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Preview: Battleship is a game about a movie about a game

8:00 AM on 02.08.2012 // Wesley Ruscher

I can’t believe it’s already February. The “Big Game” has come and went, new releases are starting to hit, and while it only feels like it’s getting colder outside, soon summer will shower us with its radiant warmth. It's also in this time, as the seasons begin to change, that the floodgates will open with a slew of over-the-top, big budget Hollywood films for us all to spend our life savings on.

One of the movies is the big-screen adaptation of the classic board game: Battleship. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that other than having battleships there’s not much of a connection to the classic mind game. Then again, how do you connect a plot to something that has never had a story? And an even better question, where do you even start with making a game based upon something so loosely based around its inspirational source?

Battleship (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed])
Developer: Double Helix Games
Publisher: Activision
Release: April, 2012 (Europe); May, 2012 (North America)

Imagine my surprise last week when I got the chance to check Activision’s upcoming Battleship videogame. The game adapted from the movie that’s adapted from, you guessed it, the classic board game.

With hopes of riding the potential success of the upcoming film, Double Helix Games has created a unique experience that is only set in the fiction of the Battleship movie. As a side-story to the main show, players will be able to experience both the action of the movie and the strategy of the board game in what can best be described as a strategic first-person shooter.

The gameplay is divided into two fronts spread across seven total missions: First-person on ground shooting and real-time strategic management of your naval support fleet at sea. The hook being the clever way each mode plays off of one another during the heat of battle.

In the mission demonstrated, the first-person moments saw the main character, a demolitions expert, engaging in intense duck and cover combat as he attempted to take down a variety of support structures that were protected by the enemy. These structures (shield generators, for example) prevented further exploration of the level, as well as hindered the support that the naval ships could offer.

As enemies (which will remain anonymous for the sake of the movie) fall, they sometimes drop special “cards” that can be used to help the efforts taking place at sea. There are blue wild cards, that allow a player to give buffs to any ship -- attack damage and radar range enhancements for example -- as well as gold cards that give players direct control of a vessel to deliver a more precise and powerful assault to the opposition. How each card is used -- based on the randomness that they are acquired -- is part of the strategy, but can go a long way in helping the struggle on land become more manageable. 

In these first-person on-shore firefights, players can call in a multitude of different support strikes from any ship that is within range. Using these air-strikes, which land as pegs (an homage to its roots), can turn the tide of a skirmish and are key to survival. But while they are as useful as deadly when the action ramps, the enemy has the same sort of abilities at hand to keep a player constantly moving from cover to cover. There is a definite back and forth feel in the action because of this, something very reminiscent of the classic board game.

Where Battleship pays its most respect to its heritage is in the grid-based tactical map system that is used to manage the fleet. Just like on ground, there is a war to wage on the ocean front with same goal of acquiring the most dominant position. Pulling up a grid -- similar to the board game -- navigation as well as enemy engagement is controlled by strategic movement. Ships will fight (in most missions) for a foothold on a tactical location that gives the ground the most dominant support. Without taking over these locations, players can’t call in for support, which can in turn makes it very difficult to complete each mission.

What makes the combination of these two fronts even more spectacular for the player, beyond how each dynamic improves the other, is that when on foot, players can watch and see their fleet moving and engaging in combat in real time off in the horizon. It’s a nice touch -- something Double Helix refers to as the “Spectacle at Sea” -- and really helps connect each gameplay mechanic together seamlessly.

Battleship combines the strategy of war and the action of a first-person shooter in a way rarely seen in videogames. While the strictly single-player affair is estimated to be around five to six hours, if the rest of the game holds up to brief demonstration witnessed it should be well worth the cost of admission ... as long as it lands at the right price. 

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Wesley Ruscher, Former Contributor
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