Battlezone sure has come a long way since the early day of vector graphics. The game was a classic comfort of tank war games released in 1980 and holds a place in classic gaming history for its novel design and addictive mechanics. It was in 1998 that Activision dusted off the franchise to try something new. Battlezone 1998 is an interesting amalgam of first person tank warfare, resource and base management, and real-time strategy. Fast forward to very recently as of this writing when Rebellion Developments worked with developer Big Boat Interactive to bring the 1998 game into current times with Battlezone Redux. The game was updated with new textures, designs, and mod support that brings fast-paced combat and strategy to a new generation in stellar form.
For those who missed Battlezone 98 the first time around, it follows an alternative timeline in the 1960s in which the space race for the moon was only a cover-up. After meteors fall to Earth containing valuable bio-metals, the Soviet and American forces scramble to collect everything they can and when all sources on Earth are used up, they rush to find new sources on other planets. The bio-metal allows them to build all new technologies such as the hover tanks you’ll use throughout the game. However, on Earth where it was a Cold War, a hot gun barrel is the voice of diplomacy among the planets. It’s a pretty cliché storyline that supplies barebones padding to the game, but the real deal is the gameplay.
Your available options start out barren, but missions in, you’ll be building full installations in no time
Battlezone 98 Redux features the original’s full campaign in which players take up sides with either the American National Space Defense Force (NSDF) or the Soviet Cosmos Colonist Army (CCA). Players take on a field commander role in each mission with objectives to thwart the enemy’s grasp on several planets and their bio-metal resources. To this end, your job often begins in quickly establishing base and defenses to thwart imminent attacks. As with any real-time strategy game, Battlezone 98 Redux starts you with the bare minimum and builds you up to varied tactics and the big guns in later missions. Once you unlock the Constructor, the world is your oyster and you really get the opportunity to play with some fantastic base installations and toys. Our favorite was the satellite array, which gives you an active birds-eye view of a large surrounding area at the press of a button, but baiting enemies into range of your gun towers is fantastically fun too.
The elephant in the room is the HD update of all the visuals in this edition of the game. All textures and especially ships and bases received an update and redesign. The planets are a little flat, but everything from the particle effects to the active units, bullets, and explosions are updated very nicely. The visuals are enough to drive a coherent action-strategy experience well and even at the high settings, we found it running smooth as silk with only the occasional slowdown when an area was absurdly congested with units battling it out. It’s still got a lot of ’98 veneer to it, but it looks crisp and clean without damaging performance.
They blew up our ride, but our other pilots and factory are generous enough to let us borrow theirs
Of course, the place where Battlezone 98 Redux differs almost completely from other strategy games is that you are an active participant on the battlefield. You often start out in a standard tank of the applicable side, but you can ride in any of the game’s vehicles. These run from fast moving and lightly equipped scouts to heavy ships featuring powerful rockets. If your tank gets destroyed, you are automatically ejected from it and if you’ve got the resources, getting a new ride is as easy as asking one of your units to pick you up, the pilot ejecting from the cockpit and offering you control. Outside of failing objectives, you lose if your vehicle is destroyed and then you’re killed while on foot. However, your enemies follow similar rules and there’s nothing quite like taking a speeding hover tank over a fleeing soldier.
From your tank, you issue active commands to your units on the battle field and command is as simple as pointing at what you want and selecting it or using the numbered menu to track the unit or base installation and issue a command from a distance. There are all sorts of short-cuts with which to streamline your commands, such as using a single key to select all of your offensive units or defensive units for singular command. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to set macros, which would have been great for organizing tanks into one keypress and bombers into another for layered attack strategies. You can select one unit or all of them, nothing in-between. Also, a button for selecting all utility units would have been nice as protecting your scavengers which mine the scrap metal you use for construction is a constant worry. Unfortunately again, there is no option here at this time to call up all your scavengers and order a retreat to base when they’re under attack. Just one at a time.
The A.I. isn’t incredibly smart, but it knows how to roll rampant over a base
Speaking of units and command, there is a bit of a problem there in Battlefield 98 Redux. For the most part, units do what you want them to do when you command it and are responsive, however, there are some occasions where the A.I. falters and it left us occasionally working around them more than we would have liked. Terrain is a difficult spot in this game for the units. If terrain is too uneven, units will sometimes take a long path around it or bumble into it for a bit until you give them a nudge with your tank. It’s silly because you can move around most of the terrain with relative ease and even have a booster that allows your vehicle to jump and elevate over gaps and obstacles. The A.I. doesn’t seem to be able to do the same. Even worse, vehicles controlled by the A.I. don’t move as fast as you do, even if the vehicles are the same type as yours. Sometimes this leaves you waiting on your offensive crew if you rush out too far ahead of them, or leaves you open to be picked off by enemy scouts if you stray too far and don’t give your forces time to catch up. It’s not enough to break the game in the least because command is still quick and responsive. It’s just also occasionally frustrating.
Outside of the main campaigns, there’s also a multiplayer mode to this game. Players can form games of two to eight on a slew of included maps with set objectives. You can go head-to-head in a classic Deathmatch or challenge your friends and enemies to the full Battlezone 98 experience with Strategy modes that feature all of the base-building and unit command components. In addition, Battlezone 98 Redux features full mod support and a built-in map editor. There are already some single-player and multiplayer mods popping up on Steam now that look worthwhile and overall, Battlezone 98 Redux looks set to keep the fun going well after the last shot has been fired in the campaign.
BATTLEZONE 98 REDUX VERDICT
There is a ton of things to like about this game and especially this version of it. Everything returns intact and looks much cleaner and sharper than ever. The seamless blending of direct tank combat and real-time strategy elements comes off very well, only hindered by an A.I. with pathing issues. It’s still a fun campaign with a lot of neat toys to play around with on both sides and when you’re done there, get some friends together and take on the multiplayer or check out some mods. Battlezone 98 was a classic and Redux is a pretty good offering to old fans and new players alike.
TOP GAME MOMENT
There was nothing quite like seeing the pilot eject out of a destroyed enemy tank to float safely down to the planet where we were happily waiting with hands on the forward throttle. Splat!