Release date: Out now!
Developer: Double Helix
Thanks to Activision for providing this game for review.
Ladies and gentleman, as well as any apes or monkeys that have figured out how to use the Internet, I give you Battleship: The Videogame, which is based upon Battleship the film, which was inspired by Battleship the board game, which was based on the original pen and paper version of the game which was titled Broadsides: A Game of Naval Strategy. Got all of that? No? Tough. And like any move tie-in game, I went into this was considerable apprehension, especially given that the film was a plotless mess, albiet a plotless mess with plenty of explosions. To my pleasant surprise, Battleship: The Videogame is actually one of the better movie tie-in titles out there. It’s still boring, though.
You see, the key is in the context: Battleship is, when judged by the standards of movie tie-ins, one of the better movie-based games around. In fact, it’s arguably up near the top of the pile. All of its core mechanics work, it doesn’t actually do anything wrong and there were a few moments when I was even enjoying it a little. However, when Battleship is taken out of the confines of movie-based games and judged according to the wider game market, it’s a dull, bland FPS that is so completely generic that I actually forgot about it while I was watching the credits roll. You may have also noticed that I’m rambling quite a bit more than I usually do before getting into the nitty-gritty of the game, and that’s because Battleship really doesn’t have that much to talk about, so I felt the need to flesh this review out a little somehow. Actually, if I had thought about it, I could have put in some inventive tale involving dragons, Cadbury Creme Eggs and an Italian Plumber. Ah well.
In case you weren’t aware, the film centres around an alien invasion where…..eh, well actually, that’s it really. Our hero just sort of heads off to save the world from aliens that have ships that have an awfully Transformers-esque feel, and that’s just about it. How all of this was inspired by the board game where you say things like, “B-2” and “miss” is beyond me, but for the game this lack of plot or any sort of detail left plenty of potential for a more fully fleshed out tale that could have explored the films characters more or provided more backstory for the movie. Sadly, though, Battleship: The Videogame actually has less plot than the film, which, quite frankly, is something of an accomplishment. At least the film had some vague sub-plots going on, but the game doesn’t even make an attempt to provide anything of the sort. As a final insult, the only way the game’s storyline actually links to the film’s plot is because it has ships and aliens in it. You won’t even find any of the characters from the film here nor hear their voices. Not even Liam Neeson!
You’ll be playing as one Cole Mathis, a bomb disposal expert from the US Navy whose on a training excercise in the Hawaiin islands when aliens invade. After that it’s up to Mathis to save the day by going from one island to the next shooting aliens in the face until they stop moving. And that’s your plot. No, really, that’s it. There’s no attempt at characterisation or providing any sense of connection to Mathis, instead the aliens just arrive and it’s game on. And even with this simple plotline the game somehow mucks things up on several different levels. The first is that while Mathis being a Bomb Disposal Expert sounds like a great idea for some intense moments, his expertise is only ever used to plant some C4 on things that need to be blown up. It’s just a waste of what could have been something quite interesting. Second, why the hell is Mathis being called upon to jump from island to island tackling aliens? As a Bomb Disposal Expert he’s clearly not the first, or even second or third, choice to send in to battle against the alien menace, especially as there’s quite a few Marines running around the place who could do the job, and yet the chain of command keeps phoning in to send him off to yet another island, sometimes alone! And finally, why is Mathis allowed to command bloody huge warships when the chain of command is clearly in place? admittedly this actually ties in to the games single unique feature which we’ll be getting to later, but it just doesn’t make sense: why is this Bomb Disposal Expert allowed to order around battleships and determine the fate of all of those onboard when his job is to diffuse explosives? Would you trust that man to tactically deploy warships and submarines to defend against alien forces intent on blowing everything up? HELL NO!
