Just finished Battlezone 98 Redux. The base campaign, that is. It's sadly far away from being a masterpiece but it's still a really great game that I enjoyed helluva lot. In some ways it hasn't aged too gracefully, in others it holds up remarkably well.
To this day Battlezone stands out as a mixture of a first person action game and RTS because oddly enough there have been very few games that tried this kind of thing to this day. Back then it was a tad too complicated for me because the first person combat alone is quite hard and my teenage mind couldn't compute an RTS on top of that. Before I replayed this game now it was actually kinda hard to grasp what kind of game it really is. Turns out that it's quite simple: it's really a full-fledged if simple Command & Conquer style RTS where you also control one unit at all times. It's simple, really, and it works. With that kind of mix there's usually a big risk that one layer will break the other one (e.g. when the hero unit is too powerful) but in my opinion there's no such problems here. A skilled player can obviously do more damage than a regular AI-controlled unit but I, for one, still got my ass kicked whenever I had to engage two or three units of strength similar to my vehicle. When things went badly I also managed to get my butt kicked by a single enemy.
And the action gameplay on its own also works just right. The vehicles control very well (although some may consider the aiming too floaty), regardless of whether the player controls them or the AI. It's a great action game, which isn't much of a surprise when you consider that it was developed by the same team as Mechwarrior 2 and Interstate '76 and runs on the same engine, if vastly upgraded. Navigating the maps is fun, as is destroying stuff.
The game does have issues, though. For starters, this RTS hidden behind the first person action is really shallow. There's not much more to it than harvesting resources and holding off enemy attacks until you have a force big enough to accomplish the objective, which is often the destruction of the enemy's base. And while there's quite a few units, most of them are pretty much meaningless. I quickly figured that regular tanks are a very universal and strong unit for its price and those were the units that I mostly produced as they almost always got the job done. Base building is also very simplistic. There's just a handful of buildings and you're further limited by the geysers which you need for powering the most important buildings. On some maps I had to build up some solid defenses but many of them could be finished without building any defensive structures at all. The game really could have used some more depth, at least some rock-paper-scissors kind of model but oh well... the strategic aspect generally gets the job done.
Also, being a unit on the battlefield limits your perception and options a bit. You can construct a building that unlocks a radar view that gives you an RTS interface but I found this view very confusing and unnecessary most of the time. A limit of ten offensive units didn't help. So in the end I would usually just have my whole force follow me or have half my force defend my base while the other half follows me around. The UI is a bit of a mixed bag. Selecting units is generally a hassle, giving orders and producing units quite easy. But there's an unnecessary amount of micro like ordering your units to replenish ammo and get repairs which was the most annoying part of the game. They certainly did very well for the time but I can't shake the feeling that they could have made it even better.
And the game wouldn't be a 90's game if the difficulty curve weren't all over the place. Some of the first missions are already as hard as it gets, some of the last missions are laughably easy. Once in a while there's a frustrating mission that bends the rules and puts you at a serious disadvantage (e.g. missions where you don't have a base but the enemy does). Then there's crap like time limits, some of which are very obscure and unjustified. While there's visible countdowns for some of them, others are undocumented and can really bite you in the ass. One mission I only managed to finish by using a dirty exploit.
What I did love on the other hand was the setting with a secret war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union going on in space with pretty rad unit designs. It also sends you from one planet or moon to the next, offering tons of diversity. Story-wise it's okay, with some extinct aliens stuff going on, but the delivery is pretty meh. You will never see a human face in this game, you only get radio messages, some of which are hard to follow. In the U.S. campaign you also have narration on the loading screens and this is obviously the main experience. The Soviet campaign is shorter and doesn't really expand the story, although the missions are pretty cool.
Oh yeah, the graphics, at least in the Redux version, hold up very well, in my opinion. The audio is pretty bad. The soundtrack is pretty good but its production quality is disappointing. They really should have improved the audio in Redux.
And pro tip: read the manual. Not the "quick start guide" but the full manual. There's many undocumented keys that do stuff that makes life much easier for you, like selecting all offensive units at once, linking weapons, hopping out of your vehicle etc..
Post edited August 10, 2018 by F4LL0UT