Battlezone 98 Redux
Published and (re)Developed by Rebellion
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Reviewed on Windows PC
Available on: Windows PC through Steam
Released: April 18, 2016
Genre: Simulator/RTS Hybrid
Number of Players: 1+
Battlezone 98 Redux is an update to Battlezone, released in 1998. In turn, Battlezone was a game that was a remake of an old wireframe tank game from the 1980s. I say "update" as opposed to "remake" because that's pretty much what it is. The graphics have been improved to take advantage of newer graphics hardware, the UI has seen some minor updates, and much of the game code has been cleaned up from the older version. Otherwise it's exactly the same game as the version released in 1998. The story is the same, the gameplay is the same, even the sound effects are the same. This isn't a bad thing per se, since obviously it's all new to someone who never played the '98 version, but for someone like me who played and loved it, it feels more like nostalgia than a new game. Sure, it's easy to appreciate the updates, but they aren't really so different that it feels like 18 years of improvement. Not long ago I had dusted off my old '98 copy and played it, and it felt almost exactly the same.
Battlezone is a story about an alternate timeline in which the United States and the Soviet Union discovered bits of an alien metal that allowed both nations to jump start their space programs and launch secret missions to other planets in the Solar System to acquire more of this metal and control the supply. The main campaign begins with the player assuming the role of a commander of a small U.S. Army Moon base, defending it from Soviet raids. Over the course of the game the setting moves to Mars, Venus and then to the moons of the outer planets as the story expands. The main campaign is the American perspective on the story while the Soviet campaign is shorter and more difficult and covers much of the same story from their point of view.
The gameplay is pretty unique in that the player not only builds units and buildings while managing resources just like any other RTS game, he or she also pilots one of the combat vehicles in the game. This means a player has to not only be good at RTS style resource management and force building but also a competent hovertank pilot.
As a hovertank simulator, the game is fairly basic and simple. The turret of the hovertank doesn't rotate independently of the hull, but since it's a hovertank it's easy to spin the tank itself to draw a bead on a new target. The tank can also strafe, move backward and even jump. The hovertank can also survive falls from considerable heights without damage. The whole thing is pretty intuitive, which is exactly what it needs to be as the player will be controlling and fighting the hovertank even while issuing tactical commands and production orders. It really is like playing two games at once, so the controls need to be as simple as possible, yet powerful enough to give the player all possible options quickly. Battlezone succeeds very well at this.
Strong Points: Smooth, intuitive controls; great music and sounds; tactical play
Weak Points: Construction limits for units reflect the older technology; pathfinding A.I. not so good
Moral Warnings: Some graphic violence; some tactical options morally ambiguous
There is a downside, however, and this is one of those unexpected side effects that makes a game like this more realistic but at the same time can be intensely annoying. The world of Battlezone is a 3D world where objects take up space. A crowded base means traffic problems as your vehicles and units try and move in among the buildings. This problem is made worse by a fairly poor pathfinding algorithm used by computer controlled vehicles. The Scavengers (workers that recover scrap) themselves seem to be the worst, and at times one could be forgiven for thinking they deliberately choose the worst possible path. I could swear I've had Scavengers veer off their path to run into my tank, and they have a bizarre tendency to zoom right across my gunsight when I'm firing on an enemy unit. It's funny to watch two Scavengers bumping nose to nose against each other in an open field as if they were bumper cars, but these problems lose their charm in a real hurry when your Scavengers seem to prefer to go after scrap fields near enemy units rather than much safer ones in a different direction, even when they're closer. Suddenly base management becomes as much about herding wayward Scavengers as it is about resource management and tactical planning.
There are a variety of different vehicles that the player can pilot, including light tanks, scouts and bombers. The player usually starts the missions in a standard hovertank but other units can be ordered to 'pick up' a player who has ejected from their own tank. (Ejecting happens automatically when the player's vehicle is destroyed, but can also be done manually if the player simply wants to switch vehicles.) The friendly pilot moves up close to the player, ejects, and then the player is free to commandeer the vehicle.
That isn't to say the player must always replace their vehicle. When on foot, the player is armed with a rifle with two modes, including a scoped sniper rifle mode. The sniper mode be used to eliminate the pilot in an enemy vehicle, at which point the player can commandeer it. This can be a useful way to replace your ride when it's been destroyed from under you and you're far from your base. It's little extra features like this which make the game so immersive. You may not use this ability very often but it makes the game feel more real when you never really run out of options.
For the command and RTS elements of the game, the number keys are used. A small menu in the upper left corner of the HUD displays available options. This simple interface means a player quickly gets used to repeated commands and can execute them fast. The downside is that commands can only be given to individual units and not groups. It would be great if I could simply order all offensive units to attack a target rather than have to select each one individually and issue the command. This is where some modernization of the function and not just the cosmetics of the interface would have been very useful.
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)
Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5
Morality Score - 80%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 9/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10
What I found disappointing was that the limitation on a maximum of ten units of each type (offensive, defensive, utility) remains. I had always assumed this limit was due to hardware limits when the 1998 version was created, and so hoped that this would be expanded for the more modern hardware Redux is meant for. There's also a limit to ten of any permanent building type, so if you have multiple bases you can't have ten gun towers at each. This limit really hurts when you've reached your limit of Barracks, and can no longer supply pilots to new units.
