The tragedy of Battlezone II: Combat Commander was a lesson the industry never fully learned from. It was a successor to a popular release, hyped and had more than enough enthusiastic fans looking forward to seeing this new chapter in the story. Unfortunately, the poorly optimised and bug riddled mess it arrived as quickly turned away customers while it was still on the shelf. This re-release is set to fix that, with enhanced graphics, retooled optimisation and open support for Steam Workshop to keep the modding community alive.
The story follows a first contact war between the human International Space Defense Force (ISDF) and a mysterious enemy force known as the Scion. Fighting their way across several worlds, the ISDF begin to suspect that there is more to this war than they first suspected.
Playing out as a “Halo meets Command and Conquer” experience, it blends together FPS and RTS mechanics to create quick base building and rapid engagements. The player can engage enemy vehicles on foot or in a single unit, while also gradually building up squadrons of tanks or bombers. While this would typically be an awkward system, the inherent simplicity and direct tech-tree makes this remarkably easy to use. Elements of gameplay are present to favour each playstyle. FPS players can arrive with sniper rifles to shoot out cockpits and steal vehicles, while RTS fanatics can control the entire area in a top-down view from a single station.
Many of the units in question have been built with hard counters in mind, but prove to be flexible enough that a skilled player can personally overwhelm several AI units. The Scouts are lightweight, fast and fragile as you would expect, but the addition of rockets can allow skilled players to overwhelm more powerful vehicles. This makes for an interesting experience where you cannot rely on a single genre playstyle.
The main shortcoming of the game, above all else, unfortunately lies in its campaign. The story itself is well presented and well voice acted, but its execution is notably flaw. Along with the big twist being forecast well ahead of time, much of it relies upon you knowing the exact backstory of the previous game. Furthermore, over half of the campaign scenarios are glorified tutorial levels and lack the freedom which benefits the RTS aspects of the game.
Battlezone: Combat Commander was ahead of its time, and despite the campaign’s flaws it nevertheless provides no end of entertainment. Even today it remains one of the best examples ever made of how to blend two very different genres. If you missed Battlezone 2 when it was first released, definitely consider buying this re-release in the weeks to come.
BATTLEZONE: COMBAT COMMANDER / DEVELOPER: BIG BOAT INTERACTIVE / PUBLISHER: REBELLION / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW