Here’s a confession: I like some pretty bad films. Action films of a certain type – not as bad as the really bad Van Damme or Seagal, Channel 5 fodder, but any Bruce Willis C grader, I’m in there. Liam Neeson taking names? Yeah. Bourne and Bond, they’ll do too. I don’t want to feel harrowed at the end of a film, I want to feel like I kicked some serious arse. Without leaving my sofa and the fifteen foot radius that contains my fridge, my iMac, and the lavvy.
Something else I like – boats. Swallows and Amazons and all that. Great that, the sense of open water, but not too much danger. I like yachts too. Yacht Rock. A yacht has never taken my lunch money, or tripped me up when approaching the edge of the box with the ball in a crucial league match against Cefn Druids.
Extrapolating further, I probably quite like massive ships as well, although the last one I remember seeing was the wreck of the Mary Rose in about 1986. Oh yeah, and an airship carrier in New York that had just been retired. I was more interested in seeing the nearby wharfside golf course from the opening of The Ballad Of Gay Tony if truth be told.
For those (like me) of the YouTube generation with no attention span, I’ll recap the above two paragraphs.
You’d have thought that Activision’s Battleship, a Naval extravaganza set on beautiful sunny Hawaii, should therefore be right up my alley. So why, approximately thirteen minutes into the game, was I considering jumping off the roof of the Dignitas in my sailor’s suit, clutching a copy of Die Hard?
For a videogame based on a film (with supposed mass appeal) which was in turn based on a board game (Battleship being the Hasbro licenced-classic) which sold in the millions and occupied countless people with delusions of admiralty, there’s little to warrant gathering the family round this.
It’s just so dog-tag tired. The game opens with the flimsiest of scene-setting intros, surprising for a film-based title – but perhaps not when placed in the wider context of the whale fart this game shows itself to be. These cut scenes lead you into the integrated tutorial, which has you running around an averagely rendered island learning how to crawl, jump, and defuse bombs. The latter of which consists entirely of holding X for a few seconds. I’ll have to remember that time next time I’m in a terrorist situation and the bomb expert is stumped. ‘Yeah, Bruce, just press X mate, seen it on Battleship innit’. No skill, not even fun matching games à la Mass Effect 2, just boredom.
Then we’re rudely interrupted with the first of many requests to move some support ships around the island, via our Navy version of the iPad, which we point and click at with the basic, run-of-the-mill interface. The design in the game seems to have been part of a (perhaps honourable, in some twisted way) personal mission on behalf of the programmers to achieve the dictionary definition of “perfunctory”, from bland menu screens to boring all-too familiar scenery, to characterless NPCs, friends and enemies alike.
So I ordered some ships around, defused some bombs, and generally followed the barked orders of the higher-ranking officers. So far, so absolutely nothing. If I was the Naval medical officer, I’d be struggling to find much of a pulse in this limp-wristed title. Perhaps a post-modern deconstructive twist like that might have made the whole thing bearable. Descent into Kafkaesque surreal distortion would probably have eased the pain at the point where the first enemy troops dropped in for battle.
Cumbersome and awkward, the gunfights are no more than another task in this game’s endless litany of chores. I’d honestly rather be doing the dishes after a busy night of the messdeck, I think, as I storm into the midst of the enemy and blow a few heads off with my service revolver – it’s more counter-intuitive than counter-intelligence. I feel nothing – no recoil, no victory, no remorse or conscious. In short, I feel like a faceless marine trapped in a nightmare FPS that will never ever end.
I know that the next unit of enemies will be as unmemorable as the first, and so on into infinity. It’s like Space Invaders in 3D clothing. Much of a classic it is, have you played Space Invaders recently? It’s a revered game for its place in the videogame lineage but gameplay-wise, we’ve moved on from there. Not in Battleship we haven’t.
In fact, it’s a giant backwards step from the fiendish simplicity of Hasbro’s board game. It’s an insult to it. Having not seen the film, I can’t comment that way but I didn’t see Rihanna pop up in this game so I assume, as bad as it potentially is, that the film is also superior.
The bright lights of the Hawaiian paradise setting didn’t really make for an interesting atmosphere to the game, not bleaching things out enough to achieve any great stylistic effect, sunglare et al, and definitely providing too much visibility to engender much of a dangerous vibe to proceedings.
All in all, it’s a Charlie Foxtrot of a title, I can’t lie. I’ve spoken about film tie-ins before, and my disdain for low quality efforts, and this does nothing to buck the trend.
It’s a poor, poor show by both Double Helix Games and Activision, and you can only hope it sinks without trace – a few bubbles on the surface is it disappears the only reminder it ever existed. Give me graph paper and graphite pencils any day.