Sometimes, just sometimes, games can be beautiful, astounding, life-enriching, clever, charming, cute, hopeful, jaw-dropping, and heart-breaking. Sometimes their scripts are written with brilliant scene-setting flair and fleshed out with apocalyptic prose. Occasionally, the fantasy worlds they reveal help us to see the world through new eyes.
But in the main, most video games are big dumb toys in which big dumb boys like us can pretend to shoot each other in order to establish who the alpha male is.
BattleZone, as you might have guessed from its swaggering title is one such game; a tank-battling orgy, which is easy on the metaphysics, metaphor and creativity, and heavy on the cock-off weaponry. That's not to say we're snobby about such things – precision multiplayer deathmatch modes can be great fun, but, for such a game to make us sit up and notice in these days of shooter ubiquity, it has to be pretty special.
BattleZone fails to impress from the first touch, with its profusion of modes in practice delivering meagre gameplay variations, and feeling limited and claustrophobic in play.
Even the premise is desperately simple: you're given a futuristic tank, placed in a generic environment (varying from icy plains to desert plains, and so on) and charged with battling it out against four opponents. In the default deathmatch mode, the player with the most kills when the timer runs out is the winner.
You can play this basic game in one of three ways: single-player Match, single-player Tournament and ad-hoc multiplayer.
The single-player Tournament mode comprises the bulk of the game, requiring you to place third or higher in order to advance to the next stage. If you manage to win any particular battle then you unlock new tanks and weapons with which to customise your vehicle.
Six game types make up this single-player Tournament, including the aforementioned default deathmatch mode – here dubbed DeathZone. For the record, the others are: Team DeathZone; Capture the Flag; Lone Wolf, which requires you to hold a ball for as long as possible; Blackout, where you must be the first to destroy your enemy's generator; and HotZone, where you must take control of different territories.
Inside the arenas the action is fast-paced and frantic, with various re-spawning power-ups and traps to mix things up. The tanks are easily controlled, too, and you can use a nitro speed boost to quickly escape any frantic exchange that isn't going your way. Other goodies include large floor mounted fans used to propel your vehicle up onto higher ground, but mainly you'll just be hammering the buttons to deploy your weapons into enemies as quickly as possible.
Each time you die, as before each match, you can adjust your tank's set-up to deploy the mines, machine guns, homing missiles and sniper rifles you've unlocked so far. In addition, 'tweaks' – incidental upgrades to your set-up – can also be given to your tank to increase its speed or power. Up to two weapons and three tweaks can be equipped at any one time.
It sounds complicated, but really the above are all small enhancements to what is a straightforward product based around a tried-and-tested multiplayer dynamic. Sadly, the actual multiplayer on offer is difficult to sample: ad-hoc only means you'll need up to three other friends all of whom own the UMD themselves and are in close proximity of your PSP to be able to play. True, empty slots in the battle can be filled by bots but, really, the chances of you getting value for money in this area of the game are quite unlikely, and it's a shame proper network capacity wasn't included in a game that would clearly be the better for it.
In reality, then, the focus is most likely to revert back to the single-player element, which is quickly blasted through. It's particularly disappointing because there is simply nothing in there that you won't have experienced many times before, and often considerably better.
There simply isn't the intensity or excitement of a first-rate arcade shooter, for instance, while the various upgrades aren't able to offer the kind of substantial strategic depth you're entitled to expect these days.
So, despite being a competent package that passes the time and looks pretty enough (although it's not a patch on its 1980 vector-based arcade forbear) it's hard to actively recommend this game.
Even when you consider its intention isn't to redefine the concept of video gaming, BattleZone is simply too short, too under-populated with play features and too average to ever stand out, and will probably be quickly forgotten even by those who enjoy it momentarily.