Battlezone II: Combat Commander

Snap603Retro blasting with less depth.

Activision’s Battlezone bore almost zero resemblance to the old Atari classic. Instead, it brilliantly refined a genre-melding that begun with 3DO’s Uprising. Mixing real-time strategy (RTS) and 3D action was a bold concept, and one that paid big dividends in terms of gameplay. Activision gave the nod to developer Pandemic Studios to go ahead with a sequel, even though the original failed to ignite at retail. The final product is an above average shooter, but one that reeks of early release.

Battlezone 2 pretty much abandons the silly-yet-cool “Cold War in Space” plot of the original and drops in its place the most cliched and hackneyed alien-invasion story imaginable. A race called the Scions declares war on humanity. Nobody cares, but then again there’s no story to really distract from the action, or the new engine’s rendering capabilities for that matter.

Like its predecessor, Battlezone 2 contains a wealth of innovative and cool weapons, from TAG lasers that mark a victim and then spray a stream of rockets at them, to simple mortars and fire-and-forget missiles. The Scions even have the ability to morph their bio-metal vehicles into new vehicles. But the game’s AI seems to have been dumbed down. Your troops must be babysat to be effective, and in a game with mission parameters so stringent and narrow, this can be horribly frustrating.

Highlights of the campaign include using a sniper rifle to disable an enemy ship, placing satchel charges, reconnoitering the enemy without being seen, and a harrowing walk through an enemy base in an attempt to reach safety. Overall, the campaign’s puzzle-based missions frustrate as much as they challenge. At least the locales are varied: the action starts on Pluto, proceeds to a mysterious dark tenth planet, then to the Scion universe to visit a swamp world, ice planet, and desert planet.

Snap592The strategy aspect of Battlezone 2 has also been dumbed down – good news for twitch gamers, bad news for anyone who wanted more strategic depth with their hover-tank sim. What was once an interesting and even balance of action and strategy has become grossly unbalanced in favor of action. The original version was also plagued by an army of bugs, though subsequent patching eventually fixed most of them – hence the suspicion that Activision forced the game out before it was really done.

The original Battlezone managed to transcend its silly plot and suspect AI due to its balanced gameplay and brilliant interface. Battlezone 2 succeeds in offering a few inspired twists on an old formula, but overall can’t significantly surpass the greatness of the original.

System Requirements: Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Win95

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