Right, so full disclosure: I a massive Battlezone fanboy, so let me get this out of my system: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
So… context: I played Battlezone 64 and Battlezone 2 a great deal as a kid. We’re talking a stupid amount. And then I found out it got remastered and released by Rebellion in April of 2016. Little annoyed I missed it then, but hey.
The premise is pretty cool- It’s the time of the Cold War, and there is a reason the US is so intent on the space race beyond “Let’s show those commie bastards how it’s done.” A strange new material known as bio-metal has fallen to Earth in meteorites, and it promises to revolutionize the design of vehicles and structures. So the US makes it to the Moon with an expeditionary force in search of more, using Armstrong and co. as a smokescreen. Then it turns out the Russians made it there too, and things get interesting. The story is mainly explained through mid-mission radio reports, (de)briefings and voiceovers from the main character of the USA side of the story, Grizzly One. RTS campaigns are usually solid in my experience, and BZ 98 Redux is no exception thanks to the variety of mission types, even if the structure of said missions is showing its age.
I figured I’d be a pro after all my earlier practice, but it turns out the N64 version was intentionally toned down difficulty-wise. I lost on the the first two missions on the remake. Ow my pride. Thankfully there is a difficulty selector, but it effects both enemy AI and damage, and I kinda wish they were separate sliders like in Mount and Blade.
Now, Battlezone is an Action-RTS. This means that you get to dodge incoming fire with your personal vehicle while trying to coordinate reinforcements and building defenses and calling in supply drops to replenish your ammo and armor which you will need VERY VERY OFTEN.
Before I cover the aspects of the game that aged poorly, allow me to say there are a number of concepts that came about in this series are still cool today. You can have ammo and repair modules (or high explosives) launched to your current location, courtesy of the production plant/catapult known as the Armory. Your vehicles have a central energy reserve that produces all munitions, so a tank, for example, can fire shells or bullets or mortars as the situation dictates without being slowed to a crawl trying to carry it all, and repair/ammo modules are universal. You have several kinds of missiles, each with their own tracking medium and thus their own counter and vehicles they excel against.
The coolest part, in my opinion, is the ability to change what guns are on a vehicle. You can swap out the standard “AT Stabber” cannon for the harder-hitting but slower firing “SP Stabber,” for example. Or, as many vets suggest, put SP Stabbers on both of a tank’s cannon mounts and twin-link them to rapidly obliterate targets. You can arm any vehicle with your ordnance of choice as long as they have the appropriate mounts for them.
The combat is quite fun too. There’s a few oddball weapons to shake things up, and hover tanks are much more fun to fight with than the regular kind, especially with the varied terrain this game offers. I must warn you however that the AI is a little… ruthlessly vindictive in that it will target your most important stuff given any opportunity, and it loves to focus on you in particular. It’s an acquired taste, to be sure.
Presentation overall is in a weird spot. The new textures and effects make the game look much much prettier than it did back in the day. I’m not sure if the sound design got any changes, but I don’t think there is much room for improvement there beyond cutting down on repeated alerts and acknowledgements. The terrain still looks artificial, though, and the menu system still feels limited. Select All and Attack-Move are genre staples for a reason, guys!
Now, I give BZ some serious kudos for all the bold design choices mentioned back up towards the top of this piece. However… In trying all these cool things, BZ has a bunch of rough spots, and they grate just as much now as they did when I first played. Why do I have to fling new guns to every unit I want to equip with them? Why is it such a bear to restock ammo and armor when the game requires it nearly nonstop? Why am I limited to 30 pilots for an entire base (unless I use a certain trick to restock them)? I hope BZ2 gets remastered at some point, as for all the flaws that game has, it does go aways to fixing a number of these issues. I’ll also say that the game has a steep learning curve even on Medium, as the game often has a way it wants you to do things and deviating from that unspoken plan means things will get messy in a hurry. It’s still a solid game even today, but I wish there’d been some changes to the mechanics, even if they were optional settings. I know some people love this game for its difficulty, but most of the things that are causing it seem unnecessary to me.
So, that’s Battlezone 98 Redux. If you enjoy hectic combat and multi-tasking base management, you’ll likely enjoy this game. If all this sounds overwhelming, I’d be more cautious. The game is $20 on Steam.