Video game adaptations of Hollywood popcorn flicks usually have the reputation of being pretty bad, so throw into the mix that the whole concept is based on a board game and you’ll have a fair idea of what you’re in for with Battleship. Anyone expecting a glitzy, high-definition, Xbox Live/PSN compatible version of the classic board game are in for a real shock. In an attempt to cash in on the popularity of military shooters, such as Battlefield and Call of Duty, Battleship has joined the growing ranks of the First Person shooter genre. However, the game also has an ace up its sleeve which may prevent it from becoming a disaster of Titanic proportions.
Players assume the role of US Navy Officer Cole Mathis, a bomb disposal expert stationed in Hawaii. In typical Michael Bay fashion, aliens comes to Earth and set their sights on the US Navy with little explanation or reasoning. Anyone who has seen the film is already two steps ahead as the game offers little more story beyond that. All you know is it’s up to Mathis to save the day by taking on the alien forces with both the land and sea resources the Navy has to offer. It would be wrong to expect an award-winning plot of Battlestar Galactica proportions here, but the lack of cut-scenes, narration or any reference to the movie whatsoever just means that Battleship is all washed up in the storyline department.
The objectives are as simple as they come as you make your way across one of eight levels, usually diffusing bombs or destroying alien shield generators. At your disposal are a very limited number of weapons (around seven...and that’s including grenades) both human and alien in origin. It’s a forgivable offense, considering you can only carry two at one time, but a bit more imagination wouldn’t have gone amiss, for example the alien KRAW gun is basically a heavy machine gun. The alien forces are large are also rather lacking in the imagination department. Blue armoured thugs are the main troops on the ground, but once in awhile you will come across the hulking bare-knuckled thugs, or the sneaky long-range sharpshooters to spice up your gameplay. It’s not a lot to ask for from a first person shooter, especially since the aim of the game is virtually the same in each one.
In an attempt to appeal to fans of the board game, there is also a subsection of the game that involves a bit of strategy. Pressing the LB button opens up Mathis’ PDA giving him access to the surrounding Naval fleet in the area. As unbelievable as it is for a simple bomb disposal expert to have access to a handful of highly destructive warships, it provides a bit of refreshment at times from the first person shooting element of the game. Adopting a simple grid format, it’s up to players to position their ships accordingly in order to provide support for the soldiers on land, or defend the islands from invading alien ships. Destroyers, Carriers and Submarines make up your fleet, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Subs for example are effective with torpedos, whilst Destroyers have powerful cannons that can tear through an enemy ship in seconds. It’s not exactly Total War, but it’s still a nice bit of variety for a game that is in desperate need of plugging a few holes.
“Wild cards” can be picked up on land from the corpses of downed enemies, which can then be used to enhance your naval ships and severely change the tides of war. These cards come in two varieties: blue and yellow. Blue support cards upgrade your ship, depending on the symbol they bear. The ARMOUR wild card will allow a ship to take 20% more damage whilst the SALVAGE card will increase a ship’s health meter so long as it downs an enemy. The MISSILE and TORPEDO cards will increase the damage done by these weapons when engaging enemy ships and the LEADERSHIP card will see your fleets effectiveness increase overall by around 15%. Yellow wild cards on the other hand can be significantly useful, particularly when in need of a real morale boost. the REPAIR and RECOVERY cards do exactly what they say on the tin by repairing one of your vessels or resurrecting them should they have been sent to Davy Jones’ locker.
The most useful of the wild cards is definitely the SHIP CONTROL card. Not only does this give you the opportunity to control the weapons on the ship in a twenty-second mini-game, but also increases the ship’s effectiveness by 200% meaning that you’ll more than likely down an enemy ship before the clock runs out. If that’s not the case then at least you can take pride in the fact that their shields have been weakened. It doesn’t take long to get used to juggling between the first-person shooter and the strategy game. In all honesty, they go hand in hand at times, as the ships can be used to clear hordes of enemies when positioned in one of the support slots close to land, whilst using the SHIP CONTROL wild card can easily help you conquer the seven seas with ease, particularly when your naval fleet is in a bit of a tight spot. The final mission, which sees the aliens throw their own “wild card” into the mix is perhaps the only real challenge, but give it a few goes and you’ll be worthy of your stripes.
The level designs in Battleship bear a striking resemblance to a number of maps from the popular Halo series. The aliens themselves (who are never named) have a close resemblance to the Covenant. The level structures are bright and colourful, but at the same time are repetitive and linear, with the only real variety coming from the change in lighting as some levels take place during the day, and others at night. The same can be said for those real-time naval battles; pretty to begin with, but little variety means the whole experience becomes rather dull rather quickly.
Battleship by no means is a difficult game. The single player campaign on normal difficulty can easily be finished in around four or five hours. For those who do find the game a real guilty pleasure, or are on the hunt for easy achievements, the opportunity is there to revisit each level on a higher difficulty, or even search for the secret PEGS (perhaps the only reference to the board game) that are dotted around each level. There’s not a shred of multiplayer to be found which is a real shame because it would have led to some entertaining naval battles via the game’s strategy element. A little more thought and effort and perhaps it could have even obtained itself a little cult following.
Ask many of the residents of Belfast on the matter and they will tell you that the Titanic was fine when it left their docks back in 1912. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about Battleship. Destined for disaster before she set sail, it’s a shipwreck of a game that bears little resemblance to the film or board game it was based on. Still, it’s not the worst film-to-game adaptation that’s seen the light of day and at least shows some ingenuity for trying to spice up the first-person genre that is in danger of growing stale. So for that Battleship, we certainly do salute you, as you set sail for your journey towards the bargain bin.