Battlezone: Combat Commander Review

Sometimes, I really miss 90s gaming. It truly was a golden decade of development where some of the most wild and wacky experiments emerged, like Battlezone, an FPS RTS which is the predecessor for Battlezone: Combat Commander.

The hybrid was a big risk for the time as both genres were at very different stages of popularity. Some studios seemed to think RTS was in decline and its glory days were done, whereas FPS had everything left to offer. In two years we saw Half Life to Delta Force, Unreal Tournament, Kingpin, and the exceptionally rare Wheel of Time. At that point, it’s fair to say the industry was all-in.

So on paper, Battlezone probably sounded like a hot mess, but Pandemic Studios genuinely pulled it off, finding some effective common ground that suited both sets of audiences, creating a fun and lasting experience to boot. But despite the success of the original, the problems really started with Battlezone 2 being a bit too ambitious for the time. Sadly, it ended up killing the franchise dead for many years as the game was both a hog that could melt most GFX cards into a micro-chippy puddle, but it also came riddled with bugs that were never properly patched out of the box. This extremely niche community started turning in on itself and it all imploded pretty fast.

Here’s the thing, though, Battlezone 2 had a more important role to play in the grand scheme of things because it unwittingly spurred on modders to unofficially tweak the game in order to get the best out of it. Battlezone 2 actually became one of the first games to ever receive such a high level of support from outside of its development team. And so from the ashes of its original community, a more substantial, constructive one emerged which sort of laid the foundations for the extensive scene we have today.

Naturally, Rebellion have ensured the spirit of that is maintained in the long-awaited remaster, Battlezone: Combat Commander. There’s an entire section dedicated to mods now which synchronizes with Steam Workshop, a modders heaven, and can be pulled up from the main menu. While we obviously haven’t been able to dive in on that as we played the game pre-launch, it’s easy to select a mod, activate and deactivate it, and even make your own. The process is seamless and is a lovely homage to the story behind this long-awaited remake.

For many people, that’s probably all they’re going to need to know about Battlezone Combat Commander as the very idea of modding the game has been a long time coming. But there’s also a lot of in-game content to talk about as well, including the revamped visual style which Big Boat Interactive deserve a lot of credit for.

The difference really is night and day, and while some elements have been tweaked and rebalanced, the main take away is that the visuals have been massively overhauled for 4K resolution support, complete with modern rendering and shaders. In some cases, stunningly so, like the textured surface of Pluto’s planet surface is really silky smooth and the shadow effects are clean and well rounded, genuinely giving this game a modern feel.

Then you’ve got the intricate detail on the ships, with thrusters blaring and trail-blazing along the surface and shiny colours flickering all around as you go to battle. At times, it does look fantastic and can blow you away. And yet, there is a half-heartedness which sometimes shines through in some of the other effects, especially in the explosions and terrain movement.

To be honest, certain scenes actually looked better in Battlezone 2 HD as some areas almost suffer from too much colored lighting. And unlike an Age of Empries Definitive Edition, the cutscenes haven’t been redone to match the fresher aesthetic, instead left practically as is and shrunk toward the center of the screen. That’s quite disappointing.

Likewise, the sound has barely been touched with the voice audio sounding like it’s coming direct from a circa early 90’s CD-Rom. It’s distorted, muffled, absolutely lacks clarity but it will bring back the waves of nostalgia hard. It certainly put a smile on my face, especially with the acting.

But that’s something I actually really admire about Battlezone Combat Commander is that it has kept the roughness which was present in the original. Gliding across the terrain feels almost too slick and actually quite satisfying. Collisions with other craft feel weighted and clunky, but there’s also this jaggedness to the movement which totally lacks any sort of seamless quality.

Truly, that’s the point here, because unlike a Secret of Mana which is a complete retool and an Age of Empires which offers a massive upgrade, Battlezone Combat Commander is a half and half. Like, rice and chips with that dollop of curry sauce on the side. You get the best of both with a look that almost fits a modern day system and a feel that’s right at home in the good old days. There are a ridiculous amount of keys to perform the simplest of actions and a UI that really isn’t user-friendly. Yet in terms of mechanics and gameplay it has aged like a fine wine.

Base-building and vehicular placement feels so natural from a perspective where it shouldn’t that it’s easy to understand how the likes of Fortnite, Minecraft and Fallout 4 drew some of their inspiration.

Still, it’s impossible to look past the fact that Battlezone Combat Commander has inherited a surprising amount of bugs and glitches from its predecessor, not least of which frustrations with the AI. One time, my team mate was shooting at thin air which he thought was an enemy. He was literally shooting at nothing and until he stopped, we couldn’t progress the mission.

There’s also the convoluted control scheme which can definitely be off-putting. I also found it impossible to synch up my DS4 and Xbox Gamepads to the game despite being told there was support for both of them. They didn’t work and respond properly for launch, but I imagine that support will be implemented properly overtime.

The animations can also look ropey, combat can seem a little flimsy, and yet, after coming away from it, my appetite for a true Battlezone 3 has never been bigger. A modern reimagining of this franchise with these mechanics, the epic mod scene and an engine that will bleed any card dry, is exactly what we need now, more than ever.

For now, we’ll just say that Battlezone Combat Commander is a remaster that gives with one hand and takes away with another, which makes it very difficult to completely fall in love with. But it’s not for everyone and that’s ok. This game deserves its second chance and really, it’s been made for those who’ve stuck with it since the beginning. This is their reward for years of patience and perseverance. In Battlezone Combat Commander they are going to find exactly what they’re looking for and it will have been well worth the wait.


Pros
+ An excellent merge of genres
+ Some lovely recreated visuals

+ Full mod support
+ I want Battlezone 3 so bad now!

Cons
– Still glitchy and buggy with some performance problems
– It feels like half a remaster that was rushed for launch
– No compatibility with control pads and convoluted controls
– AI issues and animation problems


Battlezone Combat Commander

7 out of 10

Tested on PC

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,