Game spotlight – ‘Battlezone’ (Atari VCS)

1983 Atari

The next game in the spotlight is a title which i’ve recently dug up from my gaming past called “Battlezone”. I’ve dug out my old VCS and have been playing a fair few titles for old time’s sake. Battlezone is an arcade conversion and whereas most arcade conversions on the old VCS were quite poor, this one bizarrely manages to improve over the vector based arcade game.

Battlezone on the Atari

I first started playing this game when I got my first ever game system back in Christmas 1988, and this along with others (Combat, Pole Position, Yars Revenge, Missile Command) was part of a nice collection of games I was lucky to have as part of the present.

The game involves you driving a tank around a battlezone landscape in a first person perspective, destroying all enemy vehicles (and even UFO’s) whilst avoiding enemy fire and keeping that score totting up. The arcade game was an atmospheric title with green vector graphics. The game was very realistic at the time, and I think the US army was actually issued with a special cabinet for their Tank training by Atari.

Of course, trying to convert an entire Vector based game to the VCS was almost impossible (only maybe possible today with some clever programming?) at the time, so the programmers wisely decided to ditch the vectors and use sprites instead. By doing so, the programmers have managed to produce possibly one of the best Atari VCS games ever created, faithfully retaining the playability of the arcade, and maybe just improving over it too. This conversion is much more pacy, meaning if you hang around for too long in one place, you’ll be blown up.

Battlezone arcade
The arcade original

Missing is the ability to use two joysticks as with the arcade game (although a hack
was recently done to allow for two joysticks to be used simultaneously), but the game controls work very well and actually proves better to play with just the one joystick. Navigating around the landscape is quite smooth and the enemy scanner has been well implemented.

To start, the game features fairly still enemies which don’t move or shoot too much. Though once you start getting the points, the level soon goes up a notch and the tanks begin to move around and shoot more frequently. Avoiding tank fire is quite hard, and requires some skill, but its perfectly achievable. As well as tanks, you get some bizzare UFO’s flying around which you must destroy. These do not shoot at you, but move quite erratically and are harder to hit. It’s recommended that if you have a tank aswell on the scanner, to concentrate on them first.

At various points in the game, a plane flies into your path and shoots rockets at you. You have to be quick to destroy it. If you’re lucky, the plane can fly into the path of a tank and blow itself up.

Although a very simple title today, the gradual increase of intelligence in the enemies and constant action is enough to provide a good blast for an hour or so. After your first go, you’re very likely to get the urge to try again and progress that little bit further.

Graphically it isn’t much to look at today, but really its quite impressive for the VCS, with clearly defined tanks and an awesome main tank panel which has the tracks rotating realistically according to your movement. Everything is functional enough to make an enjoyable game. Sonically it is very simple as expected with a VCS title, but there are some nice meaty explosion sounds in there which add to the atmosphere of the game.

So if you have a spare few minutes, grab a VCS emulator and check it out.
Don’t be put off by the hardness to avoid bullets at first… it takes practice, but the results are definitely worth it.

A fantastic conversion and an all-time childhood favourite.


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