You remember the old board game and its electronic successor ... you'd say "E-6" and your friend, sitting across the table from you, would say "hit" or "miss" or "you sank my battleship!" depending on whether your blind guess had coincided with the location of one of his plastic ships on a 10x10 grid.
Well, Hasbro hasn't been resting on those laurels. They've entered the PC market with a 1997 update to the 1970s board game – enter Battleship the computer game. The 10x10 grid and your friend across the table have been displaced, if not removed -- now you've got a whole ocean replete with islands, air strips, oil rigs, submarines, air forces and the whole nine nautical miles, all now on a larger grid with layers of sub-grids, and your friend is played by either the computer, or by your real-life friend who is now across town, dialing in on the modem. Hasbro, by the way, has included a second player CD at no additional charge, so you can immediately get into head-to-head play with the purchase of only one copy of Battleship -- a nice touch.
My first experience with this game was confusing and frustrating, and I was steeling myself to spend several days with a game that really wasn't all that much fun. It never seemed as if I had any real control over the game; six or seven things were happening simultaneously and I wasn't sure I was controlling any of them. I thought about the score I'd give the game -- something in the low 60's with a good deal of my review devoted to what could have been based on the press releases and hype on the game box.
But then I played it some more, and instead of half-heartedly playing through the scenarios just to get to the point where I could write a decent review, I found myself starting to learn some of the nuances of the game, and then I started to enjoy playing.
Now don't get me wrong: this game isn't perfect, and there are six or seven things happening at once, but then, it is a real-time wargame, so I suppose that's the point. I guess that I had become so accustomed to the look and feel of other real-time wargames (Red Alert, , etc.) that I expected the exact same style of interface and look in Battleship, and it just wasn't there. But consider what Hasbro attempted here: take a board game with a static 10x10 grid and expand it into a real-time multimedia wargame. Quite an undertaking. And, in fact, the computerized version of Battleship starts right where the old board game left off -- you set up your ships (now selected from a menu of many instead of the static 5 that came with the board game) and place them on a 10x10 grid ... this seems kind of weird, given that the game takes place in a much larger arena, but OK, you think, it's just an homage to the original. Except it isn't. While the game takes place on much larger maps, your fleet is always tied to a 10x10 grid; it just moves around on the larger map while still constrained to its grid. I'll explain that: your 10x10 grid acts as a sort of overlay on the larger map -- it functions as a close-up view of your fleet when you are performing individual actions (targeting, firing, etc.) but serves as a kind of chit on the larger map so that you can keep easy track of your ships. It's not always a perfect mix of grid-based movement and real-time, full theater warfare, but it suffices (oh, and the old classic Battleship is also included in this version, in case you'd like a bit of jazzed-up nostalgia).
The graphics in Battleship are an interesting facet of the game: you get everything at once -- satellite imagery, your aforementioned fleet close-up, and the larger map, all on top of each other on your screen pretty much all of the time. Each individual layer is nicely done, but it ends up being like trying to watch TV through a kaleidoscope with an overhead projector shining on the screen sometimes. Until you get used to the presentation of this game, you won't be able to tell what's going on or which layer you're on, or much of anything other than that the computer is tromping on you. You'll be just about to move a ship, or tell it to take evasive action when the satellite overlay pops up. You hurriedly try to get rid of that so you can see what you're doing, only to punch the wrong button on the screen and see your fleet zoom way back down to a little icon on the battlefield map. By the time you get back, you're just in time to see a video of fighter jets perforating your destroyers in the background while your little ship icons turn yellow, then red, then disappear. But ... once you get used to it, once you learn what is window dressing and what is really important for you to pay attention to, the presentation of this game becomes unlike anything else on the market. I think it was a bold strategy on the part of Hasbro, because what they've essentially done is to present a game where you see everything that's going on all the time. Some will dislike this presentation -- it definitely has a bit of a learning curve -- but I have found that once you invest the time to make sense of it, it becomes really intriguing and involves you in the game in a more personal way than a top-down battlefield view could.
The audio for Battleship is supposed to configure itself -- what it doesn't tell you is that you must check the box for the extra 35 MB sound file install in order to get this to work. Once you've done this, the audio is excellent -- lots of great battlefield environment sounds -- F-16 afterburners kicking in, the sonar ping of your submarines, and the percussion of your battleships' 80mm guns as they lob projectiles at the enemy, to name just a few.
Documentation for Battleship is a short CD jewel case pamphlet ... adequate, but just barely. I know that I may be sounding like a broken record about this sort of thing, but c'mon folks, give the people who pay such good money for your games a little more depth of documentation and explanation. There are online help files included with Battleship, but these too are somewhat wanting. I, for one, would certainly be willing to pay an extra buck or two to get better insights into how to enjoy a $40-$50 game.
Windows 95, 486DX2/66 or faster, 8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended), 1 MB SVGA video, 2X CD-ROM drive, 12 MB disk space, 100% SoundBlaster compatible sound card, 1 MB HD space (60 MB HD space if you want sound and video), 14.4 modem for head-to-head play
I was really looking forward to this game because I didn't feel that anyone had yet come up with a really cool naval strategy game, and after all, this one does tout itself as "The Ultimate Naval Warfare Game," so I thought that this one looked like it might break the mold. And it does in many ways -- the genus for a truly awesome naval strategy game is there. However, despite my eventual success with the interface and learning of how to handle the presentation of the battlefield controls, I would really like more ability to control how much is going on at once in the game. Also, while there are scenarios where you have bases to protect, there is much less control over what units you can control and how they can be configured than there might be. Battleship rates a 85 out of 100 at this point -- until there are some patches or a modest redesign of this game, it will take its place as a good naval strategy sim, certainly an amazing step up from the old board game, but not yet the "ultimate" naval warfare game.