I encountered any kind of awkward feeling was when my tank approached a drop and it decided to fall forwards. This was more funny than anything but still something to consider if you are worried about any potential ill effects of VR.