Old games are great. They show how this industry has evolved over the years, and how our ideas have matured to create better games and experiences. I think that it’s important to revisit older videogames to help inspire new ideas and modern improvements to those concepts. Remasters and remakes are important to help us learn from the past and build towards a better future - but only if they actually learn. Battlezone: Combat Commander is a remaster of 1999’s Battlezone II: Combat Commander that seemingly learnt nothing from the interim 20 years.
Developer Big Boat Interactive has given Battlezone a great lick of paint, and the game looks great. All the models, textures and animations seemed to have been updated for the HD resolutions of the modern age. The audio has also been remastered, with the soundtrack and sound effects sounding crisper and clearer. These are unfortunately the only obvious updates that I can actually discern, and there was so much more that I think needed to be touched up for the price charged.
Firstly, while the in-game visuals have been updated, the cutscenes and UI have not. The cutscenes have seemingly been lifted straight from the original game and display in the original resolution, with the remainder of the screen filled with a static screen. The UI does scale nicely to the screen resolution, but it is very blocky and difficult to navigate - especially in the menus. There’s also a distinct lack of clear audio/visual feedback for both ammunition and health, with both tucked away in the corner of the screen.
I already mentioned that the audio had been updated, but this has had a negative effect on the voice acting. All of the original voice lines return from the original game, but it sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. The voices are all at different levels and the effects layered over them to imitate radio static all sound different, despite all the characters using the same radio system. There’s not any real excuse for this either, since there is a mod on Steam Workshop that makes the voice lines sound way better.
The gameplay is probably my biggest problem with Battlezone: Combat Commander. It feels exactly the same as the original game, which is a flawed RTS/FPS hybrid that did neither of the two genres well. It was incredible at the time, but we have come so far with both genres since then that I feel the omission of quality of life tweaks makes this updated version worse than the original.
As a First Person Shooter, the mouse is under some weird acceleration that I can’t find a way to turn off. This makes aiming difficult, and ammunition conservation even harder. The controls in general all feel somewhat sluggish, with your character sliding around the maps. As a Real Time Strategy, controlling units and their production is unintuitive. There’s a top down mode, but controlling units in it is somehow even harder than when you’re in first person mode.
Another issue I have is with the AI: all the units seem to love crashing into each other, you and the walls of the world. I had to restart a level because an uncontrollable building unit became convinced that its mission in life was to walk into a power plant forever, halting progression entirely. The ones that are controllable also need hand holding throughout, since they seem to be unable to automatically target anything unless it hits them first - at which point they’ll just ignore all current orders to attack that thing. You can manually set a target and they’ll move in to attack range to deal with it, but they won’t attempt to avoid attacks or show any self-preservation of any kind.
Keeping them alive becomes a chore, since you have to individually select each unit to give it orders. There are no squad commands, or any way of giving the same command to a group of units in any way. All of the commands are given through a relatively simple menu using the F-keys and number keys, but having to do this for multiple units is tedious. It would potentially help if you could reorder the units, but they are assigned to an F-key in the order they are built. Often, this means the most useful or powerful units are assigned to the hardest keys to hit.
I don’t feel like Big Boat Interactive has done anything to actually remaster Battlezone II, outside of the remodelling. The game feels worse than it does without that upgrade, and I think that’s because I expect more from the better looking version. To that end, I can’t really think of a reason to play this version instead of the original, especially since the community around the 1999 sequel is still thriving. I’d be very interested to see a version of this game that has tighter controls and more options for controlling units, but Battlezone: Combat Commander is not that game.
Battlezone: Combat Commander (Reviewed on Windows)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
A great game in its time, but one that has not aged well enough for it to stand up today with just updated visuals, especially when the cutscenes are omitted from that update.