In November 1980, 83 million Americans tuned into a TV show called Dallas, to find out who shot JR (it was Kristin). That month, roughly the same number of people voted in the U.S. presidential election, with Ronald Reagan thrashing Jimmy Carter.
The game also offers up to four-player cooperative play
If you happened to wander into a video games arcade, the music you might hear included Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and Blondie's "Call Me." Pac-Man was released in 1980 but a lot of people were still playing Space Invaders, Asteroids and Galaxian, all released in the late-70s.
Those games were played on a definitively two-dimensional plane, with the player looking at the action either from a top-down or a side-on perspective. But a new game, called Battlezone, gave players a relatively new perspective on video games — first-person.
The game used wireframe vector graphics to portray tanks in green and red. Unusually, players viewed the game through a VR-style viewfinder.
Battlezone is now recognized as a significant contributor to the "golden age" of arcade games, which lasted from around 1978 to the mid-1980s. But it never graduated to franchise-status, merely providing the basis for various ports and update releases over the years, as well as a series of tank strategy PC games in the '90s.
With the launch of PlayStation VR next month, Battlezone is making a return to its roots. Players will once again address the game through a headset, battling green and red tanks in first-person. This time though, the field of operation is significantly larger, with chunky polygonal enemies operating under AI rules, rather than a limited array of preset patterns.
Rebellion's game, which I played a few weeks ago, is mostly notable for its speed and movement. This is emphatically a first-person shooter, demanding constant movement, use of cover and correct weapon selection.
The player is constrained within the tank's cockpit, with a roughly 280-degree field of vision (you can't look behind you). Still, with the tanks skidding around on a smooth sci-fi plane, this is not much of a problem. If you want to turn around, the tank will do so on a dime.
Enemies come in waves, with differing levels of hostility, defenses and attack weapons. Some are airborne. These can be difficult to hit without use of homing missiles and other advanced weapons, which are earned through item-currency collection and in-cockpit upgrades.
These upgrades offer some relief from the fast-paced action. I felt slightly nauseous after a long period of play and needed the distraction of weapon-management and map-planning between combat sequences.
The player progresses through a randomly generated hexagonal map, proceeding toward a final battle each time. Some hexes include boosts and bonuses, while others offer up randomly assigned battle maps. As the player gets deeper into the map, the fierceness of enemies increases.
One aspect missing from Battlezone is any kind of player-versus-player element. This seems an odd omission in a shooting game. According to developer Rebellion, it may be added later. A spokesperson for the company told me the team of developers first wanted to focus on getting a purely AI-enemy set right, while tweaking battle environments. The game also offers up to four-player cooperative play (my in-video assertion that it's only two-player is an error.)
To be fair to them, VR first-person shooting is a new challenge, even if its antecedents do stretch back to the misty past of 1980. Battlezone will be released on Oct. 13.