After a brief stint in beta, Battlezone VR is finally out for the PC. This game plays homage to the original Battlezone but takes it to the next level as a rogue-like experience with upgrades and fancy visuals. I’ll point out now, this is not a sim of any kind, it’s a twin-stick arcade shooter made for VR.
Let’s talk controls because it could be a sticking point for some. A joypad of some description is required, whether that be a PS4 controller, Steam controller or something else. There is no HOTAS or joystick support, and to be honest it doesn’t really need anything that complex. No real precision controls for handling a flight sim or complex tank is required. This is a shooter with tanks. There is also no keyboard and mouse option so be aware of that.
Before a game starts, there’s a map which is presented as small hexagons and you need to move to the next adjacent hexagon to select the mission. The ultimate goal is to reach the other side of this map in one piece and collect cash and upgrade weapons as you go before taking on the end level. Each hexagon represents a single mission and each of these missions will involve all kinds of objectives, whether it’s hacking, protecting, or destroying something on the map. Meanwhile, the AI attempts to stop you with numerous types of tanks and airborne vehicles, some of which are pretty damn tough to defeat. Once a map is cleared and the mission is successful, tanks can be upgraded before moving onto the next mission.
Death in Battlezone is serious business, when you die and are out of lives it’s game over. With a procedurally generated map in play, this is bad news. When you start the campaign again the map you need to traverse is going to be different. You are aided with the ability to purchase lives as you play the campaign. This is done by collecting ‘data’ by killing the AI. Think of it as the in-game currency.
This currency is also what’s going to improve your chances of success thanks to an upgrade system. At the start of a game, there’s three tank choices, light, medium and heavy. As you progress through the game defeating enemies and completing maps, upgrades can be acquired to improve tanks and weapons. All this is done via menu screens after missions are completed. It’s slightly confusing when you first start, using the controller to navigate the menus in VR takes a little practice.
For review purposes, I have been playing this on a trusty HTC Vive with a Steam controller. I have to say that the Steam controller is probably not the best option because having a right stick instead of a touchpad would make life a lot easier, the touchpad can be a bit too sensitive which can make aiming tricky as it controls the angle of the tank’s barrel. I eventually ditched the Steam controller and opted for an old PS3 controller I had lying around. That was a vast improvement for me but everyone will have their own preference as I found out while chatting in-game. Some players actually liked it on a Steam controller. To each his own.
Using the twin-stick controls, controlling the tank is not realistic by any means. The tanks are highly maneuverable no matter what type you go for, they glide easily across the maps. Aiming the turret with the right stick is the trickiest and it can feel a little cumbersome, especially when trying to aim up at flying enemy. If there was one thing I found irritating, it’s aiming the actual guns using the controller’s right stick. I will point out that using any type of controller is usually the last resort for me.
The weaponry gets more complex as you progress. A particular favourite is the homing missiles with lock, mainly because it takes some of the pain out of holding accurate aim on a target. Aerial targets are particularly difficult so having anything that sticks to the target helps.
The gameplay has a tendency to keep drawing you back to play just one more game. It entices you to keep pushing forwards on the map. The single player is engrossing but to get the most out of BattleZone VR it’s best to launch the multiplayer. Remember though, there is no PvP. That will hopefully come at some point because it would be a wasted opportunity if it didn’t. When I previewed the game a few weeks ago I didn’t get the chance to play any multiplayer because it was impossible to get on at the allocated preview times. Now the game has launched there’s been plenty of games to join via the lobby. I really hope it stays that way.
The Co-op game shines, once you start playing with other players, there’s more enjoyment to be had, even if the familiar mission types from playing the single player missions resurface. It’s just so much better co-op. With a team coordinating and generally shooting the breeze over voice comms, the game feels much more alive.
There are graphic options to tweak prior to launching and with the GTX 980 I had it all cranked up to Ultra on features such as shadows, textures, and anti-aliasing and experienced no problems at all. The BattleZone universe lends itself to simple graphics and Rebellion has added their own colourful flavour to the mix. The game looks decent inside the headset, not as lovely as the screenshots, but it’s certainly got a style of its own with enough retro to make you feel like you’re playing a BattleZone game. BattleZone VR may not be the most visually impressive VR game around but it has solid gameplay which is what counts.
There are so many content-light VR games on the market but this is one of the few that should keep you going back to it thanks to the procedurally generated maps and co-op. The main feature lacking at the moment is PvP, but if Rebellion has any sense, that will be released as DLC. An option for keyboard and mouse would also be appreciated to see how well it could work.
BattleZone VR is not the cheapest VR title around (£25.49 with a 15% launch discount) but if you’re looking for a decent arcade shooter that isn’t just a shooting gallery then it’s worth the time and money.