The original Battlezone game, released in the mid-1990s, was a truly original and innovative breakthrough in computer gaming. It combined the addictive adrenaline rush of a first-person perspective shoot-'em-up with the stealth and planning of a real-time strategy campaign; and, although it won the hearts and trigger fingers of fans everywhere, it was not a huge success in the shops. Due to various business deals, it was bundled with new computers and graphics cards, where almost everyone who played it fell in love with it.
In making this sequel, Activision has relied heavily on the feedback and comments of this large army of fans, with the satisfying result of an improved game with any small original problems ironed out.
Like all good strategy games, Battlezone II: Combat Commander has a complicated but absorbing storyline. A valuable natural resource known as Bio Metal can save the world and two opposing forces seek to control it. These armies--the National Space Defense Force and the Coso-Communist Army--obviously hate each other and the player can choose either side.
An important part of the game is its excellent multiplayer mode. Each army is made up of teams and you can choose which role to play within the team: a communicator, builder, defender, or attacker. These team members (i.e., your friends) can communicate with each other enabling you to work closely as a coherent team to beat the opposition. This is especially satisfying when attacking the enemy in the shooter parts of the game.
The original game allowed the player the safe option of retreating from one's tank and firing at the enemy from a cozy distance away. This time around, the local animal inhabitants of the battle zone will be very interested in you if you try to wimp out this way, as they haven't eaten for a while!
The graphics are stunning, especially when a 3D graphics card is available, with landscapes that go on for ever and finely realized battle craft. The game play, even when playing on your own, is fast and furious and the strategy elements of the game do not take away from the pure adrenaline rush of the shooter levels.
Battlezone II: Combat Commander is highly recommended both for fans of the original and new players to the space genre. But do play this on a PC with a fast processor and a good 8MB minimum, 3D enhanced graphics card to get the full effect of the experience.
Graphics: Perfect graphics; needs 3D graphics card for maximum effect.
Sound: Wonderful if you have a subwoofer, still great even with average speakers.
Enjoyment: Unbeatable fun.
Replay Value: The action can be undertaken in either of the two forces, with a multitude of roles to play.
It has been quite a while since the original Battlezone was released, and since its very late expansion pack's arrival, now Pandemic Studios finally releases their long-awaited sequel to one of the pioneering games in creating the blend of "Strategy/First Person Shooter" (Uprising was first, but that sucked =). This being Pandemic Studio's debut game, soon to be followed by Dark Reign 2, it remains to be seen, apart from all the beautiful screenshots, whether Pandemic Studios can successfully build upon those great originals and improve them efficiently.
Starting with the graphics, the developers have chosen to stick with the original graphics engine, and build upon that. The units are all brand new of course, and many new features have been introduced. As you can probably judge from the screenshots, the main style of units has been that of very sleek, fast fighting machines. The ISDF (good guys) have their main color (orange) and their recognizable variations of fighting machines, whilst the Scions (eeeviiillll) have all their range of alien'ish yellow fighting things. The quirk here is that these aliens, whilst their ships are pretty well modeled, are a tad undistinguished really. They all have different models but its only after many hours of playing that you know which alien craft is tougher than the other...they all just look... alien. With the ISDF you can at least recognize scout (kick his arse / tank (think twice) / tracked tank (run away) / really big walker (run away faster). For the Scions (sounds like some sort of kitchen knife) its either an "alien ship" or a "ack, its really big and has many legs". The original Battlezone featuring US Vs Ruskies, whilst the units were essentially the same, both sides were recognizable and nicely modeled. There are some more problems, one is that the new addition of "water" (as they dare call it) whilst nice, does in no way act like any sort of water *I've* been in. Water has a nice rippling texture, under which there is supposedly what you would refer to as a "liquidy substance". Except there isn't. You fall in the "water" and there is absolutely no difference in your falling velocity or movements. The only difference water seems to offer is that only hover vehicles can traverse it, and all tracked vehicles nearby have this unnerving urge to throw themselves into the water and tumble to the bottom. Any map with a few small deep lakes becomes a nightmare as your scavengers repeatedly hurdle themselves to their doom, thanks to some poor pathfinding skills.
