The video game industry is stretched for innovative ideas during the slow months of May, June, and July, yet the movie business flourishes throughout these depressing virtual times as families drive their energetic children to the theaters and watch their favorite heroes beat the bad guys in a mix of comic book, science fiction, and historical action films. The notion of a video game based loosely on an already laughable summer flick, derived from the classical board game, and constructed on the premise of a pre-World War I pencil and paper activity was doomed from the start. To no one’s shock in particular, Battleship secures itself as another mediocre movie tie-in.
Rather than fight alongside a poorly modeled Liam Neeson or Rihanna aboard their frigates, players meander about the Hawaiian islands as Cole Mathis, a bomb disposal expert with access to secret government technology. A rudimentary ordnance defusal mission turns desperate when mechanical sentinels storm the atoll. The objective is twofold: destroy the invading automatons and find rescue.
You play a much larger role in the Navy’s victory than first impressions let on. Cole is the lone soldier carrying what appears to be a regular tablet PC, but this piece of Battle Command engineering lets you direct your battleships sailing blind in treacherous waters. Enemy watercraft frequently attack, meaning you must dictate where your allies should move and whom to bombard on the gridded display. This one mechanic distinguishes Battleship from its FPS brethren, but any hope shed manipulating modern-day dreadnaughts is snuffed out by its uninteresting implementation. While positioning fleets near the shore allows Cole to radio in artillery strikes on advancing infantry or clear larger boulders, the possibilities end there. The skirmishes progress no matter how poorly you organize your reinforcements, even when your decisions lead to sunken freighters. Collectible “Wild Cards” hovering around the island bolster your battleships' different traits – from an increase to attack radius and repairing lost armor – but intelligent arraying of your vessels never necessitates these power plays.
Someone might want to check the spelling on "DETIALS".
In the movie, the interstellar aliens exhibited photophobia, a sensitivity to sunlight. Battleship’s enemies seem to have missed that memo. The midday sun bathing the Hawaiian archipelagos in a sweltering 90-degree heat holds no sway over these mechanical foot soldiers, though I doubt their AI programming would take notice. The cybernetic humanoids gather half-exposed behind cover, refusing to advance on Cole’s position regardless of how close to death he may be. Switching to the Battle Command tablet prevents you from accruing damage, too. That, or the cyborgs patiently wait for you to finish arranging your ships, equipping Wild Cards, checking emails, and bidding on eBay auctions before resuming their assault.
While Battleship uses the now-mandatory FPS control scheme, the execution of Cole’s movements is clunky under the best of circumstances. Aiming rarely snaps to your intended target, as if Cole is trying to wrestle himself from the player’s restraint, and trying to circle strafe around the melee-happy, gorilla-ish Thugs constitutes its own challenges. Battleship offers no depth, no strategy to its firefights, either. Five weapons spread between both factions leaves little variety to prolonged engagements. Apparently, all you need to repel an extraterrestrial infestation is a pump shotgun and standard issue carbine.
The graphics, though not stellar, could disappoint more given the history of movie tie-ins. Destroyers and submarines navigate the shallows in the background, and suitable explosions ring in Cole’s ears based on the proximity. I hope you enjoy sandy shores too, because Cole rarely leaves the beach except to assault decommissioned military bunkers. Here, there is a persistent sense of familiarity whether you're infiltrating an occupied research facility under the guise of night or shielding fellow soldiers with sniper fire as the sun rises above the ocean’s undulating horizon. Frankly, the aliens share more similarities with cosplayers than vengeful bionics. Again, I have seen worse from movie tie-ins, but this qualifier does not pardon Battleship’s numerous other faults.
Battleship is no Halo, that's for sure, though the visual influences seem clear.
To my surprise, multiplayer remains M.I.A. Even the most paltry of single-player tidings could be bolstered by a competent online component, but there’s nothing to write about – no deathmatch, RTS elements, or a poor knock-off of the Milton Bradley bestseller.
Despite my condemnations, I heap two bits of “praise” on Battleship. The campaign only lasts four hours, so the heroics of Cole Mathis are unlikely to absorb more than an afternoon of the player's time. Also, the Ship Control Wild Card affords Cole the brief chance to operate a select gunboat and annihilate one of the enemy’s own with a devastating barrage of missiles, cannons, and torpedoes.
Who is Battleship for then? The dozen or so moviegoers that actually enjoyed the film? Achievement junkies? Battleship could have been a remarkable Arcade or PSN release. Instead, Double Helix’s latest finds itself on retail shelves next to well-known shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield. As the sun sets on this horrible Hawaiian vacation, the only thing this battleship sinks are review scores.
Developer: Double Helix Games
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3