Battleship pulls from both the original board game and the glossy recent live-action film adaptation, swapping between first-person shooter combat and a grid map where you can align ships and occasionally man them in combat. Every bit of the game lacks depth and variety, however, and the short campaign fills out the entire full-price experience.
- Grid-based ship maneuvering is a neat touch.
- Shooting and strategy bits complement each other.
- Combat is limited in scope and uninspired.
- Sparse checkpoints sully the brief campaign.
- It's $60 for only a four-hour campaign.
Somehow, the big-budget Hollywood adaptation of Battleship – an aesthetically sterile board game with little plastic pegs – ended up looking a whole lot like the Transformers films, albeit without generating the same kind of audience interest (as evidenced by the comparatively wimpy box office returns). Activision's multiplatform title of the same name actually pulls from both bits of source material, oscillating between first-person shooter segments and a tactical grid that lets you align ships to battle alien carriers and provide occasional ground support from afar.
Much as it's pleasing to see a movie game that isn't another generic hack-and-slash affair, Battleship opts to enter an even more competitive space with a generic shooter, which packs only a startlingly short single-player campaign with not a lick of multiplayer action in sight. And as is often the case with such film tie-ins, the game feels very much like a surface read on the genres it pulls from, offering little in the way of depth or variation from a rigid routine.
Ship or Shore
Battleship stars Cole Mathis, a U.S. Navy demolitions expert who must wander the islands of Hawaii detonating enemy turrets and communications hubs, all while taking down scads of aliens using a paltry selection of firearms. He's not the lead in the film, as the game's storyline purportedly takes place alongside that of the film, though you wouldn't know it from piecing together the dull dialogue snippets and cut-scenes. If the inanity of the plot wasn't assumed from its board game-to-film origins, the game actually prompts you to skip every cinematic on first viewing. So don't worry about missing anything – you're encouraged to dodge the narrative!
To some extent, Battleship is a tale of two very different games: the core first-person shooter campaign that dominates the experience and ultimately starts and ends each mission, and the map-based ship maneuvering that plays a strong role in many objectives, and cannot be safely ignored or marginalized. While the disparate elements are nicely intertwined, Battleship is limited by its narrow scope. Neither side of the equation feels particularly fleshed-out or expansive, and pairing them together in the seven single-player campaign levels doesn't make them feel any less shallow. And even within those elements, there's so little depth or variety to the action.
On foot, Battleship generally proves competent, though uninspired. Each stage charts a very straightforward path to its goals, so much so that the game enacts false barriers at times – like an unmovable ally blocking a pathway – to keep you on the intended path. And though they shake up the order and terrain, all seven missions follow the same routine, mixing stop-and-pop encounters with detonation tasks, which means simply holding a button near an object and then watching it blow. Occasionally, you'll protect an ally or installation for a brief period of time, but these moments do little more than trigger light enemy waves to attack.
Beyond the simplistic goals, a lack of diversity within the combat keeps the campaign from picking up steam. Just a few distinct enemy types – common bipedal foes, railgun-toting snipers, explosive rolling balls, and big brutes that take a few shotgun blasts to fell – pepper the stages, and the five firearms (plus standard grenades) encompass traditional fare, from the common pistol and machine gun to a chain gun and the aforementioned railgun. Battleship's on-foot combat has about as much kick and personality as a mobile touchscreen shooter, and doesn't look much better, either, thanks to simplistic models and effects plus some rough texture work.
Fire at Will
But wandering the islands and leaving alien guts in your wake isn't the entirety of the Battleship experience, as you'll often swap to the grid map to reposition ships and subs to engage in nautical combat or assist with the on-foot action (like calling in a volley of missiles on a target). Left to their own devices, the ships will attack nearby enemy cruisers, though you can focus their attacks as needed and move them around to any available opening. As they lumber about in the water – assuming you're near the shore while on-foot – you can actually see them move in the distance, which is a nice touch.
You'll take a more active role at times thanks to the wild card power-ups, which often scatter along the battlefield when you take down foes – another example of the strong link between the two aspects. While many of these simply enhance your ships' offensive or defensive capabilities, one wild card lets you take control of the cannons for a 20-second shootout, in which your ship earns a 200% boost to its firepower. Expectedly, these moments pass in a heartbeat as you completely overpower the opposition, and there's nothing more to each than aiming at a large target and hammering the triggers and a shoulder button.
That's a symptom of a larger issue with Battleship: every bit of the experience is so rudimentary and superficial that it doesn't add up to much. On the shore, the combat and objectives alike lack both variety and originality, while at sea, the ship positioning requires little tactical planning and the skirmishes are damn near automated. And the game lacks serious design consideration at times, such as absurdly long gaps between checkpoints, plus I experienced a scenario in which a checkpoint triggered right as an essential ship sank, leaving me stranded to restart the entire mission. Battleship lacks not only ambition, but also at times care towards what little is included.
Hardly Sunken Treasure
And it truly isn't much. Battleship is easily conquered within just four hours, with no semblance of bonus missions or even a whiff of multiplayer. All for $60 – the same price this publisher attaches to its annual military blockbuster, which sports a bigger and bolder campaign, much better production values, and a multiplayer experience that keeps on giving. Battleship is little more than a checkmark on a to-do list; a completed contractual obligation. Just a handful of red pegs on a board, signifying a failed effort.
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Editor's Note: Battleship was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, we also played the PS3 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.