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BattleZone 2

Almost two years ago, software developer Pandemic Studios and publisher Activision brought a big dose of nostalgia to the game industry with their modern-day rendition of the classic 80s coin-op, Battlezone. Universally acclaimed as one of the first multi-genre games--and definitely the best--Activision's Battlezone managed to succeed in three critical areas: One, it captured the flavor of the historical arcade version; two, it successfully incorporated up-to-date graphics and sound technology; and three, it blended two gameplay styles at the pinnacle of their respective genres. 1997's Battlezone not only possessed great futuristic tank-based action, but also offered plenty of hardcore strategy. It was a great title that will be forever etched into the hall of fame. But greatness does not always breed success. Battlezone's appeal was lost on the general consumer, and today it is widely revered as one of those great games nobody played.

Battlezone's in-depth incorporation of first- and third-person action combined with its strong tactical and strategic warfare was probably too much for the average gamer to swallow. Furthermore, its complex and shifting storyline, coupled with an overly aggressive difficulty scale, limited its appeal to the dedicated player. Not content to let their mistakes in target alignment doom them to failure a second time, Pandemic and Activision have been hard at work for almost two years on a sequel. Battlezone II: Combat Commander is the product of progressive logic. It's obvious that the shortcomings in the original's sales figures heavily influenced the development of the sequel, and while that might seem like an appropriate thing to have done, robbing Peter to pay Paul only changes the circumstances behind your dilemma, and merely gives you a different set of problems with which to deal.

For starters, Pandemic has toned downed the complexities in the storyline. After the end of the United States' war with the USSR, the two superpowers reluctantly formed the International Space Defense Force, or ISDF. A powerful and unknown alien race has been ravaging ISDF bases and outposts, and only through a combined effort will the Earth and its people survive. I don't know which Saturday morning cartoon this storyline was lifted from, but I have played enough "big, bad, alien force attacks the human race" games to go insane. While there are moments of tension within the ranks of the ISDF, and even an occasional plot twist, the on-the-edge-of-your-seat atmosphere of the original is severely scaled back. I was never once encouraged to become personally involved in the story, or care when I lost units or an important building.

My apathy toward Battlezone II is not entirely the result of the luke-warm plot. What once was a gritty, calculated, but fast-paced strategic conflict is now nothing more than a race to see who can churn out the most tanks and be the first to rush their opponents. Battlezone II also lacks the precision of the original maps, which by design required players to navigate and control multiple junctions at the same time. Rather, the developers were content to provide simpler maps that allow for straightforward combat, offering almost none of the tactical appeal of the original. Because of this dumbing down of the gameplay, it is difficult for me to think of Battlezone II as a true sequel. Now that I've told you what Battlezone II isn't, let me spend a little time telling you what it is.

If Activision and Pandemic's goal was to make the Battlezone series more accessible and simpler in execution and delivery, they've succeeded. But at what cost? Bringing back the shaky truce of the USA and USSR was a good idea, but throwing it together with the overused unknown alien threat scenario was a poor decision. The sheer beauty of the scenery and atmosphere will be enough to lure some players, but they should be aware of a few things: The gameplay and artificial intelligence are completely superficial, and while the graphics are pristine, they are unoptimized for even today's higher end machines. Battlezone II: Combat Commander is a testament to the fact that it's sometimes more important to developers and publishers to target a wider audience than it is for them to produce a high quality title.


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