Battlezone: Combat Commander Review

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing. It can by the driving force behind games getting their funding, it can be the entire reason a game is even made, and of course, it can cause more blindness than mysterious barrels in the beginning of terrible Marvel movies. One of the worst forms of nostalgia comes from properties which were so obscure and niche that the fans of said property have no choice but to become vitriolic defenders of the only thing which scratches their very specific itches.

The original Battlezone was an arcade game from the early 80s that used vector graphics to convey a first-person tank battle simulation. In the late 90s, it was remade as a game for Windows featuring more advanced graphics and gameplay, which admittedly wasn’t hard as a late 90s wristwatch could have better graphics than an early 80s arcade cabinet. The sequel, Battlezone II: Combat Commander, came out a year later, and was poorly received by the series’ insular fan-base due to poor multiplayer and a butt-load of bugs.

So now it’s been a decade or two since the last two games came out, and a new set of devs have decided to take a crack at the hybrid RTS-FPS formula to see if they can reinvent it, something they’ve actually managed to totally fail at doing. Obviously, that was slightly hyperbolic. The developers were in no way trying to reinvent the game, they were simply trying to remake the 1999 sequel game without the bugs and to satiate the fans of the hyper specific genre. The biggest issue that comes with this remake is the fact that game controls have become pretty much standardized since the late 90s, as well as gaming itself having come a long way since then. Admittedly, there are very few, if any, other RTS-FPS games out there, so it could be argued that there are no standardized controls, but honestly, any game that carries the ‘FPS’ tag but doesn’t have any sort of sensitivity settings can go and die in the biggest of fires.

When you start the game out, you’re basically locked into the FPS only side of the gameplay. For the first couple of missions, you follow around your superior officer in several different vehicles shooting random aliens and trying to learn how to command on the fly. Then after a while, you are given access to a computer that provides you with a birds-eye-view of the situation, and it’s at this point the game becomes the fabled ‘FPS-RTS’ hybrid that everyone has been talking about. On the RTS side of things the game works well enough, although the control scheme is still bonkers. Having the Space bar act like the left click of the mouse instead of letting the mouse do its job is a bit of an interesting decision, to say the least. Regardless of the strange decisions, the RTS aspects of this game at least act like an RTS; you can build units and buildings and pretty much tell your soldiers what to do. The real breakdown is the completely clunky mess which is the FPS portion of the game.

When you take control of a vehicle, or when you’re wandering around outside in your own little red space suit, you move with WASD and look/shoot with the mouse in a startlingly apt use of modern gaming controls. However, this is where the good use of combat controls falls apart. You jump with the E key and select where you want your units to go to with the space bar, again allowing the space bar to fullfil the role of the left mouse button. Obviously, the left mouse button is, in this instance, being used to fire your weapon, but why the E and Space controls couldn’t be swapped to perform the functions that make more sense for them is a complete mystery. The weapon swapping controls are also completely mental. You swap which weapons you’re using by clicking the right mouse button, a task usually assigned to the scroll wheel. Doing this would have freed up the right mouse button to be used for any number of other important tasks, hell, it could even have been doing the Space bar’s job, but apparently it just wasn’t meant to be. But what does it matter, I hear you ask? You can just rebind the controls, so surely even if this is annoying, it doesn’t actually ruin the game, does it? Well, dear reader, you may have been right were it not for the fact that odd choices with mapping are the least of the game’s issues with controls.

Next up on the hit list, and coincidentally our major target, is the mouse itself. Obviously, since the dawn of time, or at least since Duke Nukem 3D, the mouse has been used to look around and fire your particular weapon of choice. It has been so long since this became a convention in FPS gaming that most modern gamers probably don’t remember a time when that wasn’t how you controlled a computer-based shooting game. However, the one big advantage of this system, how accurate you can be, is completely lost here.

The looking controls have absolutely no sensitivity options whatsoever. You are stuck with using the default sensitivity that the developers decided the game should be played with. While you might be able to adjust to a sensitivity setting that you’re not used to over time, you’ll almost certainly have a hard time with that here, the main reason being that the X and Y axes both have different sensitivity. This sort of makes sense when you’re in a vehicle as turning left and right is necessary to steer, and therefore, should probably be done at a more subdued pace to ensure you don’t go wobbling left and right when you’re trying to drive from A-to-B. The real issue comes when you’re trying to do some good old-fashioned FPS shooting outside of your car. This sensitivity issue still persists when you’re just in control of your normal human character, which is completely baffling and also makes it bloody hard to actually shoot anything. Two little sensitivity sliders in the options menu would have completely fixed this issue, but for some reason, the devs decided to ignore the last two decades of gaming innovation and leave the bloody things out.

So as a remake, the game has tried to stick faithfully to the original, perhaps, and has consequentially come across as a little clunky at best and down right ancient at worst. It makes sense to try and stick close-ish to the original title when you have a niche fanbase, but if they’d made some improvements, then it’s possible that more fans might have been turned on to the game. The graphical updates look pretty good, at least when compared to the original game, against other games, the graphics are just fine.

If you were a fan of the original game and want to have your nostalgic nipples tweaked for a few hours, then you could probably do worse than trying out this remake. Having said that, anything less than a rabid fan will probably find the experience clunky and not worth bothering with. The controls are heinous, the graphics are just fine and the game seems completely fine to stick to the past with barely a single pinky toe dipped into the swimming pool of the modern games industry.

Developer: Big Boat Interactive

Publisher: Rebellion

Platforms: PC

Release Date: 1st March 2018

Summary
Battlezone: Combat Commander is very clearly aimed at a hyper-specific audience. If you're a fan of the game this remake is based on, then you'll probably pick this game up and have the time of your life as you blast through all the missions in your 90s-themed bedroom. However, when examined with an objective, modern eye, the game is a piece of junk. The controls are poorly bound to the keyboard, and even if you take the time to fix that, you'll have a hard time trying to get around the frankly baffling omission of sensitivity sliders in a modern FPS game. Seriously, don't even bother.
Good
  • A good enough nostalgia trip
  • It technically works
Bad
  • Clunky controls
  • Insane bindings
  • No mouse or stick sensitivity options
4
Poor