Now with more colors than just green!
When I bought my Playstation VR back in 2017, Battlezone was the first game I bought. The 80’s inspired visuals and Tron-like atmosphere fit in perfectly with the shiny new VR future. To this day I hold it as one of the better Playstation VR titles. It did away with the Playstation Move motion controllers (the PSVR’s biggest weakness) and stuck to the standard Dualshock 4 controller. The tanks don’t move too fast, meaning that I never had an issue with motion sickness. It presented a nice, open cockpit view with readouts stationed all around you, encouraging you to look all around. All this in mind, I was pretty excited when a Switch port was announced. Of course, the VR elements would have to be adjusted for, but I felt that the core experience was fun enough to stand on its own.
Battlezone is a 3D, first-person tank-sim. Campaigns (the main mode of play) take place across randomly-generated boards. You start on one side, with your goal on the other. Each space represents a combat scenario for you to deal with. These missions range from simply defeating enemies, to capturing and holding specific points, taking out an enemy convoy, and more. Your tank isn’t very fast, so combat relies on your strategic ability to gain an advantageous position. Completing missions and fulfilling optional side objectives earn you credits and blueprints. Blueprints unlock weapons that can be purchased with credits at supply points, which are scattered across the map. Also dotting the map are several shield generators. These represent tougher battles but victory here lowers the defensive ability of the enemy when you reach your final goal. Because the game is separated into these small missions, the progression is well suited to a portable environment. Because the map and missions are randomly generated there is a fair amount of replay value, with additional options available in terms of difficulty and campaign length.
Campaigns can be played either single player or with an online party of up to four players. Online play held up well during our pre-release testing. I noticed a bit of rubber banding on friendly tanks resulting in jerky movement. However, as Battlezone presents a purely co-operative experience, this never hindered our gameplay. Things do seem significantly easier when playing with friends, as your tanks will heal each other in close proximity. The general absence of this feature when playing single player makes things a bit more stressful, though far from impossible.
In docked mode, Battlezone looks and runs great. It isn’t quite as pretty as it is on PS4, but such is to be expected. When playing portably, things still look nice, but frame rates are much less consistent. By positioning myself so that the majority of the playfield was in view I could easily tank the game’s performance. That being said, given the somewhat slow nature of the game, the frame-rate issues are annoying but don’t hamper your progress. What is hampering is how Battlezone deals with its move from VR to a traditional screen. It employs the age old strategy of not doing anything. That’s right, rather than adjusting the hud to fit the various off screen elements into your field of view, Battlezone opts to poorly emulate VR functionality. By holding down L you can activate gyro controls that allow you to move your camera within the cockpit. Even elements that are technically within your field of view, such as the display for incoming messages, hangs halfway off the screen forcing you to manually look down and read it. Unfortunately holding down a button and then moving a joy-con just isn’t as intuitive as physically looking over with your head. Even giving me the option to always have the motion controls turned on, similar to Star Fox Zero or Splatoon, would be preferable to pushing a button then turning my controller or system so that I can see a readout that could have just as easily been placed within view.
While Battlezone’s core gameplay stands tall and fits surprisingly well with a handheld playstyle, the absence of VR is more than a missing gimmick. This is an experience built for VR and while it would certainly be possible to adapt simple elements like the HUD to a standard display, the work simply hasn’t been done. If you can get used to the weird VR workaround in place, Battlezone is still a fun game, especially with friends online. However, the fact remains that this is a merely okay version of a really fun game. Enough of its core fun shines through to make it enjoyable, but a better experience awaits if you happen to own a Playstation VR.