Moving from the terrible story to the gameplay, things do perk up a bit. Only a bit, mind. Double Helix, the games developer’s, have gone down the straightforward money route by making Battleship: The Video primarily an FPS. As such Battleship plays almost exactly how you would expect, utilising a control scheme that will be instantly familiar to anyone that has ever put hands upon an FPS title. And in terms of its core shooting mechanics, it’s also a surprisingly competent FPS. admittedly it doesn’t have the same level of polish or fluidity attributed to the big boys like Call of Duty or even Halo, but simply moving around and shooting enemies feels solid and responsive enough. Where the problem lies is that Battleships combat just feels generic and soulless, and with just three enemy types (one of which is actually a mine, so really two enemies) and only a few weapons to choose from it’s also lacking in variety. Your arsenal consists of the standard human weapons of a pistol, carbine and shotgun, all of which feel and sound suitably meaty. The two alien weapons you can grab, however, are pretty dull to use. With those weapons of, er, light destruction, you’ll simply go from area to area battling small groups of the same enemy grunts over and over, with the occasional big guy thrown in for good measure, although he doesn’t really add much of a dynamic to the combat. The fact that you’re battling aliens rather than humans adds little to the game as they behave just like, well, humans, and don’t seem to possess any of the extreme strength and endurance of their film based counterpart. Sure, they take a decent bit to put down, but they just don’t have the same sense of sheer power that their movie brethren have, especially when you’re literally killing hundreds of the buggers. To cut a long story short, the technical aspects of the combat are there, but the result is generic, bland and devoid of passion.
However, Battleship: The Videogame does have one unique feature hidden up its metaphorical sleeve. At any time during the game you can tap the left shoulder button to bring up a grid-based map of the island and the surrounding waters. In this interface you’ve got several ships to command, allowing you to order them around the grid and engage enemy ships in what is clearly an homage to the board game. There’s not exactly a lot of tactical depth to this little mode aside from simply ensuring that you don’t let your ships get blocked in, but it is surprisingly enjoyable to order around ships while you’re in the middle of a firefight, although it should be said that time freezes when you enter the mode so you don’t have to worry about being shot in the arse when you weren’t paying attention. Your warships and submarine, all of which you gain as you progress, come with stats that make them better at taking on certain types of enemy, but it doesn’t really seem to make much different what type you send them against as they just plough through them with ease, usually. Still, there’s a certain charm to commanding your ships, and it’s certainly worth taking the time to dominate the sea as occupying certain squares on the map allows you to gain support for your on-land expeditions, such as calling in an artillery barrage or missile strike. Likewise if the enemy gain the support square then you can expect pain to rain down on your head every now and then as they launch peg strikes. Yup, peg strikes. I’m all up for paying respects to the board game, but peg strikes? Anyway, to help further link your naval ventures with your on land adventures you can collect Wild Cards from the bodies of fallen foes which can them be used to bolster up ship stats, such as more armor, firepower or more radar range. One Wildcard even lets you take direct control of a ship, although this isn’t quite as exciting as it sounds: the ship simply gets a massive damage boost and you can fire the weapons at an enemy. Essentially it’s a 20-second button-mashing game that lets you take down pretty much any enemy ship with ease.
While the act of commanding ships may be lacking in any real depth, it does at least help to break up the constant stream of firefights that perpetuate the games incredibly short four-hour singleplayer campaign, though such a short campaign is probably for the best as the gameplay wouldn’t have been able to hold up anything longer than that. Admiteddly a four-hour campaign is not that unusual amongst FPS titles these days, but usually they do at least have multiplayer to compensate for the fact, something which Battleship does not. Aside from some collectibles and a desire to get Achievements or Trophies there’s zero replayability to Battleships campaign and no multiplayer to sink your teeth in to. And most frustrating of all the developers had the cheek to re-use a few levels during the campaign! A four-hour campaign and you re-use levels!? what the hell!?
At the day, Battleship: The Videogame is not a bad game as such. It does nothing truly wrong, but it just doesn’t do anything well or right, either. It’s simply a generic shooter created to cash in on a summer blockbuster movie, and as such it’s a boring game from start to finish. Once or twice I found myself enjoying myself a little, but that would quickly fade away, once again replaced by monotony. I told you this review would be pretty short.
+ Commanding ships makes me feel awesome!
+ The core shooting is solid.
– Utterly generic and dull.
– Less story than the film.
– Makes no sense.
It looks alright in places, but this definitely isn’t at the top of the graphical heap.
The music is actually not bad and the voice acting is passable. Sound effects do exactly what they need to and no more.
A two is almost generous. Aliens arrive and that’s your story! Worse, what little there is doesn’t actually make sense.
The shooting is solid, but lifeless. It’s just generic and forgettable action.
Four or five hours should see it completed. Zero reason to play again.
The Verdict: 4.5
As movie-based games go, Battleship: The Videogame is certainly one of the better titles out there. It’s playable, but simply lifeless and dull. Only worthy of a purchase if you really loved the film or you find it for a fiver in the bargain bin. Better still, take that fiver and buy the board game.