Review: Battlezone (PSVR)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Oculus

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Required
  • PlayStation Move None
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Title: Battlezone
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (2.8 GB)
Release Date: October 13, 2016
Publisher: Rebellion
Developer: Rebellion
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 495 of the podcast at 181:40.

When I was eight-years-old, a new game called Battlezone appeared at the arcades with clean vector graphics and a unique twin-stick control scheme. I was instantly hooked on looking through the visor while standing on the built-in step on the front of the cabinet and blasting the tanks that were attacking me from all sides.

Cut to E3 2015, as a tank-based game for PlayStation VR appeared on the screen during Sony’s press event. Also named Battlezone, the folks at Rebellion took inspiration from the original and ran with it.

They put the player in a futuristic setting with a visual style heavily evolved from those vector-based wireframes from thirty-five years ago, all played in Virtual Reality.

We were giddy with the possibilities, and while we were strategizing ideas to find the game at the show, we happened to walk right up behind three people wearing shirts with “Battlezone” emblazoned upon their backs. We quickly struck-up a conversation and set an appointment to play the game, a session that sparked a change in my attitude toward VR.

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Gameplay:
Instead of rolling on tracks, your tank hovers, giving you freedom to move wherever you like. All of your aiming is handled with the analog sticks on the DualShock 4, while the PS VR headset gives you a full 360 degree view of your cockpit.

You’ll be able to quickly look at the different panels showing your weapons status and available ammo, shield levels, radar, threat info, and when in online co-op, the health status of your teammates.

You choose between several different tanks, Light, Medium, or Heavy, with other tanks unlockable as you continue to play and depending on which one you select, your initial weapon loadout can include a static cannon, lock-on missiles, “dumb” rockets – which are very powerful but also very inaccurate, and a default blaster.

… drops are completely random …
All of these weapons except the blaster have a limited amount of ammo which requires you to think about how you attack your enemies. There are actually some light roguelike elements included in the core gameplay as well.

The first of those elements are a simplified version of loot drops, which in this case is limited to currency which is data, big yellow things that I keep forgetting to learn what they do, and ammo which refills all of your equipped weapons.

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The drops are completely random, and sometimes that means that you’ll be out of ammo for your main weapons. In those cases, hold Square to switch to your default blaster. It’s quite underpowered, but if you kill an enemy with it, it’s supposed to guarantee an ammo drop.

Along those same lines, you won’t have unlimited lives to rely on. As you progress through the procedurally generated campaign, which, obviously, is different every time, you’ll only have three additional lives available.

… like an old school hex-based strategy board game …
You can purchase more with the data that you collect during missions, but with every life that you purchase, the price goes up, eventually to a point that you can’t afford another one. If you’re playing through alone, there isn’t even a way to restore your health during a mission, so play wisely or you may not even make it to the final goal in your campaign.

The campaign itself is, as I said above, procedurally generated. But what does that actually mean? You’ll always have similar mission types like “Attack”, “Defend”, “Hack”, and others, and how you approach them will be pretty similar every time.

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Also, the design of the “main” maps will remain relatively similar, but the location of enemies and structures is what will vary. The overall map is laid-out almost like an old school hex-based strategy board game and you move from hex to hex to make your way toward the goal.

At times you’ll be able to drop a drone to perform recon on what lies ahead and you’ll also be able to see where a ‘Nemesis’ is on the map as well. It’s nice to have a choice on where you want to move next though, especially if one spot has a smaller amount of enemies than the other, or if you prefer to attack rather than defend a base.

… find blueprints for new weapons …
It’s all very easy to understand after playing for a while and I definitely learned quite a bit about the game mechanics by simply making my way through a campaign on the ‘Easy’ difficulty, which still got pretty tough toward the end.

Gameplay is pretty fantastic, with tight controls and a very easy to understand layout. You play from within the cockpit of your tank of choice, and since this is a VR title, you’ll be able to freely look anywhere you want, independent of which direction that you’re moving.

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You’ll start with two weapons in your loadout, but as you progress you’ll be able to find blueprints for new weapons and upgraded versions of weapons that you already own. To purchase those, you’ll have to find a supply depot on the map which will then allow you to change your loadout and the slots in which they’ll reside.

You’ll also be able to switch to a newer version of a weapon that you already possess, that is, if you have enough currency to do so. The great news is that you retain anything you find and unlock, so there’s a strong reason to play through the campaign multiple times.