In addition to combat units, the player commands construction and support units, some of which require power from natural geysers to work. This means the choice of base location must include a site with enough geysers ti power the base's needs. In addition to mobile units, permanent support structures can be built. A unit called the Constructor is used to build these but only one can exist at a time. If you have more than one base, they share a Constructor which has to shuttle back and forth between them, sometimes exposing them to enemy attack.
The raw materials for all units and structures is scrap (gathered by Scavengers), which is the alien metal that also drives the plot of the story. Pre-existing scrap deposits exist on the maps, but destroyed units and buildings also leave behind scrap which can be recovered by Scavengers and recycled into new units, structures and powerups. In this way a well defended base has a nigh infinitely renewable source of materials as the enemy sends units in which are subsequently destroyed and recycled.
The game can be played with the keyboard/mouse combo or the joystick. I personally found the keyboard/mouse approach easier to use, as the controls can be fairly sensitive and lining up shots takes precision, especially when your hovertank is strafing sideways while trading shots with a Soviet heavy tank. There are options in preferences to adjust the sensitivity, but I like the mix of speed and precision afforded by the mouse as opposed to the larger joystick, which feels clunky to me. Your mileage may vary.
In either case, the keyboard is needed to operate the command menus.
The multiplayer game is the basic fare one would expect from a game like this. There are different mission types, including co-op missions, but the most common type I saw was arena combat in which you drive your vehicle in a general melee. Having your vehicle destroyed means ejecting with a new vehicle spawning wherever you land. Powerups are strewn around the field and a simple counter tracks kills/deaths. The multiplayer skins are variations on the campaign ones but the vehicles are essentially the same.
The game's graphics are a modest update to the original, which means it still looks old compared with other contemporary games. The vehicles and structures are composed of relatively simple polygons with skins over them. In a sense this can be seen as a throwback to the simple wireframe polygons of the original Battlezone so there may have been stylistic motives here, but it still doesn't matter to a player who never played original Battlezone or the '98 remake. The most noticeable upgrades are the appearance of the scraps of alien metal, which are now easier to see, and exploding vehicles now look much more realistic than the older "sparks and legos" effect. The cockpit view of the various tanks, including the HUD, are all updated but the changes are all cosmetic. There are also particle effects under the hovertanks as they kick up surface dust and structures and vehicles with lighting on them are now brighter. Vehicles also have a nose mounted spotlight, though this is purely cosmetic and isn't even noticeable once you're used to playing.
The sound effects are decent, though not really different from the '98 game. That said, they didn't need to be updated really, anyway. The hum of the hovertank's engine as the player rockets over the landscapes of alien worlds is pretty immersive, and the voiceovers from other characters communicating with the player are quite clear and easy to understand, for the most part.
Stability is definitely improved over the original game. One of the reasons for this update, I suspect, is that it was difficult to get Battlezone '98 to run on versions of Windows later than Windows 98 without installing community-created mods. This new game ran perfectly on a Windows 7 PC. The Battlezone fan community has been creating mods and patches for the game ever since the 1998 version, so in a sense Battlezone 98 Redux is a packaged, complete version that incorporates many of these mods. It is easy to add mods in this version as well.
The game is a hovertank combat simulator and RTS game, so things are going to get blown up and people will die. Most of the time all you see is exploding tanks and the pilot does eject, but that actually introduces a moral dilemma. Frequently enemy pilots who have ejected can be seen running back toward their home base to get a new vehicle. What do you do? Let them go or mercilessly run them down or shoot them? Depriving the enemy of its pilots is an effective tactic, but it does mean killing relatively helpless people as they try to get home. The weapons on the tanks are meant for killing tanks. Using them against these unprotected humans is... explosive. The intent does appear to be that the player should kill exposed enemy pilots, as the tanks do posses machine guns which are useful only against normal humans, but this always felt wrong to me so I rarely did it. Firing on an exposed pilot who is outside of his vehicle results in the pilot exploding in sparks and red mist, not simply falling down. There are also times when using exposed pilots is considered a necessary tactic by the game, though I was able to beat it without resorting to that. Enemy units will not hesitate to fire on exposed pilots, including the player.
Also, using the sniper rifle is a more personal way to eliminate enemy units than simply blasting away at their vehicle. The enemy pilot is represented by a glowing light to aim at instead of actually seeing the person's head, so there is some abstraction going on there. This is only absolutely necessary to complete the campaign in one instance, however. The rest of the time the player can avoid using this tactic.
There isn't anything occult per se, with the only thing supernatural about it is the aliens who are the originators of the bio metal.
Language isn't really an issue in this game. Some very mild language can be heard in radio transmissions or the monologue prior to each mission, as well as insults from units as they taunt the enemy over the radio. Nothing really serious though. More like insults such as "commie pinko" uttered by tank pilots when destroying Soviet vehicles. There's no sexual content of any kind.
This is a fantastic game which successfully blends an action simulator with realtime strategy. Improvements to the AI would have been nice but overall this is an annoyance and not a game breaker. Ultimately it's fantastic mainly because the original '98 version was fantastic, and the "Redux" doesn't really offer very much improvement. If you enjoyed the older '98 version and have been looking to play again, this is a great option but may not be as impressive to those without the nostalgia to drive the fun.