Two Decades of Space Combat
More than 20 years after the Virtual Boy tried to blind kids all around the world with its blood-red graphics, the virtual reality race is shifting into high gear. With the likes of Oculus Rift, Hololens, HTC Vive and the Sony PlayStation VR taking the mainstream by storm, 2016 is bound to be the year of Virtual Realitytm. Hell, even Google is trying to get in on the action by developing its Cardboard VR set which, surprisingly, works really well and may be a low-cost way to experience VR to all of us who still have student loans to pay off. And if the technology continues to develop at this pace, it looks like most of us gamers will be living in the Matrix in no time.
However, our fascination with virtual reality predates not only the Wachowski brothers’ siblings’ sisters’ (oh yeah, you read it right) masterpiece, but also predates computing. In the late 50’s, a cinematographer named Morton Heilig started developing Sensorama, a machine that played film, along with aromas, stereo sounds and even wind, in order to simulate the 3D environment. While Morton’s idea failed due to the high costs of filmmaking, people still wanted to experience a simulated reality, and of course, amuse themselves with some games.
Then, only a couple of years after Ivan Sutherland created the first VR head mounted display system – Battlezone was born. (editor’s note: dat segue…)
Last year, when I heard the news about the up coming remastered version of Battlezone, I was stoked and couldn’t wait to see one of my favorite childhood titles back, this time in glorious HD. Now, the wait is over – the Redux version was released on April 18! Now, we have the chance to compare the two games, and see the improvements.
In all seriousness, I’m well aware that we can’t compare the two releases published 20 years apart. However, since this is considered to be the first VR game ever (editor’s note: NOW it makes sense…), comparing the latest version of this Battlezone vs the original published in 1980 of these games seems like fun to do, now that the Redux version has been released. So let’s do it!
The first thing we should note is, aside from the title and the presence of tanks in the game (I believe they were obligated to include them at least), this is a completely different game from the original arcade version.
The ‘98 version is essentially a hybrid of a first-person shooter, an RTS and, obviously, a tank simulation. The story is nothing overly complex, but it is delightfully cheesy – it is set in an alternative timeline, where the Space Race (we meet once again!) is used to cover up a space-war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., fought over the mysterious bio-metals.
Battlezone 98 Redux
Rebellion Studios bought the rights for Battlezone from Atari back in 2013, and the first Redux trailer hit the web in June of 2015. The game was created by Big Boat Interactive, using the Rebellion’s Asura engine (created originally more than 10 years ago for the Judge Dredd game “Dredd vs Death”), and includes HD graphics, an online multiplayer mode and Steam Workshop support. According to the company’s CEO Jason Kingsley, who is a big fan of the original arcade game, “Rebellion is trying to capture the imagination of modern gamers in the same way the original arcade captured ours.“
BZ Gameplay and Graphics:
Still featuring a combination of a first-person shooter and strategy elements, the gameplay holds up very well – while the combat is great, you the player still need to think about the strategic elements such as manufacturing weapons, your supplies, strategic moves, etc. The interface is also great: despite the fact that including a UI for both the FPS and the RTS elements must have been tricky, Big Boat pulled it off so well that you’ll get used to the interface very quickly. I also cannot stress enough how much I love the campy storyline (you get to choose between the American and the Soviet campaign… comrade). Some things just never get old.
98RDX Gameplay and Graphics:
The gameplay and the storyline have remained almost exactly the same, but all the textures in the game (especially the ships) got an HD upgrade and redesign. Everything from bullets and explosions to the particle effects looks much better, and the game runs smoothly even at the highest settings and on modern OS’s. This is a textbook example of a ‘perfect remake’ – the developers kept everything good about the game intact (gameplay, campaigns, etc.) and updated only the graphics and the interface. The only real flaw the game has is the somewhat unresponsive A.I. – vehicles controlled by A.I. are usually slower than you are, even if they’re identical units. Odd.
BZ The Impact and the Follow-up:
While the ’98 version of Battlezone wasn’t as groundbreaking as the original, it was very well received at the time with an 89% rating at Gamerankings and a nomination for GameSpot’s Strategy Game of the Year award. While the sales weren’t record breaking, the title sold well enough to warrant a sequel the following year with Battlezone II: Combat Commander.
98RDX The Impact and the Follow-up:
It’s too early to tell how popular ye olde Redux will be, the first critical reactions from the gaming community are more than positive and there’s a “Very Positive” rating on Steam. New maps and game mods are coming in the near future, but perhaps the best thing is forthcoming virtual reality version that aims to combine the elements of both the original Battlezone arcade and the 98 version. I definitely recommend grabbing it, especially if you were a fan of BZ98. The dev teams also hopes to release BZ: Redux for PlayStation VR in the near future.
Once they release the Battlezone VR, Rebellion plans to release even more VR titles in the next couple of years as they believe that the future of gaming lies in virtual reality (as it obviously should!). When comparing the footage of the upcoming Battlezone VR and the footage of the original arcade, one can see just how far we have come; and the best thing about it is, the games will only get better and better: Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invest over $2 billion in Oculus Rift for nothing, right?
In the meantime, check out the Battlezone Redux version on steam here!
By the way, there are only five days left on our Oculus Rift contest, so if you would like to try out BZ in VR enter here.
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