Battlezone PS4 Review
There is an interesting link between VR gaming and classic videogames of the early 80’s: it was around that time that the concept of playing games on a virtual reality device were being theoretically depicted in movies and TV shows, causing many nostalgic pipe dreams of experiencing arcade classics like Space Harrier, Afterburner, Robotron and others in a fully immersed VR environment. Also, Tron was a pretty big cult classic for fictionalizing this concept even further, which is why so many gamers associate a retro-styled world with neon colors and arcade-like sound effects with their proposed VR setting.
This is largely what makes Battlezone such a notable launch title for the Playstation VR, as it is a revamp of an old arcade classic that sticks to a very Tron-like visual aesthetic. You can feel the intentional retro-ness of Battlezone from the title screen itself, as a robotic voice instructs players to insert a cheesily-named acronym for coin (spelled C.O.I.N.) in order to start the game. For those unaware of the series’ origins, Battlezone began as a first person arcade game by Atari that dealt with tank-based combat in first person. The arcade original was a big hit in the early ’80s and would go on to enjoy decades of spin-offs and revamps even when changing company hands (this latest VR game belongs to Rebellion). It may not have been everyone’s first choice for making the arcade VR dream a reality, but it is the first franchise to make the leap forward on consoles.
The concept of translating Battlezone to virtual reality is a pretty simple one: the fully 3D view simulates players operating a futuristic tank in cockpit view, where various on-screen HUDs are displayed to the left and right of the player’s view, in addition to an enclosed space that feels more immersive than claustrophobic. Players then navigate the menu to either create a campaign or join one, with the emphasis of allowing drop-in/drop-out multiplayer with other online tank busters (though offline is also an option). The campaigns can be set with a fixed difficulty and length, but once it has been created, players must either play through the campaign to completion, abandon it mid-way or wait until all lives are lost in order to start a brand new run. This feature alone embraces the arcade concept of Battlezone, but fortunately the game will save players’ progress (and their lives) so they don’t have to run through it in one sitting. Any upgrades obtained through mission rewards or earned via credits will also carry over to future runs, so even failed campaigns won’t feel entirely like a waste.
Right from the get-go, Battlezone does its best to immerse players with its VR perspective, setting up a cool tank-deploying sequence that is reminiscent of 3D rides found in Disney, Universal and other major theme parks. Once on the field, players use the Dualshock 4 controller (Move controllers are not supported) to control the tank in first person, with the control layout being simplistic and easy to pick up: movement is done via the analog sticks, shooting and reloading are done with the triggers (and also includes a Gears of War-inspired active reload mechanic, where perfectly timed reloads can result in a damage boost, but missed timings mean a longer reload wait time), and multiple weapons can be switched on the fly. There are also three different tank types to tread around in, from speedy-yet-weak light tanks, slow-yet-powerful heavy tanks, and the sweet middle that makes up medium tanks.
The goal in each mission is also simplistic, typically requiring players to take out a certain number of enemies as well as enemy towers. Each mission is represented as a grid on the main map, with some grids having a stronger enemy resistance than others, but can also be used to reduce the enemy’s strength in other areas upon successful intercepting. Anyone worried that the cockpit view might hamper their line of sight when locating enemies in the thick of battle can rest assured: the on-screen mini-map and arrow locators do a good job of showing players where they need to face in the direction of oncoming fire, and the retro visuals and tight level designs lowers the fear of visual clutter. That said, don’t expect Battlezone to be a cakewalk even with full 360 degree vision: the game can be brutally challenging even on the easiest difficulty, which is why a solid team of online players is the ideal setup (and the most fun).
Unfortunately, Battlezone’s biggest failing is one that every VR title must strive to avoid, but may continue to crop up through the entirety of its console gaming career: though every individual has their own specific tolerances, as far as this reviewer goes, Battlezone has proven to be among the most nauseating of PSVR experiences. Whether it is the fast-paced turns in order to avoid enemy fire from the rear, the simplistic color screen, the strong juttering of the cockpit and virtual controller, or everything in-between, it proved simply unbearable to play the game for more than ten minutes at a time, if even that. Several other PSVR adopters have reported similar feelings of discomfort, with gaming websites setting up an anecdotal list that tallies up the discomfort levels caused with each game. In those lists, Battlezone is listed among the very top of games that can potentially cause motion sickness, which is why anyone who expresses interest in playing would be highly advised to try out the free demo first and see how they feel after a few extended sessions.
As major as a detriment as motion sickness can be, the other notch against Battlezone is that it does not make much use of its VR features. In truth, a game should not rely on the latest hardware gimmick to justify its experience, but considering the extra work players have to put in order to enjoy the immersion of controlling a futuristic tank (such as having to turn their necks to the left and right just to read crucial HUD elements), VR does not feel like an essential way to play this game. Considering the motion sickness that players may experience, a non-VR option that allows players to enjoy the game normally would have been a welcome alternative.
It is unknown if the developers can patch Battlezone to reduce the nauseating feelings its perspective emits (reports indicate the game was even more discomforting during press previews before receiving some fine-tuning before launch), but that alone is a big enough reason to caution players from purchasing it. This is especially unfortunate, as the arcade-style mission-based gameplay can be really fun, especially when other online tanks join in. It may not be the most immersive VR game, but Battlezone does prioritize longevity and gameplay over a specific visual gimmick, something that future VR titles should aspire for. Consequently, the discomfort it can cause should also serve as a warning to future titles to avoid a similar experience: as it stands, this reviewer will not be continuing to play the game unless there have been significant improvements to reduce the nausea, and strongly urges anyone interested to try the demo first before spending their money.