Battlezone Gold Edition Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Release Date: 8th November, 2018
Price as of Article: $34.99 USD, £29.99 GBP
Game code provided by Rebellion
Back in 1980, Atari released Battlezone as an arcade machine. It was innovative and is considered to be the grandfather of 3D first-person shooters, albeit with you playing as a tank, instead of a person. The game featured an unusual cabinet wherein you looked through a periscope, immersing you in the battle on screen. Amazingly, the game recreated Tank Warfare so well that the US Army hired Atari to create a modified version which was used to train gunners. It could be said that this is the first VR game that was ever made, so its launch on the PlayStation VR made a lot of sense and it was well received. Now, 2 years later, Rebellion have brought the game along with a DLC that has since been released to the Nintendo Switch as Battlezone Gold Edition.
The story here is almost non existent. You take on the role of the world’s most advanced Tank – the Cobra – and have to battle your way across a map and, at the end, face down an AI and save the world.
The game plays out across a randomised campaign board with a number of hexagonal tiles and your aim is simple – get to the AI core and defeat it. Each tile either represents a battle or, from time to time, a chance to upgrade your arsenal.
In battle, you play in first person mode as a tank which uses classic twin-stick shooter controls, with ZR being used to shoot. The controls are simple and effective, R reloads your weapon and timing it well will result in a speedier reload, and you can switch between a number of different weapons using Y, while A will trigger your special attack which varies by Tank class. The controls don’t feel strange due to the absence of VR, holding down L and R at the same time lets you use the gyroscope to look around further into the cockpit, but I found that I didn’t need to use it, nor did I miss it.
Battlezone Gold Edition does very little hand-holding and as such, it can be a little confusing for newcomers. The good news is that if you persist and pay attention, you will be up to speed very quickly. The key to success is in understanding simple strategic maneuvering when facing the enemy. If you go in all guns blazing against multiple enemies, you will be killed. By using cover and understanding your enemies’ attack patterns, you can get the upper hand in battle.
There is something primordial about blasting a Tank to pieces from range and it feels even better when you manage to outmaneuver multiple enemies. You start off with 3 Tank options – Light, Medium, and Heavy, and each needs to be played according to its strengths – as you progress, you unlock additional tanks which offer some slight variations in play.
The Right Tool for the Job
Each tank starts out with a measly peashooter with unlimited ammo and 2 other weapons. Each weapon is best suited to certain enemy types – for example, Light Tanks come equipped with a gun that’s best at shooting down flying enemies and fast moving targets, as well as a standard heavy artillery to take down beefier foes. There are lock-on rockets, as well as a number of unlockable weapons to be discovered through your campaign.
As you progress, you get data, which is exchanged for upgrades on your tank and weapons, as well as additional lives, but these are not carried across from one campaign to the next. What you will find, however, are neutral points – usually 1 per map – that can be taken over in exchange for unlockable weapons, which will be available to purchase from then on.
One of the nice features in the game is the difficulty bar. Each move between tiles increases your enemies’ strength and if you don’t plan your route well, you can easily find yourself against enemies that outrank you. Planning your progression plays out a bit like a board game, you need to plan 2-3 moves ahead each turn.
Each skirmish will be in the form of a number of classic objectives – defeat all enemies, defend your base, escort a convoy across the map, etc. It’s interesting that in some battles you will be alone, whilst in others, you will have a squad to back you up. One of the things you learn is that playing closely with your allies is the way to go, not only do you ensure that you can flank your opponents, but you also heal each other when in close proximity.
The beauty of the game is that each battle only lasts about 5-10 minutes and the pace is slower than your average shooter, making it an excellent fit for playing on the move. You can pick it up, progress across one or two tiles, and then put the game down again.
Defeating the core
On your road to the enemy AI core, you will find strategic tiles with power grids that need to be taken out in order to weaken the core, allowing you to tackle the final battle. Once you get there, you face a tough challenge – you will need to take out a whole host of enemies, power grids, and then finally, take out the AI itself.
I found that I had the desire to play multiple campaigns, though I feel that if solely playing alone, most people will play through a couple of times and be done.
Whilst the arcade-like experience is certainly fun and I enjoy the campaign randomisation, this game is definitely best when played with a friend locally or with others online. You can take on more difficult challenges and act out better strategies with up to 3 fellow Tanks. With more support and more enemies on screen, the battle turns into a visceral experience, everything ratchets up a few notches.
Joining someone else’s campaign is smooth and the fact that you can jump in and jump out to a short skirmish or 2 makes for an easy experience. That said, it is a shame that you cannot pair up and take on fellow real-life players as enemies; the multiplayer experience is co-operative only, against AI.
A version of the original 1980 release, complete with wireframe vector animations, has been included. It features the old control scheme where your left stick controls your left tread and the right stick controls the right tread. This feels more realistic, like a simulation almost, and its great that they included it here.
When you first boot up the game, you are presented with a short intro, where your Cobra tank is deployed and the music really sets the scene in this Sci-Fi setting. It’s disappointing, therefore, that I found this to be the only standout audio section.
During battles, the background music is inoffensive, but doesn’t evoke that sense of action that I associate with classic arcade games; sound effects are equally capable but do not standout. One nice feature is the voice acting from your supporting AI. The British female voice-over is spot on – lines are delivered in a robotic and efficient manner that fits.
Visuals & Performance
Battlezone Gold Edition harks back to the 1980 original arcade game with its Tron-like neon landscapes and brightly coloured enemies. There is a certain rugged blockiness that works here; the visuals are simple – no doubt this was a requirement of a game developed for VR – and yet, they feel right at home on the Switch. A knock on effect is that the performance is solid, I didn’t experience any major issues, though on the move there was a little slowdown and shorter draw distances.
I love the varied look of tanks, turrets, and aircraft on show – each is distinctive, and due to the bold colours, is identifiable at a distance. This style gives the game an ultra arcade feel and my only gripe is that due to the low detail, it can be a little confusing at first to see where a pathway leads.
At $34.99 in the US and £29.99 in the UK, Battlezone Gold Edition is priced in between Triple A titles and cheaper indie games and that feels about right. The fact that each playthourgh is distinctive with a randomised map and variable encounters gives the game longevity. A short campaign will take you roughly 2 hours and a longer campaign will take about 6. The game is intended to be played through multiple times and thankfully, it is fun to play over.
It is a shame that the online option is limited to co-operative play, as competitive play would have been a very welcome addition and boosted the value of Battlezone Gold Edition.
A solid VR conversion
Tight controls and fluid arcade gameplay
Missing competitive multiplayer