Another movie release, another movie tie-in video game, right? Activision picked up the rights to make a game out of the new film Battleship, with Double Helix Games in charge of development. Before it was a movie, the original board game was previously adapted into a video game on a few occasions, with the most recent being Hasbro’s fairly enjoyable Family Games Night. What we’ve been given with this movie tie-in is completely different. Battleship is an alien-blasting action movie, and Double Helix Games have decided to put together a first-person shooter game to try and capture the spirit of it. Rather than worry about adapting the gameplay of the board game once again, they’ve simply included a highly modified version of it which serves to break up the game’s flow.
When it comes to movie tie-ins, there’s generally two approaches that developers take. The first approach is to make a game which is directly based on it, and follows the movie’s story fairly closely, allowing you to play through all the highlights yourself. The second approach is to produce a side story which is either unrelated to the movie, or is supposed to have been going on at the same time (you just didn’t see it). Battleship falls firmly into the latter category. To even call it a movie tie-in is almost generous, as it has very little to do with its source material. There are no characters from the movie (unless you count a couple of generic enemy aliens), no events from the movie, no clips from the movie, nothing. There’s ships, and they do battle, but that’s about it. The game appears to be a self-contained side story, which follows a demolitions specialist named Cole Mathis as he fights his way through hordes of aliens in order to defend Earth from their invasion. Why is a demolitions specialist going around and shooting aliens? Who knows? He does do a fair bit of planting of explosives over the course of the game (don’t stand too close though, unless you like instant death), but we can only guess at why he’s also an amazingly capable soldier.
The majority of Battleship is standard, simple shooter fare. If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter before, then you’ll know exactly what to expect. Destroy an enemy generator here, shoot some aliens over there, you’re always running around to reach some objective – guided by an ever-present glowing marker. There’s seven levels, five guns, and three different enemy units for you to play around with. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, then you’d be right. Each level lasts for about forty-five minutes, giving you a total game length of around 5 hours. That’s not so bad for a shooter, but five guns simply aren’t enough in a modern game. You’ve got the pistol, the submachine gun, the machine gun, the shotgun and the rail gun. That’s it. The rail gun doubles as the game’s sniper rifle, but it’s rather bad. There’s no way to adjust the scope, which is zoomed in very closely by default, which means that your viewing area is always very limited. It’s also not very powerful (requiring three shots to take down a standard enemy), unless you fully charge it, which takes an agonising five seconds per shot.
The aliens are disappointing, with Battleship having no enemy variety until the third level. There’s Infantry aliens, Thug aliens, and Commander aliens. These are your only opposition, and they are slowly added to the levels as you progress. Infantry are your typical soldiers, Thugs are large, beast-like aliens who can take lot of damage, and Commanders are essentially snipers. The levels are little better. The game tells you that Mathis is being sent to various different islands in Hawaii, but they all look virtually identical, with lots of rocky terrain and hills. The only thing that really changes is the layout.
What sets Battleship apart from most shooters is the addition of a ship command system. As you play, you’ll see alien vessels and naval ships battling off the coast. Mathis can’t interact with them directly, but by pressing the L2 button, he can bring up a command screen at any time. Unfortunately, the game has to load every time that the command screen is opened or closed, and you’ll be waiting an average of five seconds each time before you can do anything. It really breaks up the flow of the game, in a bad way. The command screen is divided up into a grid, which shows the position of both ally and enemy ships. As a throwback to the original board game, the grid is set up and numbered exactly like the classic board. However, this is where the comparison ends, you won’t be simply ordering a strike on the space located at E5. Instead, you can order your ships to move from one space to another, or to engage a nearby alien ship. Each ship has a health bar, which slowly depletes as it battles. You can see your fleet’s status at all times while playing, in the top left corner of the screen, and watch as they take damage in real time. It’s handy. Normally, you have no direct control over any given ship as it fights, but the game quickly introduces you to the Wild Card system.
Wild Cards are basically power ups that you can apply to any ship you like, increasing their damage output, health, armour, or range. This is all well and good, and it means that your ships will last longer, but the direct control Wild Card is easily the most important. Using it allows you to zoom in and take control over one of your ships for 20 seconds as it battles an enemy. These segments make for a nice change of pace, but are very short, and very simple. You only have control over your ship’s weapons, which can be fired with the PS3 controller’s shoulder buttons. They have unlimited ammo though, and simply have a quick recharge time before they can fired again. Destroying an enemy ship is as easy as aiming at them and then hammering the buttons until its health is gone, there’s no strategy to it at all. Your ships will deal massive damage to the enemy, especially if they have power ups, literally turning the tide of the battle in seconds. Considering that it usually takes your ships many minutes to take down a single alien vessel, this Wild Card seems rather overpowered.
Wild Cards are obtained by killing alien foot soldiers, as they drop random cards. The cards appear as large, glowing pictures which hover above the ground. While this makes them easy to see and collect, it also causes serious problems at times. They’re only partially transparent, and when a large number of them are dropped in a small area, they can actually block your view. It’s a lot harder to shoot at your enemies when you can’t see them, and you have to wonder why the cards were designed like this.
Overall, Battleship is a disappointing game. While the ship command system was a good idea, the execution in the final version was just too weak and poorly thought out. Battleship suffers from a serious lack of variety, as well as various technical issues. If you thought the loading times for the command screen were bad, the game seems to need to reload the entire level each time you die, which means annoying loading times of 10 seconds every time. Aim-assist is turned on by default, and can’t be switched off. Enemy AI is glitchy, with Thugs in particular getting stuck on environmental objects and simply freezing in place, leaving themselves wide open. A couple of levels even have small sections where you can walk up the side of a steep cliff slightly, which clearly wasn’t intentional as it seems to make the enemies go haywire. They can’t see you, and will just sit there until you come closer. Also, for a game released in 2012, it’s rather surprising that there’s no option to turn on subtitles. I could go on and on about the game’s many issues, but you get the point.
Battleship is a game that’s hard to recommend, even to fans of the movie. There’s almost nothing here to tie it to its source material, and the graphics are very, very average. The lack of any kind of mutliplayer mode is also unfortunate. Save your money for something better.