There have been a multitude of techniques used to reinvigorate the 1980 coin-op classic, Battlezone. Whereas the original game used a periscope-like viewfinder to observe a stark, vector graphics-driven warzone, a 1998 successor adopted a remarkably different approach. Activision’s remake mixed first-person maneuvering with real-time strategy elements and was successful enough to spawn a sequel and remaster. Following Atari’s bankruptcy and subsequent asset liquidation, Rebellion Developers purchased the property and shifted the franchise’s tanks into the realm of virtual reality.
With the release of Battlezone Gold Edition for the Switch, Rebellion was forced to forgo the sense of headset-powered immersion from their title, which is understandable given the capabilities of Nintendo’s hybrid. Although that might have eviscerated a game that depended on the spectacle of VR, Battlezone was already an engaging action game which makes for an appealing experience on a portable platform. Save for a few issues that emerge when the game is played in handheld mode, the Gold Edition is one of the platform’s best vehicular-based action titles.
Pleasingly, Battlezone’s campaign extends a gratifying amount of flexibility. Beyond offering different difficulty levels, players can also select different game lengths, and well as choose from a multitude of different tanks. Unsurprisingly, each offers a distinctive balance between maneuverability and offensive capability. Whether you favor being a nimble striker or plodding heavy-hitter, there’s a suitable tanker to commandeer as well as a diverse arsenal to wield.
Shunning a long-winded narrative that would postpone the action, the game permits players to quickly make their way to the eponymous Battlezone. Accommodating a single player, local or online cooperative partners, you’ll be make your way across a procedurally generated warzone. Each hex on the battlefield offers a different of mission, from straightforward combat missions, defense duties, base capture. Pleasingly, shield generators offer an intriguing risk/reward mechanic. While they are difficult to defeat, taking one down drops your adversaries’ level of defense.
Your goal is to make to the other side of the map and battle the antagonistic AI Core. Although you start with three lives, and can purchase more with credits earned during missions, the challenge can be tough. For one, you’ll be constantly pursued by nemesis enemies, who respect the same turn-taking cadence on the overworld map. Should they land on your hex, you’ll a substantial test of your skillset. Fortunately, tackling these opponents with a partner makes things a bit more manageable, especially when tanks heal adjacent allies. This ability is helpful enough that you’re curse its omission from individual play.
But largely it’s a minor transgression as Battlezone’s clashes are thoroughly engaging. Even when employing a bit of turbo to zip around (as the sacrifice of incurring additional damage) your tank will move at a protracted pace, making the evasion of arcing enemy projectiles sufficiently tense. Adeptly, this mimics the type of maneuvering you’d have to master to survive in the original arcade game. Like the classic coin-op, you’ll need to use environmental objects as cover, sporadically poking out to launch a salvo of shot. Pleasingly, Battlezone’s weapons are every bit as idiosyncratic as its tanks, with reloads and having to switch ammo types all adding to the intensity.
The game’s mission lengths are well-suited for portable play, where you can conquer a few hexs on a bus or train ride, whole still possessing an over-arching goal. Unfortunately, the port onto Switch isn’t without a few problems. In handheld mode, text can be hard to read and reconnoitering distant enemies that are a few pixels tall can induce eye strain. The port allows you to use the Switch’s gyroscopic functionality to look around but having to hold a button to activate the mechanic seems like a set backward after games like Splatoon 2 have incorporated it as a fixed option. Finally, there’s the unmistakable scourge of slowdown when too many objects are onscreen.
Battlezone remains relatively unscathed after the removal of its virtual reality component. Much of this stems from the game’s absorbing action, which melds tank warfare with light rogue-like elements. Considering the downloads reasonable twenty-dollar price and the inclusion of tank liveries and bobbleheads based on Rebellion properties makes this a conflict worth signing up for.
Battlezone Gold Edition was played on the Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.