One last feature I must comment on, which is really unforgivable, is the fact that the same shadowing problems are still here exactly as they were in the original Battlezone. The one where your shadow is 10 meters ahead of your vehicles and veers in opposite directions when you steer up hills. I booted up the original Battlezone just to make sure, and yes, exactly the same problem is there just like in Battlezone 2. This is a rather poor oversight by the programmers, which should have been picked up after all this development time.
Enough of the graphics, they are not that important. More important is what they have done to the game. The basics are all still the same except for the one important feature of resource collecting. The original had your scavengers only getting metal from biometal found around the place and taken from destroyed vehicles. This meant fights start breaking out if scrap was empty, because destroyed vehicles were required for more resources. This has been changed to suit the more calmed persona's, There are still small areas of scrap, but now there are "Scrap pools" were you deploy your scavengers to gain a steady income of scrap. Personally, after many hours of playing I find the system works great, but really for the professional players the old method was much more fun, as you had to protect your scavenger to the last few scraps available and escort it back. In Battlezone 2, scrap collectors do not have to return to base to dump scrap! Also, you cannot snipe scavengers, which is really disappointing. Sniping a scavenger and trying to sneak into your friends base with it was about the most fun thing you could try in the original Battlezone. One nice addition is that you can walk "into" your recycler/factory and some other structures, there you can manipulate the weapon loadout of vehicles, so constructed vehicles don't always have the default loadout. Another nice feature is that your pilot can now get powerups from the Armory, like a Rocket Launcher, and your pilot has a "jetpack" which gives you a once of boost up into the atmosphere, its great.
The single player experience is nothing different from the original, except that there has been some heavy scripting work going on, with some of the most inflexible scripting a title could have seen to date. Most missions are fine, but then in others it becomes impossible as the strict script refuses to let you win because of some minor thing you didn't do somewhere. Still, when it works, the scripting makes the missions varied and more interesting than the usual "survive with a base first few minutes, build big army, kill all" scenario. After completing the ISDF missions you can play as Scion, which interestingly "branches of" from an ISDF mission, assuming a different outcome had occurred. The storyline is pretty well presented, but your "character" is sometimes just not the right guy to relate to, always following orders even though when talking to himself, he doesn't really agree with things. You never once get an option to just do what *you* want, not your "Cooke" character.
A disappointing element that's missing also is the fact you cannot play a "skirmish" type affair where you play the AI in a multiplayer map. You can only play the AI in "Instant Action" which has the AI set with preset units and structures scattered about the place. Getting a game going isn't quite as simple as it used to be either, instead of using the original's excellent system of joining a regional server to a chat room, and there hosting a game, they had to change it to a crap gamespy system. I must assume the only reason for this change is because the original's regional server option was not economically viable. Well apart from the crappy new gamespy system, games you host/join now have fewer options to choose from. You either win by destroying the enemy's recycler, or by killing him a set number of times (default is 0, meaning the feature isn't used). You can't say, set the kill limit to 3 (for the pilot this is) AND have him lose when his recycler gets destroyed. In the original you could. Tsk. Also, the most horrifying little feature they introduced to multiplayer is that when you die, you loose your sniper rifle, which can only be regained from the armory after you've built a barrage of advanced buildings. There better be a tweak to change this soon, because this really starts to destroy multiplayer for the original's fans. A patch is already out, by the way, to fix a small amount of multiplayer bugs (there's more left though).
Well, I have still failed to speak of the new "tracked" vehicles which cannot be sniped, the scion mortar which can always kill you once spotted, wherever you are, and the cool new APC with rocket guys in them.
To wrap it all up, Battlezone 2 is like the original, with better graphics, a small dose of crap additions, a small dose of good additions, an overall attempt to perhaps simplify this game and make it accessible to the less intelligent gamer, taking the edge off some of the radical maneuvers that could be preformed in the original Battlezone which really, is very disappointing for me. Now this whole review has been whining about all the bad points, but since it's a sequel, I cannot recap on all the good points that the core of this game possesses, they were discussed in the review of the original (I hope). It's an enjoyable game, but blunting all the radical features means this game doesn't score anything radical either, I pray for perhaps the original Battlezone to simply be updated with nicer graphics and a few minor tweaks, its simply too hard to try and add more good features to the great game that was "Battlezone".
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