The original Battlezone was an arcade game released by Atari in 1980 and is remembered for being one of the first games to use 3D-like vector graphics. The original game has been ported to more than a dozen different platforms and spawned a sequel in the late '90s. And now the name lives on with BattleZone, a multiplayer-oriented tank combat game for the PSP. There's not much to BattleZone, but the combat is surprisingly enjoyable...while it lasts. Depending on whether or not you have friends (that have their own copies of the game) to play against, you'll probably be done with the game in just a couple of hours.
There's a background story to BattleZone that has something to do with a NATO skills competition involving hovertanks--kind of like Top Gun. That's all the story there is to be found, which is fine since you really don't need much of a reason to blow up a tank that's shooting homing missiles in your direction. However, what does hurt is BattleZone's lack of gameplay options. You're given the option of playing a single-player match or a tournament, and you can play ad hoc multiplayer--but that's it. The single-player tourney provides the most depth but it's little more than a collection of contests where finishing in the top three unlocks the next event and placing first unlocks new tanks, weapons, and tweaks (upgrades) for your tank. You start with a medium-sized tank but can quickly unlock a smaller, faster tank and a bigger, more powerful tank. The weapon upgrades include rail guns, mines, swarm missiles, fusion rifles, sniper cannons, and more. Tweaks can improve your tank's performance in a number of ways. They can raise your top speed, increase the amount of damage your weapons can cause, and regenerate your health faster. Two weapons and up to three tweaks can be equipped before each match, and it's important to note the game type when selecting and equipping your tank, as this can give you the edge in a close match.
BattleZone is in many ways similar to the Twisted Metal series. Each event takes place in an enclosed area in locations such as a frozen tomb in Antarctica, a barren mesa in New Mexico, a missile silo in Russia, an Aztec temple in Buenos Aires, and other, similarly themed locales. Each level has a number of power-ups (invisibility, weapon energy, double damage, and more) and traps (sentinels, doors, and lasers) sprinkled throughout, and there are also large fans that can be used to propel your tank high into the air. There are six different game types: deathzone, which is a standard deathmatch; team deathzone; capture the flag; hotzone, where you try to capture and hold territory; blackout, where you try to destroy the opposing team's generator before they can blow yours up; and lone wolf, where you want to gain possession of a ball and hold on to it while everyone else tries to kill you. It's hard not to wish that there were more than four tanks in an arena, but each different game type is enjoyable, even with a small number of competitors.
Since there's no training mode to speak of, you'll probably take your lumps the first few rounds, but once you get your bearings, it should be smooth sailing. The artificial intelligence is challenging, but it's rarely frustrating, and as long as you play smart you should have no problem making it through the tournament in three or four hours. There's multiplayer for up to four players (you can fill empty slots with bots), but it's of little value since it's ad hoc only and each participant has to have a copy of the game. However, one neat feature is that you can go to the game's Web site, customize a map, upload it to your PSP, and then play it in multiplayer. Unfortunately, your customization options are extremely limited and you can't play the maps in single-player, but it's better than nothing.
Being fun in spite of its many flaws is probably BattleZone's biggest strength. The controls aren't terribly responsive (particularly when using nitro, which usually sends you careening out of control), but they're manageable, and unlike many other tank games, the tanks here aren't sluggish. It's tough to aim, but once you figure out how to get close to an enemy, circle them, and pepper them with fire, you'll be successful. It would have been nice to have more tanks to choose from, but the system for upgrading weapons and tweaking your tank makes up for this somewhat because it is simple to use while still providing a healthy number of options.
BattleZone's presentation is good enough to get by, but it has no personality and the visuals aren't spectacular. While the levels look nice, they aren't all that interesting and many of them look the same. The same goes for the tanks--they look fine, but there are only three of them. One area in which the game does impress is its effects. There are lots of great-looking explosions and plenty of neat lighting effects on the tanks and weapons. The frame rate isn't all that fast, but it gets the job done, and the camera does a decent job of following the action, except when you get close to walls, where it will shift wildly and even get stuck behind them. Other than not hearing the announcer tell you when your flag has been captured, you'd be missing very little if you played through the entire game with the sound turned down. The sound effects are nothing to get excited about, nor are the generic rock tracks that play in the background.
BattleZone is one of those rare games that isn't really all that good but is still hard to put down. In fact, when it's all over, you'll probably find yourself wanting more. Certainly that's in no small part because the game can be beaten in one sitting, but it's also because it's fun to play. But even though the game is fun, it's difficult to recommend BattleZone as a purchase--there's simply not enough to do. If there were more game modes, Internet play, and a deeper map editor, it would be worth $30. But as it stands now, there's just not enough content here to warrant a purchase.