This review is written for Battlezone 2 running on a high-powered Windows 7 PC.
Nostalgia’s a bitch, isn’t it? There are certain games that you can completely adore despite the obvious fact that they are not actually well made or especially fun. This is where my conundrum with Battlezone 2: Combat Commander lies. I remember playing the game years ago, and loving the both the tone and unique gameplay, and going back today I still enjoy it immensely. That said, I first played the game when I was still in elementary school and never played the reportedly superior original that came out only a year prior to BZ2. It’s because of this that I want to give the huge caveat going into this review that, while I’m going to present the game as objectively as possible, I may in fact be completely biased in saying that Battlezone 2 is a great game.
|Guard towers can be your best friend or worst enemy|
The game itself is a hybrid of first- or (optionally) third-person shooting and real-time strategy. The beginnings of a match or mission will usually revolve around you floating around in a basic scout or tank class unit protecting your Recycler and Bio-Metal pools, which serve as your main construction center and resource points, respectively. Each unit has its own weapon slots, which can be customized at armories to your liking. As you gain more resources you are able to build insanely powerful base defenses, tech and power structures and more advanced factories that give you access to larger and larger units, such as giant walking mechs or bomber strikes. The fun part of this is that, while any unit can be computer controller and ordered around in typical RTS fashion, you as a lone pilot can commandeer nearly any of your teams vehicles, the largest of which can completely dominate a battlefield. Another neat touch is that most pilot classes come with a sniper rifle that can be used to snipe out the cockpit of an opposing unit to steal it for yourself, which can be a huge help if you get stranded without a vehicle in hostile territory. It is also possible to play the game completely hands-off from one of either factions’ specific buildings, which pulls the camera out to an overhead perspective for a traditional RTS style game. The basic interface for commanding your troops is more or less identical in either scenario. It used both the function keys and number keys to select and command units and structures to perform a number of actions such as “build this”, “go to”, “deploy here” or “follow”. Early on the interface can be slightly daunting, but once you understand the basic layout it is very effective for relaying orders and organizing units into control groups.
|The game can be played entirely from a birds-eye view|
Of course I wouldn’t be nearly so positive of the game if it didn’t have some sort of story, and BZ2 delivers in that respect. It picks up some time after the original (which, as I said earlier, I have not played), in the presumably near future where humanity’s technology has been radically advanced by the discovery of Bio-Metal, which is basically just the Ore or Tiberium of the game. You play as NSDF Lieutenant Cooke, who is dispatched to Pluto to investigate a communication failure with an outpost there. Of course all hell breaks loose as aliens show up and start ruining everyone’s day. The campaign follows Cooke as he and a small contingent of NSDF push the aliens (called Scions) back off Pluto and then follow them as they retreat further and further towards their homeworld. The story itself isn’t anything to write home about, but the between-mission presentation of dialogue between some of the main characters fleshes out the true history between the humans and Scions. Also, while Cooke himself is a dry character with few lines, some of the supporting cast do a decent job with their bits, especially towards the latter half when some ulterior motives start rearing their heads. There’s even an extremely unexpected bit of branching storyline near the end where you get to choose how the rest of the campaign will play out.
|The late-game units get pretty gnarly|
This all sounds pretty cool, right? Well, the game has some real issues, the most significant being the AI. While the enemies do a decent enough job of beating the crap out of you, the friendly AI ranges from just-good-enough to atrocious. At times I found the repair truck that was supposed to be following me stuck halfway up a mountain at the boundaries of the map, or an entire contingent of friendly tanks ignoring an assault on just the other side of the base. This could be bearable if the player could pick up the slack, but the shooting controls leave a lot to be desired. They feel very floaty and inaccurate in a way that makes sense for hovercraft, but not so much for a game featuring them. This is especially apparent in the sniping, which more or less requires the target to be completely immobile to even attempt a shot. Another issue is some extreme graphical glitches that appear throughout the game. I know graphics are a bad thing to harp on for decade-plus old games, but weird things like trees randomly falling over and not having collision physics and strange shadows appearing in the air around certain vehicles stood out just as much back then as they do now. Finally, the game fails to capitalize on the interesting universe that it has set up. Story occurs almost exclusively in between-mission radio transmissions, and apart from a couple minor revelations and the aforementioned mission branching, the entire game plays out in a fairly predictable fashion.
Which leaves me to figure out what I want you to take away from this. Battlezone 2 is a weird game. The hybrid of shooting and RTS is well implemented (although it apparently was in the prequel as well), except neither facet is overly appealing. However, the game is unique and fun enough that I think if you can look past the readily apparent flaws, there something really great at its core. And honestly, at under $5 used on Amazon, there’s not a whole lot of risk in giving it a shot.
Images courtesy of Giantbomb.com and Google.com