Ever since Jon decided to bring his Tank-tactular coverage to a close, he’s been a little depressed. In fact, yesterday he was lovingly holding the picture of himself with one of the tanks at Tankfest whilst singing a rendition of “I Can't Live (If Living Is Without You)” (He’s still doing it now. It’s rather haunting…and creepy. - Ed). So, being the good friend I am, I thought I’d help sate his need for tank-related material by reminiscing about one of my fondest gaming memories involving the huge war machines. The game in question is Activision’s reboot of a classic title.
The 1998 version of Battlezone took the basic principle of its wireframe predecessor and mixed in a genre that was making huge strides in terms of mechanics and popularity at the time; Real time Strategy. It was a pairing that was incredibly effective in execution, but we’ll get into that later. The story for the game was that the space race as we know it was a cover-up. Extra-terrestrial material known as Biometal had fallen to Earth, and when the US and the USSR got their hands on it they found out it was capable of producing powerful vehicles and weapons. Naturally, they wanted more of the stuff to play with and so began a race to the moon to secure the deposits there. It doesn’t take long for this cold war to get hot, and so begins a campaign across our solar system to control the precious resource.
The gameplay is best described as a combination of classic tank combat with the base building of Command & Conquer (something Westwood would later attempt to replicate with the divisive Renegade.) Starting off with a basic tank, players would need to build up a base by constructing a factory, protecting collector units known as Recyclers, and amass enough Biometal to build a factory, base defences, barracks, and more powerful tanks with which to destroy the enemy. The first person perspective meant that players could, terrain depending, place buildings anywhere they wished allowing for choke point to be exploited and, in my case, bases to be neatly organised. When players had built up enough units, it was the usual thing of achieving the objective which would range from destroying the enemy base, capturing an artefact, or in some instances just old fashioned reconnaissance.
Players were not confined to the inside of their tanks though as the action would occasionally end up on-foot. I remember one mission where, armed with a sniper rifle, I was tasked with taking out the pilot of a prototype craft being used by the enemy. There was always that element of danger when you were traveling outside of your craft, as there was a high risk of being gibbed into a million chucks as you were run over by an incoming tank (friend or foe were equally as vicious, as I recall.) It meant there was a fair amount of variation to keep repetition at bay. On top of this, once the US campaign was complete, the Russian campaign awaited to not only flesh out the story even more, but provided a greater challenge for those brave enough to tackle it.
Used in tandem with my beloved Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro (which is currently collecting dust, it pains me to say) the overall experience was an unforgettable one that had be enthralled every time I played it. There was a multiplayer element as well, but with the internet still an undiscovered country at that point I never got the chance to try it. While a sequel was released a year later, a mess of bugs and lacklustre sales meant that the franchise went out with a whimper, and both games were consigned to a fate of abandonware (and a quick search will have a copy in your clutches in no time.) Action-RTS hybrids have been attempted again since, Starhawk being a recent example, but I feel that the industry hasn’t been able to recapture the essence of what made Battlezone such an enjoyable game. Perhaps it was the combination of sci-fi and tanks that did the trick, or maybe it was the excellent marriage of action and strategy. Either way, it was one of my earliest standout memories from my early years of PC gaming.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is the intro video from the game. Enjoy!