Best Games - Battlezone
It’s the late 1960s. Saturn, Titan, Vostok, and Proton rockets have been launching from both sides of the cold war. The official word is that they have been carrying probes, satellites, astronauts, and cosmonauts. These are science focused spacecraft. The mission is exploration and the betterment of mankind. lies.
The premise of the 1998 remake of the classic 1980 vector tank game Battlezone is schlocky scifi alternate history at it’s best. It posits that the space race was a cover for a covert war fought across the solar system for an alien metal called scrap.
Scrap has the ability to self assemble into all manner of space tank, space factory, space turret, and other space stuff. All you need to do is send out mobile resource collecting vacuums to suck it up in quantities sufficient enough to build new things.
The game is played primarily from a first person perspective, either on foot, or from the inside of a space tank. It would be easy to mistake Battlezone for a first person shooter, but it is a strategy game at its core. You manage your bases, defenses, and troops from on the ground. Issuing orders, building units, and setting waypoints is all handled from inside your tank.
What struck me immediately, was that there was no grid system, no suggested locations for any of the more mobile units. The strategy section of this action/strategy game is about as freeform as they could make it. I would regularly use moon craters and martian canyons as environmental cover, drawing enemies into a prearranged crossfire. Being flexible and using the terrain to your advantage is the key to victory in Battlezone.
The usual point of view for a real time strategy game is from high overhead allowing the player to command and organize their troops board game style. Since Battlezone is played almost entirely from the point of view of a unit on the ground the way you issue orders to your units is unique, and seriously hasn’t been improved upon in the last 16 years. Battlezone uses an incredibly elegant hierarchical menu system that you operate with the number keys. You get shockingly fast at wrangling your troops using this system, and what small amount of micromanaging that you lose by not having a birds eye view, you can make up for with your own tanks combat abilities and movement speed.
Just driving the hovering space tanks around is a pure joy, which is good because driving around is what you spend most of your time doing in Battlezone. You drive over here to tell this unit to follow you, then you drive over there to tell another unit to hold a position. You drive over to one of your other units to order the pilot to switch space tanks with you so you can drive out with a faster, smaller tank. You park that smaller tank in a crater so that it’s hidden when you jump out on foot to go spy on the enemy operations from a high cliff. Then you use your sniper rifle to take out a few enemy pilots while you’re up there. You jump down and hop in one of their newly driverless space tanks, and you drive that back to your base.
Battlezone is space tank driving, strategy thinking fun. There has never been another game quite like it, and it did things that have yet to be improved upon. It’s one of the best games.