It’s fairly fitting that Battlezone VR is a launch title for Sony’s PlayStation VR platform. The original 1980’s arcade game in some ways can be considered one of the first VR games that was released. The cabinets had players looking through a set of goggles at a black and green lined based battlefield filled with tanks. Players were amazed at just how 3D everything felt in an age where most games were filled with large colored 2D pixels.
Today’s VR is something that’s hard to describe. I’m firmly in the camp that you can’t actually understand the experience until you strap on the headset and look around. It’s almost an instantaneous “Ah-Ha” moment, and for me, it only took a few minutes of the Batman VR experience to get me hooked.
Battlezone feels like one of the best uses of the PlayStation VR from a pure game standpoint. While Batman VR feels more like an experiment - combining an old school adventure game with a tech demo - Battlezone VR feels closer to something more traditional. The simple but effective graphics help keep high frame rates and large field of views that immerse the player in a Tron like world. The virtual cockpit of your tank feels like a step in the right direction for VR UI design. Panels utilize the same green on black color scheme of the original 1980s arcade game providing detailed information about the battlefield, enemies, and your tank’s current status. The HUD is no longer limited to your direct field of vision and screen space; instead its only limitation is what the developers create within your virtual environment.
While the simplistic graphics are welcome, the simplicity carried over to the main game is somewhat of a mixed bag. What’s presented to the players is a bit of a rogue-like - a randomly generated campaign that is available in both single player offline and four player co-op online play. You’ll earn unlocks for your tank each time you play, and can find and equip these to one of the three tank types (Light Medium, Heavy) during each playthrough. There’s no story to be found, your only goal is to reach the end of the map and defeat the AI core. The menu UI gives you very little context and very little help to get you started; you’re simply dropped into the virtual cockpit and off you go.
The game itself is fast and fun, with a wide area of the tank cockpit to look around for incoming enemies. The difficulty seems to ramp up fairly quickly, so you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel for enemies on the ground, in the air, and off in the distance. The simple graphics and smooth framerate help keep you from VR fatigue. The VR combat is a bit of a learning curve, like when you first learned to circle strafe in DOOM back in the day. Except now you’ll be circle strafing while looking to see where the next enemy is coming from in 360 degrees.
There are multiple sizes of tanks to choose from, each with their own weapons, stats, and slightly unique views. Sadly they still all handle fairly the same via the Dual Shock 4 - no need for the PS Move controllers. Each tank is equipped with a range of limited-ammo weapons which are slow to reload, and when all else fails there’s an infinite and weak blaster at your disposal. It’s because of this dichotomy that you need to be careful about every shot, taking your time to aim and choosing the right style of weapon for your enemy.
The campaigns of Battlezone VR play out on a hexagonal map with each hex representing a mission. Missions range from all out attack or defense, to escort or sometimes just a simple bonus mission. The campaigns can switch from single player to co-op at anytime, which is a nice touch.
Playing online in four player co-op is definitely an experience to behold. There’s something about being in virtual reality, hearing positional audio of your teammates, and working together towards a common goal that really elevates the co-op experience to another level. All the standard co-op gameplay elements are here; the “class” based system with the tanks themselves, customization based on objective, and the ability to revive downed teammates simply by guarding them for a few seconds. It all works really well in its own arcade like way with all players earning their own rewards and unlocks.
My only gripe with Battlezone VR is it just feels like it’s lacking a bit of polish. The core of what’s available is great, but all the bells and whistles we’re used to for console games seem to be lacking. Especially for a full priced title like this.
The PlayStation VR launched with a large lineup of games, but most were limited to little more than experiments in virtual reality. Battlezone VR is that close blend between what console games are and what VR games can be. It’s fast paced gameplay is great in short doses, the online co-op works really well, and the game is incredibly replayable thanks to the randomly generated campaigns and missions. Battlezone VR should scratch that nostalgic itch while also feeding into your inner need to experience the latest technology.