Considering it’s a movie tie-in our odds for Battleship being good were stacked oddly high in its favour prior to release. Double Helix are behind it, and their track record is better than most, including last year’s polished Green Lantern tie-in as well as the fairly decent Silent Hill: Homecoming. The fact that the movie has very little to do with the iconic board game also works in the game’s favour. Aliens are our favourite race of enemy to mow down after zombies, skeletal warriors and cybernetically enhanced corpses of former Nazi dictators.
Battleship starts with the words “Hey there Master Chief”, which is a rather apt way to begin as comparisons to Halo are rife. The main character has a two weapon limit, carries a rechargeable shield and can also pick up and use alien weapons. More significantly, the Hawaiian island on which the game is set resembles Halo’s celebrated Silent Cartographer map, complete with white sandy beaches, very similar alien structures and dropships that deploy a fresh supply of invaders onto your location.
Fortunately there is one unique element to be found. Pressing the LB button brings up a tactical display of the battleships and submarines in the vicinity. These can be given orders to take down alien craft and also, if placed on certain locations on the map, provide airstrikes or deploy decoys. Enemies often drop large glowing icons when defeated known as wildcards. These allow you to boost the stats of your fleet and repair ships if damaged. There’s a slight tactical element – submarines are useless against airborne enemies, for instance – but you never have to worry too much about losing a craft as one of the wildcards can recover them and bring them back into battle.
Another wildcard lets you control a ship’s guns for twenty seconds with each cannon having a cool-down period of five seconds or so. The benefit of using this card is that a lot more damage is dealt than letting the AI simply get on with things. As you make your way through the islands, placing charges on radar jammers, shield batteries and half a dozen other things that need blowing up to progress the story, the radio chatter of how well (or not) the battles at sea are going is almost constant. This does help to add to the atmosphere, although the speech samples do grate after a while.
As pleasing as it is to see a developer try to introduce something original into a licensed game, it’s still easy to tell that it has been knocked out on a very tight schedule. There are only three different enemy types (grunts, snipers and brutes) and just six short levels. Two of these are even used twice, albeit with a few extra locations to explore. The fact that it takes five seconds to open the tactical display, and another five seconds to close, also feels like it has been done on purpose to try and pad things out.
There’s no debating that £35 is a lot of money to spend on something that can be beaten in an afternoon. There’s no multi-player to speak of either. Not even a bog standard version of Battleship. The only incentive to return is to find the collectable PEGS (see what they did there?) on each level. It’s quite easy to miss these on your first play through as some areas are surprisingly non-linear.
The chances of Battleship being remembered for semi-successfully managing to incorporate a few tactical elements into a run of the mill first person shooter is incredibly slim. If anything, one month from now all it’s going to be remembered for is having some ludicrously easy achievements.
Such is the life of a movie tie-in.