C64 Retro-Gaming: Battle Valley

Game: Battle Valley
Made by: Hewson Consultants/Rack It (1988)
Genre: Shoot'em Up
Did I have this? I don't think so, but it does seem a little familiar

What Is It?
The goal: Capture all six terrorist bases in Battle Valley and eliminate two stolen missiles before the countdown reaches zero. You have a choice of tank or helicopter, racing through a side-scrolling landscape with either, shooting enemies while you are shot at, but regardless of their specific qualities, you'll need both to complete the mission.

Gameplay
Your base is in the very middle of the "map", and there are three bases to capture on each side of you. With the joystick, you indicate which vehicle you will take, and off you go. Tanks are a bit tougher, or maybe it feels like it. Both vehicle types can take a number of hits from all sorts of shells and missiles (the damage level flashes at the bottom of the screen, from Light to Critical), but as the helicopter explodes on contact with the ground (and even the landing pad if you move too fast), we'll consider it the more fragile ride. Either way, you start with 50 shots (shells or rockets, respectively); most targets only require a single shot. Tanks have reloading stations where you can nab 30 extra shells mid-way between bases, and I do recommend you use the tank first to clear the terrain (there are different shooting objects to destroy, but also standing structures that actually act as "early warning systems" that cause missiles to rain down on you from parts unknown), up until you find a broken bridge. Then use the helicopter, flying through empty terrain, and use its winch (activated with the C64 Mini's bottom buttons) to lift up a squat building's roof to fill the gap in the bridge. Then go back as fast as you can, get the tank again, and race to the terrorist base. Once you park there, your flag is raised and you can use that base too. All vehicles arrive there fresh.
Took me a while to figure out how to turn around or change speed without the keyboard (was reading from a C64 manual), but there are really two ways. The simplest is the bottom buttons on the Mini's joystick. Button 2 slows you down to a crawl, good for putting your vehicle in an exacting spot; Button 3 speeds you up so you can race faster across the empty landscape. It's still not as fast as the game will allow, so the other method is good too. If you double-tap the fire button while pointing left, it slows you down; right, it speeds you up. Doing so several times gives you awesome speed, and since the game is on a countdown, that counts for a lot. It will fire a shell/rocket at the same time, but I've found that it often won't count against your ammo! So you can get a free shot by changing speed. Or by turning around. That also requires a double-tap (which centers and stops you), though in battle, it may be quicker to use Button 1 to do this. What's really annoying about movement in the game is when you have to be at a certain spot not to crash, or to grab the piece of bridge, or park to take a base. The joystick has no drag, especially on the 'copter, and it's easy to make a false move and miss your target, or blow yourself up.

When you do blow up, there's no reset except of your vehicles, but the game's 30-minute time loses 5 minutes. I'd imagine the only way to finish the game would be without dying even once, and going back to base to switch vehicles as little as possible. If you don't have the 5 minutes to spare, you lose.

Graphics and Sounds
The opening screen is very simple, but it has a nice musical theme in a minor key. Once we get into the game, the sound is pretty simple - screeching missiles, explosions, and the grind of your motor or rotor. Visually, the game creates depth of field by making a foreground layer move faster than your mid-ground action, and ugly-looking mountains scrolling slower in the background. There isn't a whole lot of detail to your vehicles or the things they destroy. Simple, blocky shapes, though I kind of like the way the tank's treads turn, and the snaky chopper winch. Props for the flag-changing animation when you take a base. Overall, it's pretty repetitive, but it does its job. The one thing I really don't like is the lettering, which is meant to emulate military stencils, but the letters are often not spaced out enough, and it creates gibberish where letters touch each other, but have stencil spaces in the middle of them. (Spectrum screenshots below look much better.)
The World
"The peace summit was successful. An arms treaty has been signed. All medium range missiles have been destroyed... except for two which have been captured by a group who plan to destroy the Western World unless their fellow members are released from a penitentiary in the United States. Your task, as a mercenary employed by the United States Government, is to capture the enemy bases in their desert outpost - Battle Valley - and eliminate the two missiles."

Well, I don't know why you have to be mercenaries instead of actual military, but maybe they didn't want to limit their audience to a single country. Even the flag you use seems to be generic, though it's the Cross of St. George (red cross on white background), in other words, that of England. The terrorist bases look just like your base, and there's no way to tell where you are exactly (terrorists might build in the West, after all). What I do like is the variety of targets. Some are inert, like fuel trucks, but most are dangerous and either shoot at you at different angles, or else call up missiles from various directions. These outposts and transmitting towers and such spot you and allow enemies to bombard your location from far away, and I think that's a pretty cool idea.

When you lose, cut to black screen that explains your failure has led to a holocaust in which the world burns in a nuclear fireball. Gee, it never felt like the stakes were that high during the game. I sure learned my lesson.

Bottom Line
Though it has its frustrations, like helicopter crashes and having to race back through terrain, Battle Valley is a competent and reasonably exciting military action game where you have to puzzle out how to best use your resources and beat the clock. As the player masters the game, more and more bases might be captured before the countdown ends, to some satisfaction. Just looking to kill some time? At least you know the game can't last more than 30 minutes.

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