The early years of my PC gaming life were dominated by three games – Civilization II, Wing Commander III, and Battlezone. The first two titles spawned sequels and spiritual successors, but the blend of FPS and RTS genres never took off outside of one direct sequel and Command & Conquer: Renegade’s multiplayer. Considering the huge potential of such gameplay, a lack of other titles following in its footsteps always confused me.
Thankfully Rebellion Developments and Big Boat Interactive have updated the classic 1998 title, improving the visuals and ensuring it works with modern online infrastructure, but does the trip down memory lane do enough to remain relevant in this generation of gaming? It’s a tough question to answer, but as someone who spent many hours harvesting bio-metal and protecting scavengers from both US and Soviet forces in the ‘90s, I absolutely intended to find the answer.
A quick recap for those not in the know – Battlezone ‘98 Redux takes place in an alternate history of the Cold War, where the space race between the US and the Soviet Union was in reality a conflict across the solar system to control a substance called bio-metal. The alien material allows the construction of powerful war machines, and the player is tasked with not only piloting one, but issuing orders to friendly units in their mission for supremacy. It all adds up to gameplay that is a combination of the retro wireframe tank combat with RTS-style base building and resource collection thrown in.
Fans of the original release will find almost everything as they left it. It’s like an old bedroom full of toys that you haven’t been into for years, only the toys are tanks that will kill you instead of LEGO that will get stuck in the soles of your feet. The difference here is that while putting plastic bricks back together is relatively straightforward, getting back into Battlezone’s controls takes some getting used to, even with the returning training missions on offer.
It’s not that there are a lack of instructions, or that the UI lacks clarity – on the contrary, it’s as informative as ever – but in comparison to modern titles the controls come off as archaic. A lot of this is to do with how the number keys are assigned to issuing orders, but things such having to cycle through weapons instead of manually picking one demonstrate how far developers have come with Quality of life improvements over the years. It’s important to remember that Battlezone is from a time before multi-buttoned gaming mice (or even the middle mouse button) were commonplace, but readjusting to Battlezone’s way of things may take time, even with the ability to rebind the controls. There is controller support, though, but I actually found it to be less responsive with the drifting movement. Your mileage may vary though.
Those able to get past this hurdle will be greeted by two fantastic campaigns, which remain just as action packed and filled with overblown narrative as before. The mixture of objectives, often changing direction and pace halfway through a mission, will keep players on their toes. It’s also important to note that Battlezone Redux can be just as punishing as its ‘98 counterpart, even on easier difficulty settings. As a veteran player, I quickly got back into the swing of things, but I can imagine newcomers may find managing their tank’s ammo and health on top of protecting squishy missions objectives to be a little much.
And that’s not taking into consideration how being run over when on foot – by your own forces – is still a terrible, horrific thing.
While the visuals still retain a now retro look, the improvements to the textures and anti-analysing are like night and day. The enhanced lighting effects really add to the atmosphere, and the upgraded animations ensure units move in a natural manner in 60 FPS. The audio may have been cleaned up a little, but it remains untouched for the most part. This is especially noticeable when weapons, but it should be noted that there are ways to fix this, and it’s all thanks to the newly added mod support.
Utilizing the Steam Workshop for uploads and integration, the amount of content already available is impressive. Then again, this was always going to be the case consider the 15+-year-old modding community for the game that already exists, so the built-in support was a no-brainer. Ranging from audio overhauls to multiplayer maps and single player campaigns, there are plenty of ways to improve and expand the experience.
Speaking of multiplayer maps, both the deathmatch and Strategy modes return for up to 8 players. For me, this was a whole new experience as I didn’t have reliable internet back during the original’s lifespan. Setup of matches is as straightforward as you might expect, with options for maps, game modes, and victory conditions available. If there is a complaint to be had, it’s the way multiplayer matches end abruptly or don’t allow participating players to return to the same lobby. Again, this issue is no doubt once again down to QoL improvements we’ve gotten used to over the years, but it really felt jarring to get the final kill and then instantly find myself back on a scoreboard.
The important thing here is the multiplayer, much like the rest of the game, works as it was originally intended, but on modern machines. The lack of creature comforts may rub newcomers the wrong way, but if you’re a fan of the gameplay you’ll have a blast blowing up others with Bio-Metal powered machines. To me, the £15 asking price is more than worth it, especially with mod support. If anything, Battlezone ‘98 Redux has reawakened my yearning for another FPS-RTS, and I sincerely hope Rebellion investigate the possibility of a modern re-imagining. Hell, I’ll even take a third entry in the series.
- The gameplay and atmosphere from the ‘98 original is faithfully restored.
- Visual upgrades really do make all the difference to the ambiance.
- Mod support ensures there’s more value for money.
- Some may find the gameplay archaic compared to today’s QoL standards.
- The difficulty can be punishing, even on easier settings.
- I now really want a modern re-imagining of the series, damn it.
The Short Version:
The gameplay may lack the Quality of Life improvements possessed by modern games, but Battlezone ‘98 Redux is a faithful restoration of a true gaming classic. Improved visuals and Steam Workshop support are welcome additions, making it a blast from the past worth revisiting.
Platform: PC (Tested)
Developer: Big Boat Interactive
Publisher: Rebellion Developments