Battlezone is billed as “the mother of all tank games,” and being originally released in 1980, it has a pretty good claim to that title. In arcades it included a tank-like periscope for the display, with wire-framed glowing lines outlining the world in a viewer that was arguably an early form of VR.
When it releases for position-tracked VR headsets, first on PlayStation VR on Oct. 13, the new Battezone will both pay an homage to the original with its colorful world and try to redefine the genre it claims to have started. Instead of peering at green lines through a periscope, you’ll be manning the cockpit of a versatile tank as it takes on a variety of enemies.
I went hands-on with Battlezone on PS VR at E3 and I’ll have to put it up there with Rigs as one of my most highly anticipated games for the platform. While the two games occupy the same mechanized combat genre, it’s not fair to compare them yet since Battlezone was only played in singleplayer while Rigs is tuned for competitive multiplayer.
In Battlezone, I found myself in the cockpit of a fast-moving tank, maneuvering back, forward and, most often, strafing to the sides to line up my machine gun shots while not getting hit. I faced waves of enemies including tanks, towers, drones and a swarming aerial enemy that looks like something from The Matrix.
Each enemy was best addressed with a slightly different movement style and the colorful but simple shapes used to represent the world really give the impression of being inside The Grid from Tron. I had to keep the tank moving to avoid getting hit while simultaneously keeping my eyes scanning the ground and sky out the large cockpit windows for more enemies.
Despite the quick movement that’s possible with the tank — including long periods moving at odd angles — I felt no discomfort, a testament to how good a fit for VR games are that place you in a cockpit. The developers have improved the game’s visuals significantly since it was first revealed last year, with a roomy cockpit that makes it easy to see enemies on the radar.
There’s something immensely satisfying about avoiding fire with the tank while simultaneously taking out enemies. The simple polygon art style is a perfect fit for VR and this particular game. In some VR games, for example, enemies in the distance can be hard to make out because of the limited number of pixels on today’s headsets. But in Battlezone enemies in the distance are clearly visible, highlighted by red paint jobs. Between the detailed cockpit, simple shapes, and solid colors, everything seems tuned so that even in my short playthrough I started to develop a sense of situational awareness about the landscape and location of enemies, dodging fire from the ground and air while moving the tank into a better position to lay waste.There’s no price announced for Battlezone yet and a number of elements about the game might change still between now and release, but what I tried at E3 looked polished and comfortable with challenging enemies. There’s nothing here that’s shockingly new about tank games, except for the fact that Battlezone makes clear that they were always meant to be played in a VR headset. So while it looks like it could be one of the first, Battlezone won’t be the last tank game in VR.