Battlezone has a quiet underlying legacy within the hallowed halls of video games’ history. Before invading the homes of those with PSVR, Battlezone made a name for itself on the battlefield of the arcade floor. Using first-person, 3D vector graphics and a periscope viewfinder, Battlezone became a novel arcade cabinet in 1980 that is sometimes considered the first virtual reality arcade game.
Throughout the years, Battlezone has popped in and out of the hallowed halls of gaming history. It appeared on PSP as a third-person tank game and graced Xbox Live Arcade with traditional first-person experience.
Dawning a viewfinder once again, Battlezone is closer to its roots than ever before. Utilizing PSVR, Rebellion has brought the arcade classic into the modern age with true virtual reality. Battlezone does not forget its roots in this outing, but with the updated technology it brings along some unfortunate side affects that no arcade cabinet would have.
Battlezone is a game that appears simple on the surface, but when you immerse yourself into the game its minutiae clouds the overall experience. Rebellion fails to capture the ease of play an arcade game can provide, which hampers the impact Battlezone has as a true virtual reality game.
There is one game mode in Battlezone. A campaign with varying lengths (short, medium, long). The story is barely enough to motivate anyone to drive a giant, virtual tank, but I find folks don’t need much motivation besides the fact it is a giant, virtual tank.
The campaigns are presented by a polygonal map made up of tiny hexagon pieces that represent levels. Complete the task in each level to move across the board toward a boss. No matter what length of a campaign you pick, they feel long and repetitive. I found myself wishing I could just skip to the end. The levels and objectives hardly rotate. They become a chore you have to complete over and over to finish the campaign. Thankfully, the game does save where you left off. Each hexagon can represent a short play session. There is no commitment to finish an entire campaign in one sitting.
You may play a campaign in either online co-op or offline single player. While I did not have any friends to test online with directly, the matchmaking was quick and the connection was smooth. Since VR is so contingent on smooth frame rates, I was glad to find no lag that impacted the VR experience.
From the outset of your campaign run you get to choose the type of tank you want to use. There are light, medium, and heavy classes of tanks and a couple more can be unlocked by completing certain tasks. Their performance varies, but each comes equipped with two main weapons and a perk.
I believe these different weight classes are the root of my VR sickness that I experience every time I play Battlezone. The speed of the light tank or using a turbo boost with any of them combined with looking around led to my first and only experience with VR sickness. In a game all about immersion, I felt like any movement of my head would trigger another unsettling wave in my stomach. I would like to note that I have had others play the game and not get sick at all. In my time with PSVR, I have found that VR sickness can be triggered in plenty of different ways and is not the same for everyone.
Keeping your head still is not an option though. You’ll want to be looking around to keep an eye on your enemies while you drive in a different direction. Aiming is done with the right analog stick. More often than not, I found aiming to not be as precise as I expected. Combined with low ammo counts and occasional drops, every shot truly counts. When you miss, it’s a frustrating moment. After playing a game like Rez Infinite where aiming is fluid and natural, it is disappointing to be met with aim that is ever so slightly off.
Beyond shooting enemy tanks, towers, and UFOs, you can upgrade your tank with more powerful and different weapons. These can be acquired from enemy drops or purchasing them in the in-game store with credits. The ability to upgrade is a satisfying system and makes you feel more powerful with each shot.
Visually, Battlezone is quite nice. Rebellion went with a futuristic, polygonal style. The red enemies stand out against the cool blues and greens used for the stages. This makes them easier to spot as you whip your tank around. The frame rate is absolutely solid at 60 fps, with 120 fps achieved through reprojection. This buttery smooth frame rate is essential to an immersive, non-distracting VR session.
Battlezone on PSVR is a neat touchstone to its arcade roots. Even at the start of each session when it asks me to insert a “C.O.I.N” (Combat Operative Identification Nexus), I find myself reminded of the history of gaming as a whole and how far it has come in the past 40 years. Despite consistently making me sick, Battlezone has heart. The campaigns feel a bit long in the tooth, but the short level design does allow for shorter sessions. In the end though, I find myself asking, “why is this game in VR? What does it add?” It certainly adds a cool factor no other tank game I have ever played has had. Beyond that, I’m not sure it there’s much else. With the aiming not being as accurate or satisfying as other VR games, the VR in Battlezone devolves back to what it was in the arcade; a novelty game.