… a good variety of enemies too …
Otherwise, in between missions you’ll be able to purchase upgrade slots for the shields on your tank, your ‘heal’ ability, which is really only used in cooperative play but we’ll get to that later, your magnet abilities which pull drops in without needing to be quite as close, and your ‘Active Reload’ ability.

Active reload is similar to the mechanic in some other games out there, which gives you a meter with a small zone where you want to hit the Reload button. If timed correctly, you’ll reload the weapon faster than simply letting the indicator reach the left side of the meter. If mistimed though, you’ll be helpless for a couple of seconds, almost as if your gun has jammed.

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One thing I also noticed is that if you can hit the button on the far right edge of the reload zone, you can actually get an attribute boost, like “Damage Up”, but there’s obviously a risk to trying this, so I wouldn’t attempt it while in the heat of a large battle.

There’s a good variety of enemies too, with standard tanks, larger tanks – some of which even have shields to break through, mine laying vehicles, smaller bikes that are very fast, bomb trucks which will kamikaze right at you, airships, and UFO’s which will float above the battlefield and pick up any loose data, keeping it from your grubby hands.

… still a hint of the game’s origins …
Different weapons all have different strengths and weaknesses, and the variety should be able to fit anyone’s play style. Also, don’t miss the structures and objects indicated in White on your radar. These are optional but many times will help in your struggle throughout the campaign.

Structures such as weapons plants or power relays can be hacked by staying close to them for around twenty to thirty seconds and will result in you finding new weapon blueprints or lowering the overall threat level from robbing your enemies of that sweet, sweet energy.

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Visuals:
Instead of the wireframe vector graphics of the original, Rebellion has instead evolved them to a fully realized world, but there’s still a hint of the game’s origins if you look hard enough.

The “standard” enemy tank for instance looks very similar to the enemies in the 1980 original. Also, your aiming reticle is the same green color as the original arcade classic, but I do wish that the color could be changed.

… seems highly inspired by Tron …
From time-to-time I would lose my sights because some of the colors blended a bit too well, and I’ve always liked being able to make mine a hideous color like dark purple, so that it clashes with everything.

The set pieces all have a distinct art style, one that I am truly loving. There’s a cool blend of an older polygonal look tied with a more modern sci-fi element, all of which seems highly inspired by Tron, and I’m okay with that.

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I love when there’s action off in the distance and that’s happening pretty-much all of the time here. It makes the world feel more “alive” in a way, and it helps to pull you into what you’re experiencing.

Even though many people feel that compromises have to be made to bring a game into VR, that never feels like the case here. Battlezone is striking in many ways, and it never looks dull or drab.

… Your tank’s AI will let you know when you’re low on ammo …
Audio:
With VR, the audio offered by a game is going to be even more important since that “level of immersion” is so prevalent now. Luckily, that’s not a problem here because everything about it pulls you even farther into the action.

Your tank’s AI will let you know when you’re low on ammo or when your shields are about to fail. You’ll hear an enemy that’s trying to flank your position from behind and your weapons and the resulting explosions will boom in your ears, adding to the anxiety of war.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Battlezone is one of the only PS VR games to support any online features at launch, and what’s there is significant. There are no competitive modes available, but you are able to play through the entire campaign with up to three other people and it’s stupendously fun.

Better still is the fact that the action dynamically scales to the number of players in your squad. So if someone suddenly drops out, the game will recognize that and scale accordingly.

While in co-op, drops are not shared, so you need to communicate about things like ammo drops or you could be in for a world of hurt if one of your teammates is a resource hog.

… this is my favorite game on PlayStation VR …
One of the best parts of co-op is that if you get close enough to your teammates, you can transfer health between all of you during a mission, and you can even revive someone so that they don’t have to use a life.

It’s a great mechanic that adds to the need for a strong squad that knows how to work together. Also, the game has a built-in voice chat system that works quite well and it makes things a bit easier if you team-up with any randoms on the Internet.

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Conclusion:
So far, this is my favorite game on PlayStation VR and I expect that it will stay on the list for quite a while. Everything about it has obviously been polished as much as possible and the game is just flat-out fun.

The action is paced to perfection, the visuals and audio are fantastic, the multiplayer is a blast to play, and the VR support is the butter on the frosting.

I’ve played for multiple hours at a time with no sign of wear and tear on my attitude, and all that I want to do is get back in there and kick some more tanks to the curb.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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