Remasters are beginning to feel like a genre all of their own, I struggle to think of popular series in the last decade that hasn’t had a HD remake or ‘redux’ as they’re now dubbed (except Red Dead Redemption, I still weep to this day) and Battlezone 98 Redux, originally released in 1998 (obviously) to critical acclaim, adds to the ever-growing list. But is this reimagining worth your time? Or is it time to dust off your old disc copy of the original and fire that up instead?
I’m in an interesting situation because I don’t need to take off my rose-tinted specs to review this game, I was 3 years old when it was originally released and I was too busy picking my nose and eating it to worry about an alternate history where the Space Race was a cover-up of the deployment of the US and Soviet into space, in order to collect precious scraps of a mysteries ‘bio-metal’ substance, that in turn allow both armies to construct hovercraft’s and space-ships. The plot is corny, and it definitely belongs in the 90’s with The Cranberries and Slap Bracelets, and if you couple this with voice-acting that is both serviceable and (unintentionally) humorous you may be forgiven for getting a headache from the bizarreness.
Yes, it may look unattractive by today’s standards, it doesn’t have the best controls and the aforementioned plot is a doozy. But it is also an unusual mix of both action and strategy that complement each other surprisingly well after nearly 20 years, and this complexity does well not to discourage players (such as myself) that are unfamiliar with the original classic.
The UI is, frankly, hideous, and in this regard it definitely shows its age, there are more hotkeys than even conjoined twins could manage, and you need to use all of them. Strategy wise, there are hiccups, such as the fact that you cannot create groups of units, and unit AI isn’t the smartest for example, if there is particularly rugged terrain, units often take the longest path or stop altogether, which is at odds with the fact that you as the player can move around the terrain with relative ease. But these are general problems with a lot of modern strategy games, so you could forgive Battlezone in this regard, as it is almost as old me. Hopping between vehicles, liftering materials and then deciding whether they will aid towards a satellite that will provide a tactical advantage, or, add to your increasing firepower all aid the complexity of the strategic element, and will satisfy many hardcore strategists.
The action component is fantastic and still feels fresh to this day, the rush of getting stuck in to the battle remains incredibly satisfying, once you can get past the clunky controls. You are an active participant on the battlefield, and if you die, the battle is lost. You start off in a basic tank, but you are able to get into a range of vehicles, each with their advantages and disadvantages depending on your style of play. The on foot and vehicle element holds up well, and in particular the multiplayer battles can get incredibly intense.
The game features not one, but two solid campaigns on either side of the conflict, each with well-designed and fun missions, making use of both the strategic and action components of the game. On top of this you get a plethora of fully supported multiplayer maps and modes that maintain a good population of players, it’s fair to say, that even at a price of £14.99 you can definitely justify your purchase.
Lovers of the original will certainly appreciate the remaster for its faithfulness, refinements being only in textures and optimisation for modern systems. The environments are serviceable and the ships designs are not unlike what you’d see in a modern Sci-Fi game. Don’t expect any miracles in the way of the upcoming System Shock Remaster, but you can certainly appreciate the developers wish to modernise without revolutionising. Steam Workshop support is fully integrated too, and if you couple this with a massive cult follow of dedicated modders you don’t have to look far to find a tweak or add-on that suits you.
Battlezone is not without its technical problems though. I played this on a mid-range pc with Windows 10 and the game crashed fairly intermittently, during both single player and multiplayer, achievements can sometimes be troublesome too, with many not unlocking for me the first time around. These problems are easily patched out though I’m sure, and, considering the age of the game engine I’m surprised that the game runs as well as it does with a limited amount of hiccups.
Battlezone 98 Redux prevails because it keeps the identity of the original, without alienating any modern audiences. The game shows its age in terms of its graphics, its controls, and its story. But the timeless blend of action and strategy are what makes this game stay fresh, and with the strategy genre becoming stale with each new release, perhaps this remaster is just what it needs to revitalise it.
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