Those old enough to live through the unpredictable era of 80s video gaming will probably remember a familiar arcade game from Atari called Battlezone. This tank arcade game, which is played from a first person view, was arguably most notable for its peculiar graphics style – wireframe vector graphics, which at the time was regarded as cutting-edge. Through the years, the game lived on and was updated numerous of times, but the premise remained the same as players piloted a tank fending off enemies.
With the latest iteration in the series, Battlezone VR, it’s being given a modern treatment thanks in part to the immersive abilities of the PlayStation VR. Naturally, this is the kind of game you expect to be given a VR treatment, just because of that first-person perspective of manning a powerful tank that’s ready to dish out punishment. However, in an era where we have mechanized mechs reigning down punishment with authority, will piloting a tank in virtual reality be enough to ignite interest in the series once again?
Set in the future where this evil corporation has turned Earth into a vast neon wasteland of nothing, humanity’s last hope for salvation comes from our player piloting on of three different tanks; dubbed the Cobra. There’s really no preface into the backstory when you load it for the very first time, since it straps us right into the cockpit of our tank. At first glance, the neon-edged highlights of the game would make us believe it comes from the world of TRON, but that’s certainly not the case.
Quite frankly, there’s not a whole lot of thought put into the story here with Battlezone VR. Before each match, there’s this honeycomb-esque shaped map that shows the battlefield and our position in relationship to our enemies’ bases and unit locations. The whole point of the single player campaign is to successfully carry out the missions for each match – whether that’s destroying all our opponents, “hacking” a base, defending a base from waves of enemies, or protecting a convoy.
There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s going on with the story, except that you’re trying to save humanity from this evil corporation. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have any cut scenes that show actually show people on both sides of the front – just only the tanks and other vehicles fighting in the vast landscape of this neon lit world.
As we’ve pointed out earlier, the world of Battlezone VR can easily be mistaken for that of TRON’s cyberspace – due partly how it really mimics that tank getaway scenes from the first movie. Rather than going for a modern look, Battlezone VR is inspired by the same wire framed graphics employed by the 1980’s original arcade game. It’s been updated, of course, by neon highlights that shape the landscape of the map.
Given the peculiar looks of the game, there’s not much variety in terms of the landscape – it’s pretty much the same with each map, so it becomes boring and stale. Clearly it’s not a title that’s emphasizing on pushing the PS4’s limits. The cockpit, however, receives the most attention because it feels like we’re strapped into the actual seat of a tank. From the levers to all of the display panels lit up in there, you really get the sense that you’re piloting a behemoth.
Visually, the specific neon highlighted style of the game makes it different, but hardly one that impresses us more than other titles because it simply lacks diversity. At the very least, though, Battlezone VR moves at a consistent framerate, which is probably the case because it’s not as graphically demanding as other titles.
The controls scheme of the game is fairly familiar, often similar to other titles that place the player in the cockpit of a vehicle. So yeah, it didn’t get us long to get acquainted and familiar with controls scheme of the game, which strictly relies on the DualShock 4 controller. Essentially, the left analog stick is used to direct our tank towards a specific direction – while the right one is used to move the turret. The L2 and R2 shoulder triggers respectively allow us to speed boost and fire our weapons, while the X and Square buttons allow us the cycle through our weapons.
Playing through matches in the single player campaign, we collect data from destroyed vehicles that can be used in turn to purchase new weapons, increase our shields, and much more. There are also other tanks to purchase as well, so depending on what class you choose, they’ll have different attributes. Naturally, light tanks are imbued with speed and fitness, but lack any serious punch with their firepower. On the flip side, heavy tanks pack a wallop when they fire their weapons, but are rather slow and easy targets on the battlefield.
In a game such as this, you’re expected to battle against other tanks and vehicles, which you do over and over again with each match. To that degree, it gets a bit repetitive. Sure, there are missions when you’re infiltrating a shield generator base, requiring you bring it down while enduring waves of enemies that spawn in the battlefield at random, but that’s the problem with Battlezone VR – it lacks variety and depth. Then again, this isn’t a simulation type game that involves premeditated strategy and thinking, so in that way, it plays to its arcade roots.
Either way, it’s a kind of game that anyone can play right from the get-go without knowing anything about the controls scheme beforehand.
Jumping into virtual reality means we’re supposed to feel like we’re transported to another world. Some games have shown us just about the extent of how immersive VR can be, but for Battlezone VR, we don’t have the same sentiments about it. Indeed, it manages to replicate the feel of being thrown into the cockpit of a single manned tank, but that’s about all it does with the VR experience. Considering that it only uses the DualShock 4 and not the Move controllers, it means that there’s no interaction on our part when it comes to operating the tank.
Firing our weapons and navigating our tank is all done using the DualShock 4, so in a way, the VR experience here is almost non-existent with the exception of just using the headset to look about the cockpit. Even that is reserved right at the beginning of each match when we’re gearing up for battle, just because when the match begins, we’re focused on looking straight ahead trying to get the crosshairs on our enemies. Come to think of it, Battlezone VR could be played without the VR aspect – more so when our interaction in the VR world is limited to just looking around the tank’s cockpit.
Even though there’s constant action in the game, it’s never too overwhelming or jarring to the point of making us feel sick. In fact, a motion sickness prone individual as myself managed to get through an hour of continuous gameplay without any issues whatsoever. That could be because we’re not constantly moving our head in all sorts of direction, which was the case for RIGS Mechanized Combat League. Still, it would’ve been nice if Battlezone VR implemented more interaction, just because in its current form, it could arguably be played just fine without virtual reality.
Summing up Battlezone VR, it definitely lives up to the classic gameplay and styling of the 80’s arcade game. It’s fun and easy to get into right away, without having to invest a whole lot of time into understanding the mechanics of the game. However, we feel as though that its $60 cost is a bit steep given its reserved VR interaction, its arcade style gameplay, repetitive matches, almost non-existent storyline, and hardly intensive graphics.
It pales in comparison to what you can experience with RIGS Mechanized Combat League, which swaps out the tanks for mechanized rigs – while also sporting a lower price point in the process. The cost alone of Battlezone VR makes for a tough sell, so it’s probably best to wait for a price drop before you consider buying it.