I think for this particular review, I can skip the preamble where I introduce what the game is. If you’ve ever spent time with your family members, there’s a strong chance you’ve played the traditional plastic-suitcase version of Battleship. As of last week, Ubisoft and Hasbro have brought this classic game to the Xbox One and PS4, with a few additional bells and whistles for good measure.
The core gameplay is exactly what you’d expect – you place your ships on a grid, then swap turns with your AI or human opponent, taking potshots until someone’s fleet has bee sunk. Then, you’re obliged to shout a time-honoured Simpsons quote. Where this digital version of the game separates itself is the value-adds. Battleship adds a mission mode, with a sequence of games strung together by a basic narrative. It’s nothing major, but it does give you a moderate difficulty curve between the game’s pre-set difficulty levels and feels slightly fresher than just hitting New AI Game over and over.
It’s difficult to establish a distinct mission structure in this kind of game – the AI opponent will not place its fleet in the same positions every time, so the difficulty level (both in mission mode and free play) really only determines how competent your opponent will be. On Easy, I found the AI would make a hit then studiously avoid attacking any of the surrounding squares to the point of ridiculousness. At Medium, they’ll alternate between scattershot and bloodhound when taking you down, and Hard will go at you relentlessly the way a human player would.
The other, more distinct mode added to the game is Clash at Sea, which adds a layer of complexity to the traditional model. Each player is awarded three white and three red pins each turn, to use the skills assigned to each vessel in their fleet. White-pin moves focus on discovery and reconnaissance, while red-pin moves are attack moves. The larger vessels have more powerful skills which cost a greater number of pins, and attack or investigate a greater amount of the playfield. Players can also use the pins one at a time to investigate or attack a single square at a time, bringing an element of resource management to the Battleship experience – being able to feel out a square alongside a confirmed hit with a white-pin check is a great way to save your attacks until you know which way a vessel is pointing.
As each vessel is destroyed the number of available skills dwindles, so it’s a toss-up whether to go for the more powerful strikes of a battleship or aircraft carrier, or opt to repeat-fire the strikes of the sub or patrol boat at the lower end of the scale. It’s a great twist to the formula and actually got me pretty excited about playing once I came to grips with approaching Clash at Sea differently to its traditional cousin.
Visually, Battleship opts to be a prettier version of the physical game. The standard game grid is presented with a coat of polish, and animated versions of the various vessels playing above as you or your opponent take your turns. You also have the option to select different vanity skins for your fleet to vary things up, though it changes nothing gameplay-wise. It’s a nice embellishment, but to be honest it just felt like it slowed down the game.
Battleship is not a high-speed game by nature, so the fact that it feels slower is not a great change. While the game does have skins for your fleet that can be unlocked, NONE of them are unlocked via the game itself. The available variant skins are all gated behind either the Hasbro Game Channel or Ubisoft Club, competing nuisances in this gameplay experience. I’m not saying every cosmetic option needs to be unlockable through the mission structure or successive wins, but at least ONE should be.
At the end of the day, current-gen console Battleship feels like a weird fit. While it’s great to have the new Clash at Sea mode to spice things up, it just feels awkward on console. Playing against a human opponent will require either PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold, unless you play local multiplayer – and how or why is that a thing? The entire point of Battleship is that you are face to face with your opponent and cannot see their ship layout. Relying on good sportsmanship not to peek is an unnecessary complication. In all honesty, I think this game makes more sense on a portable device or mobile phone, both for convenience and the basic logic of the game itself. Even at around $20 AUD, it doesn’t seem worth the expense for a new mode alone.
Battleship was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One as provided by the publisher.