Battleship, the board game, is excellent. Everything else that the franchise has bombarded us within the last few months is not. The idea that a movie, let alone a good one, could be drawn out of Battleship is a tenuous notion at best. The general public seemed to agree, with Battleship the movie flopping critically and commercially. A Battleship videogame, at least in concept, seems a better fit for the board game. It’s easy to imagine moving ships around the seas, stocking munitions, defending ports and the like.
But even the simplest, most obvious ideas are frequently corrupted by tight deadlines and limited budgets. Thus, Battleship the videogame is a first-person shooter with a ship commander mode that is underdeveloped at best. The game opens with the protagonist Cole Mathis, stationed in Hawaii, being woken by a soldier telling him to report to demolitions duty. Normally we’d see this scene inside some sort of barracks, but Battleship has no interior levels, so Mathis is found lying next to a road in the middle of the compound instead.
We’re told how to set and disarm bombs (hint: aim at the screen and hold one button down without moving the analog stick for about 10 seconds) and then aliens descend and become incredibly entrenched almost immediately. They’ve set up a device that has some effect on the weather, they’ve disabled the tsunami warning system and they set up a turret. You’re given a pistol/shotgun/assault rifle/obligatory alien weapon and told to restore them. These are your only objectives across the game’s seven stages.
While there are technically seven stages, you’ll revisit most areas a few times, so really, there are only three real levels in the game. The objectives are set on opposite sides of the island to pad out the game time and you’ll often have to backtrack through a stage a few times in order to complete it. There’s very little content here. Battleship is incredibly short, with a standard mode playthrough totaling most players about four hours. But even with such a short length, you’ll get bored of the levels very early on, since you so quickly see everything that’s offered.
Mathis will sometimes see other soldiers fighting against the onslaught, but most of the time they can’t be relied upon to help out. He trudges back and forth across the islands, with some woman barking orders in his ear, clearing out aliens that come in endless, unsatisfying waves. Almost every land-based objective requires Mathis either set a bomb or prevent one from being set. Sometimes that means picking enemies off from the high ground to keep them from being able to place a bomb, and other times it means disarming them before they go off, but either way, that’s nearly all you ever do.
The rest of the game is spent in the ship commander mode. In addition to being an on-the-ground-sleeping demolitions technician, Mathis is also apparently a commanding officer for all of the naval efforts in the area. Why you get saddled with both burdens isn’t really explained, but it’s a profoundly stupid idea to have a soldier on the ground who’s getting fired at and handling explosives also being the linchpin that holds together your entire naval operation. There are obviously enough people still around that someone else could take up this task, or go and kill all the aliens so you can focus on the boats. But the length needed to be padded, so you do both.
The ship command mode – in Battleship, mind you – is as unimpressive as the rest offered. When command mode is activated, you’re taken to a grid showing the immediate area surrounding whichever island you’re backtracking across. Ships can be moved into strategic areas for support of your land operations, but their biggest role is in taking down enemy ships. Enemy ships will periodically enter the waters and you’ll have to engage them, but really all this boils down to is simply telling them which one to target. Enemy ships seem to have very little mobility, never falling back when outgunned and never working in concert to surround or flank the player. They basically stop wherever you first hit them and then sit there, waiting to explode.
As you kill enemies on land, they drop randomized “wild cards” which can enhance your ships missiles, radar and the like. One also gives you control of the guns, allowing you to take control of the armaments for 20 seconds. In this mode, you’re given a third-person view of your ship and control of a reticule which aims all available guns. Then you just mash the triggers. Enemy ships will never alter their course to thwart you, so you don’t even need to aim after you initially line up your shot. You’re able to take out an enemy ship in about half the time you’re allotted, which suggests that the enemy ships are very weak, but in basic ship command mode they take several minutes to go down. Why it’s so much easier to destroy them in user-controlled combat than when left to their own devices isn’t a question I can answer for sure, but I suspect it’s because this is a bad and poorly thought out game.
Battleship encourages you to keep going because its achievements are easy to earn, but there’s no way even the most ardent achievement hunters are going to buy this at the game’s price point. In years past, this would have been released under Activision’s value publishing brands, but in demonstration of their continued hubris, Battleship actually released at full retail price. This is a broken, dismal game that manages only to disappoint across its meager four hours. Fans looking for a longer experience can ramp up the difficulty level, but this just means you’ll be bored and frustrated. If you want an authentic Battleship experience, go buy the board game and avoid this dreck.