“Scorched Earth, Rough Edges, And Congenital Stupidity”
Sometimes in America, the public simply does something abhorrent. The most
current example of this would be the massive support, at present time, of presidential
candidate George W. Bush (a man who has nothing to recommend him besides good
taste in cocaine). Two years ago, the example was the critically huddled masses’
response to Battlezone, one of the most
innovative and enjoyable action strategy games ever produced. Simply put, they
didn’t buy it, literally. Rave reviews, awards, and other accolades aside, Battlezone
was not a commercial success.
Still, knowing that they had a great game on their hands, Activision commissioned
a sequel. Sadly, through a combination of appeasing the public taste, failing
to fix Battlezone’s few problems, and a general state of being unfinished,
Battlezone 2 is less than it could have, and should have been.
of you not familiar with Battlezone, it basically stuck together real
time strategy, Mech fighting games, an extremely slick interface, and flawless
presentation to create one of the best games of 1998. You walked, piloted a
hover-tank, or drove a Mech-like walker. You did this while building a base,
commanding troops, and getting medieval on your enemies.
The plot involved an alternate history in which the cold war took place in
space, the US and USSR secretly fighting over an alien metal that has accelerated
technology from 1960’s to Star Trek standards in the space of about 8 years.
The graphics, sound, control, and gameplay were purely first rate and it showed
off a style of gameplay that had never been seen before. In a word, it was great.
Battlezone 2 picks up years later. The Soviets and Americans have joined
to form the International Space Defense Force (ISDF) and a new, seemingly alien
enemy, the scions, threaten the Earth.
From the start of the game, it is apparent that a few things have changed
since the first game. Immediately, the game’s stunning graphics will confront
and amaze any player. Using a modified version of the Dark Engine (Activision’s
proprietary technology first featured in Heavy
Gear 2 and later in Interstate ’82), Battlezone
2 is stunning. The designers used the Dark Engine’s knack for landscape
rendering to create environments that are gritty, organic, fantastic, and that
feel totally real. Adept texturing, excellent modeling, weather rendering, and
some of the prettiest pyrotechnics since New Year’s Eve 2000 combine to create
a game in which, through pure visual flair, becomes totally hypnotic. It may
not feature every effect in the book, such as curved surfaces, and it requires
a beast of a machine to run well, but if you have that machine, Battlezone
2 will stun you and make you optimistic about the what the 21st century
will bring to your computer.
Beyond the visual flair, and the same high level of quality in audio and music,
Battlezone 2 is made, and broken, in its game design. At its core, Battlezone
2 sticks very close to the gameplay paradigm of Battlezone. However,
it also takes away a few key features, restricts strategic freedom, and fails
to fix some real annoying problems that plagued the other Battlezone.
to appease the masses, the learning curve (which in the first game was not exactly…
nice) has been flattened. The designers at Pandemic Studios structured the first
few missions to gradually give you more responsibility, so as to ease into the
complex mechanisms of the full product. Not content, however, to stop there,
they decided to remove a number of the first game’s key strategic elements.
For example, in Battlezone, you had to use Scavenger units to pick up
scrap metal from destroyed craft in order to fuel you war effort. This made
combat more closely tied to production and forced you to carefully watch after
the vulnerable Scavengers. In Battlezone 2, although scrap metal may
still be recycled from the battlefield, it is primarily taken from mysterious
“scrap pools” (?), which allow for a steady, constant supply of metal. Granted,
it makes things easier, but also less interesting.
Simplification is not the only problem. Artificial intelligence, which was
passable at best in Battlezone, is utterly terrible in Battlezone
2. Although the enemies fight fairly well, the movement AI of the troops
under your command is atrocious. Even your constructor units have trouble arriving
at building destinations. This forces you into the unwanted role of wet-nurse
to you incompetent units, which is frustrating to say the least.
Also, although level design is unique, varied, and engaging, there is far
too much of a focus on scripting. There is really only one way to approach each
mission. You must accomplish A, to get to B, to do C. Although this can force
you into doing some interesting things, it works against the feeling of control
that a strategy/action hybrid is supposed to instill. Battlezone 2 is
subtitled Combat Commander, after all.
There are some other complaints. A few bugs, especially with the multiplayer
code, made it onto the CD. And, unlike in Battlezone, there is a great focus
on treaded units, which can be confusing to control and certainty not as smooth
as a hovercraft during a fight.
Still, it is Battlezone. Despite the flaws, the same gameplay
that made Battlezone so great is still at work here, and when you are
not being annoyed, you are usually overjoyed. The plot is well paced and voice
acting is good. The control is solid, the units and weapons are varied, the
graphics are extraordinary, and the interface is actually an improvement over
the already sublime. They added some additional ways to control your units though
a satellite view and gave you more control over base function. Overall, things
mostly feel right.
Take it for what it is; a good game that should have been great, a casualty
of appeasement to bad taste and rushed production. The zone is still hot, the
combat is still heavy, and the hours will still fly by unnoticed. Don’t expect
to be singing its praises in two year’s time, but you might be infatuated for
a month or two. Just one thing: if you’ve never played the first Battlezone,
hunt it down in a game bargain bin somewhere and give it a home. It deserved
better than to be thrown in with Extreme Paintbrawl, Rex Nebular and
the Cosmic Gender Bender, and Irritating Stick. Ouch.