GDC 2016: We get hands-on with tank brawling shoot-em-up Battlezone
Highway to the Battlezone
Some housekeeping. We didn't play this game at GDC but the embargo came down due to Sony's GDC conference, so we're counting it.
Battlezone is ostensibly, a game about being a big robot tank and killing smaller robot tanks. But in reality, it's a game about the way that combat feels, or a certain pace. The speed of slaughter, if you will.
Would it be weird if I said it felt a little like playing DOOM? I mean the good DOOM, the original. It's all a matter of velocity, DOOM was fast, DOOM was like racing a murder go-kart down a track filled with enemies.
In Battlezone, you're controlling the go-kart. You're sat inside the cockpit of a giant tank while you spin around the place, holding down the boost key to dodge incoming rounds. Turrets, tanks and even swarms of drones will try to rain carnage down over you, and you're just there, dancing between the gunfire.
Every second leaning on the boost is less shield, the shield draining out of you as you apply the boost, but without the extra speed it affords you couldn't hope to avoid all of the extra rounds. With the boost applied of course, you won't be able to survive as many hits. It's a powerful cycle of risk and reward.
I think that's why I found myself so impressed with it. It takes a concept that sounds tired at first glance, arena based tank battling, and turns it into a finely balanced combat game. At least it was in the level that I played.
It's hard to say for sure, because what I played was an early build, but i've got a feeling in my gut that it's a solid game. I enjoyed playing the demo, and when offered a chance to take another swing at it, I jumped straight back into it.
It's also a stunning game, with an aesthetic i'm honour-bound to bring up every time I talk about the game because it's so pretty it makes me cry real tears whenever I see it in action. The big blocky look just works, and it's a visual style that works incredibly well.
I feel like if you can see a screenshot of the game and immediately peg it as Battlezone and good looking in an instant? It's done something right. It was the look of Battlezone in the trailer that made me bank on it when I saw the first trailer, but now i'm sold on the whole thing.
It's also clearly a game that everyone at Rebellion is very enthusiastic about, and there was a clamour around the office as I sat down to play, but enthusiasm alone doesn't necessarily make a great game.
What enthusiasm has given to Rebellion in this case, is an enviable mastery of how VR works, and an understanding of what makes a good game. They've taken a solid arena blaster and made it shine.
For starters, piloting the tank doesn't make me sick. Considering i'm moving at a hundred miles an hour for 10-15 minutes at a time, the fact that I'm not riding a vomit comet is cause for celebration. It means I can concentrate on the blasting.
There was some science behind it. A radar that doesn't move, a cockpit that doesn't shuffle. They explained it to me but sadly I was too busy blasting things (with a PS:VR strapped to my face, no less) to take notes.
Or you could look at the cockpit. It's full of information that isn't essential for gameplay but is handy to have at a glance, better than that, seeing as you're strapped into the cockpit for the entire time it's something that just makes the cockpit feel alive.
Even though Battlezone's fiction puts you in virtual reality while you're wearing your PlayStation VR and actually sitting in virtual reality, a sense of place is important.
My brief time with Battlezone was an overwhelmingly positive one then, but sadly too short. I'm looking forward to seeing more about it, and perhaps even trying the campaign hinted at in their latest trailer, but for now, it looks like it's worth entering Battlezone's zone of great danger.