Rebellion is one of gaming’s more interesting publishers. They have some legitimately stellar titles under their belt; Sniper Elite is one of gaming’s best stealth franchises, and practically all of their Alien vs Predator titles are fantastic. On the other hand, they’re also the company who brought us Neverdead and whatever the hell that Dick Marcinko game was, two titles frequently brought up in “worst of all time” lists. They’re interesting, then, because their titles oscillate wildly between “stellar” and “absolute garbage.” So where does their VR update of Battlezone fall between those two extremes?
The answer to that is “pretty much square in the middle.” Battlezone is an update of a classic series that I was entirely unfamiliar with until a few days ago. Players are thrown into a gaudy neon future, not far removed from Tron or Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. They’re told that the world is in ruins, and that they’re the only line of defense against an oppressive military force hellbent on total global domination. The ace up the resistance’s sleeve is an army of remote control tanks, of varying shapes, sizes, and strengths. Cue a series of bright, fast-paced tank skirmishes.
If you think first-person tank battles in VR sounds cool, well, you’d be right. It is cool. Players progress on a randomly generated grid, attempting to seize enemy bases and topple a malevolent AI core. Almost each piece of the grid, aside from supply depots and occasional “choose your own adventure” role-playing bits, throws players onto the neon battlefield. And what an engrossing battlefield it is, too, with stark primary colours in every direction and flamboyant 80’s aesthetics as far as the eye can see. I can’t overstate how satisfying the core feeling of being in a tank is, taking down aircraft and circling around enemy tanks. It’s frantic, it’s fast, it’s explosive, and most importantly, it’s fun.
The thing is, almost everything else about Battlezone stands at odds with it, which is to say practically everything else isn’t fun. Progressing on the grid is a slog, and even the option to play a shorter campaign is pretty tedious. Keeping the enemy’s “power level” in check is confusing and feels like a completely futile effort. The random encounters don’t ever feel that substantial, and amount to scrolling through filler text as opposed to getting pulled further into the title. Everything around the tank battles, then, feels like uncompelling and ancillary tedium, and actively made me want to stop playing. Also, the roguelike aspect of the whole package feels forced and unnecessary.
“Forced” could be used to described my biggest complaint with Battlezone, too, which is how repetitious the whole thing is. VR tank battles can only go so far, and eventually, even the coolest concept needs some meat on its bones. But during my runs on Battlezone, even on different difficulty levels or campaign lengths, I only encountered a miniscule handful of game types. “Destroy the stationary weapons,” “escort a convoy,” “destroy an enemy base,” or “hack a thing.” Sometimes, due to the randomized nature of the whole thing, I’d have to contend with a heavy distillation of a certain mission type. There’s no meat on this game’s bones, then; just a skeleton for a game that could’ve had its awesome premise and solid core gameplay filled out with something interesting.
There’s also the price tag, which I think is frankly absurd. 60 bucks for almost any of the PSVR titles right now is a bit much, outside of EVE: Valkyrie and maybe RIGS. But for Battlezone, it’s particularly absurd, especially when better games with more content like Driveclub VR, Rez Infinite, and Here They Lie can be had for far less. A sparse roguelike with a tiny amount of game modes and a sprinkling of good ol’ artificial difficulty is not worth 60 American dollars, and certainly not $70 CAD.
Battlezone is a case of a game asking for too much for how little it delivers. You’re paying full retail price for a game that’s repetitive and monotonous, to the point where even the core gameplay—which is great—can’t save it. While I might be able to swing it for under half the sticker price, I can’t recommend purchasing this as of right now. Even at a lower cost, PSVR’s launch library is so interesting that I could probably direct you to a game that’s more fleshed-out and consistently fun.