Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs

Nintendo 64

Review by Greg Wilcox


Graphics: 5

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 6

Overall: 6

It took five years before an actual strategy game arrived on the N64, and it crept silently into stores and rental shops with little fanfare. Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs isn't anywhere near the best game for the system- in fact, it has a few fatal flaws that keep it from becoming an instant classic. But those of you looking for serious difficulty as well as a solid story should track down a copy, and set some time aside to play this game. Based on the updated PC version of the old Atari arcade hit, the game contains one main storyline told from three different viewpoints, huge planetary landscapes to navigate, and over a dozen different vehicles to jump in and drive.

The game has 3 modes of play: Arcade, Pilot, and Commander (designed for fans of action, first-person shooting, and real-time strategy, respectively) and the tutorial is a must, even if you know your way around the N64 pad like Jimi Hendrix in a guitar shop. You play as the U.S., Russian, or Black Dog forces, and the missions in the main game change accordingly. I had originally played part of the U.S. scenario, but the game's difficulty (and high frustration factor) caused me to put it away after a few days. Something drew me back to the game and I ended up toughing it out and actually finishing all the Pilot missions with each army and jumping into the Arcade mode (which is addictive as hell once you're used to the initially awkward controls). At the start of one escort mission in Commander mode (as I was zipping alongside a convoy about to engage some attacking vehicles), a thought hit me, and I had to put down the controller and laugh for a bit.

Take away the futuristic vehicles and backgrounds, change a few lines of plot and transport yourself back in time to those thrilling days of yesteryear, and you've basically got an Old West covered wagon train game! It's Cowboys and Indians all the way, from the scout and escort missions, where you're set ahead of the pack to check out enemy activity, to the rescue missions, where you have to infiltrate territory and grab your guys back and not get shot up too much. There's even ore to dig up and the ability to shoot someone out of their vehicle and commandeer it to complete a mission. Before you pick your jaw up off the floor and start with the hate mail, this non-PC last paragraph is also a knock at one of Battlezone's two major flaws: the archaic aiming scheme implemented in the game. If you can't come to grips with it, you'll be as effective as Custer at Little Big Horn, but with an N64 controller in your hand, instead.

There are a few missions where you have to leave your vehicle or start out on foot, and you'll also be ejected if your ship is destroyed. One this happens, you're in control of the most unresponsive, stiff character this side of Resident Evil. Sure, you can run, strafe, and shoot like in any FPS, but trying to aim at and hit a target while moving is next to impossible. For some reason, your gun seems to be pointed down at the ground, so you have to fight with the analog stick and C buttons to keep your guy aligned with what you want to shoot. In Pilot mode, you can jack another occupied enemy vehicle by shooting its pilot first, then running up to the ship and jumping in. While you have unlimited plasma shots, the sniper rifle only carries 3 shots, and the manual only aiming is far too shaky to get off a decent shot. Using your plasma rifle will just destroy the ship, forcing you to run around and look for another ride to steal. You'll be retrying certain missions constantly because on foot, you're a sitting duck in a spacesuit- don't expect Quake III, and you'll survive a bit longer.

Still, the game has some really cool moments to be found throughout the game. There are some fast-paced battles with ships darting about like flies, some tricky caverns and jumps to navigate, and the way mission objectives come one after another keeps you on your toes constantly. Commander mode is a lot of fun, as it puts you in complete control of the game's resource gathering and manufacturing aspects, as well as go out on the battlefield and raise hell. Often, a countdown will start for one reason or another, forcing you to break from fighting and race to a new waypoint. Again, once you get attached to the controls, you'll be having a blast- that is if you can look past some annoyances in the Expansion Pak "enhanced" visuals.

From afar, Battlezone looks decent, but 8 feet away you're treated to some really blurry terrain, not so smooth aliasing on the mountains, too much fog, and possibly the worst-looking starfield in a video game. Driving too close to or colliding with cliff walls treats you to some horrible clipping which should have been addressed before the game was released. You'll be trying to make your way up a hill to spy on some enemy activity, when all of a sudden the wall vanishes and a block of color fills the screen. It's disorenting, and screws up the game's immersion factor somewhat. It's also tough to make out enemy units by sight alone which keeps your eyes on the radar more than the action onscreen. Still, there are some nice touches- the vehicles and level design are great, and the occasional environmental effects are also well implemented. There's a fair amount of voice in the game, and it's done well, but the music mix is really muddy and sounds like it's coming from a SNES sound chip in a glass of beer.

There's also a few four player co-op and competitive games included, but the graphics and speed suffer somewhat. Lets' just say that your eyes will jump out of your skull and bite you if you grab more than one other player and attempt a few rounds. Overall, the bad and the ugly just about do in any good Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs has as a quality game. But it's definitely worth the money if you're willing to cope with all the bumps it'll throw your way.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:16 PM