Back in 1980, Atari released an odd arcade title called Battlezone. With wireframe vector graphics, players controlled a tank and had to take out as many enemies as they could. Though it was a bit unusual upon release, it ended proving to be quite a hit. Today, it's considered to be one of the earliest FPS games, which had some trace elements of early virtual-reality design. Fast forward to 2016, Rebellion Developments (Sniper Elite, Aliens vs. Predator, and NeverDead) have taken on the brand and given it an overhaul for the upcoming launch of PlayStation VR.
During a special hands-on session, we got a chance to try out about an hour's worth of gameplay during the presentation, and we also got to see how this reinvention of a classic, and historical title of gaming's past, has evolved to today's standards.
In keeping with its predecessors, Battlezone 2016 keeps its plot to the bare minimum. Set in the far future, mankind has been enslaved and forced into near extinction by the evil Corporation. As one of the last remaining hopes for humanity, you step into the powerful Cobra tank, one of the most advanced weapons ever built. With an army of drones and evil machines in your way, you'll have to fight your way to the heart of the Corporation's stronghold to secure humanity's future.
That's about it when it comes to story, and that's just fine. The folks at Rebellion Games wanted the gameplay to do all the talking, and there's definitely a lot to take in. Right when you load up the game, you're given a brief tutorial of the inner workings of the tank. With the VR headset, I got a good look around the inside of the tank, which also served as the game's hub between missions. Prior to starting your campaign, you can adjust your loadout, boost your tank's stats and chart out your path to the enemy base. This map system also serves as one of the more interesting and detailed aspects of Battlezone.
Unlike the earlier titles in the entry, which progressed on a linear level by level basis. Battlezone 2016 creates a randomly-generated hexagon tile map which has unique challenges and rewards at each node. When you start a fresh game, a new map is created from scratch. Moving from one node on the map to the next, you'll enter combat situations where you'll have to survive the waves of enemies, defend resources, or capture enemy territory. As you get deeper into the map, you'll find new items and gear to unlock on store nodes, which allow you to boost your tank's abilities.
While in the field, you'll take on a number of unique enemies, such as enemy tanks and flying drones, each one with their own strategies and weaknesses to take advantage of. This means you'll have to adapt on the fly. During one map, my co-op partner and I had to defend a capture point, and we were instantly swarmed by an army of flying drones firing missiles at us. This was one of the earlier encounters, and it kept us on our toes.
Unlike the original, the game features co-op play for up to four players online. This was a big focus for the devs, as they wanted to have the campaign feel like a team effort. But if you're itching for solo play, you can do that as well. One thing that really impressed me was the artstyle, which felt reminiscent of the aesthetic in Tron and other cyberpunk films and games. To me, this was a clever nod to the original's vector-graphic aesthetic, which was very 'high-tech' at the time of its release. It's got a lot of charm to it, and with randomly generated levels, there's plenty to see.
The tank itself has fairly a standard control setup. Anyone familiar with the usual shooter mechanics will easily get into Battlezone's setup. Movement, shooting, and general controls all use the controller, while the camera is controlled with the VR headset. Though I was initially a bit weirded out by how the controls worked on in conjunction with the headset, I got really into it after a few minutes of play.
Of course, one of the standout features for Battlezone is the VR capabilities. For our playthrough, we were on PS4 using the soon to be released PSVR. We got a fairly good feel of how it worked, and I was very impressed with how Rebellion utilized perspective and the unique viewpoint to take advantage of the new hardware.
As a guy who uses VR somewhat sparingly, I was very pleased to see how it does so, though I'm also a guy who can only handle it in small doses. The design of Battlezone's campaign is very large in scope; we spent nearly an hour just getting halfway through the map, and even then I felt like I needed a break. So I'll admit that I have some concerns about how long it takes to clear through a map. Thankfully, progress can be saved and you taken breaks whenever you need to.
That said, Rebellion Developments has done a really cool job with incorporating VR elements into the game's general design. It felt really immersive and getting hit by attacks felt way more impactful. My heart was beating once we got to the later levels, and I came away pleased with what's on hand for the launch of PS VR. While it's launching with PS VR, though, Battlezone will also be available on Steam, fully compatible with Oculus and Vive headsets. If you're looking for a pick-up-and-play shooter for VR that's got a surprising amount of depth.