Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: Battleship
When Windows Phone launched way back in 2010, Electronic Arts released a competent version of board-game classic Monopoly as an Xbox Live title. Board games are naturally better when played with friends though, and that port of Monopoly sadly lacks online multiplayer and costs a lofty $4.99 for some reason. Nearly two years later, EA is back with another licensed board game: Battleship. With online multiplayer, two new game modes, and a lower price, Battleship certainly seems poised to one-up its predecessor. Sadly, a number of issues threaten to torpedo the game’s fun factor.
Hopefully everyone knows how to play Battleship by now – if not, check Wikipedia for a primer. This version features three game types, each varying in complexity:
- Classic: The standard board game. Each side fires one shot per turn. While some of us probably have fond childhood memories of Battleship, Classic is actually quite boring. Since you get just one shot per turn, it usually takes too long to find the opponent’s ships – especially the smallest ship. Once you’ve nabbed the Classic mode Achievements, I doubt you’ll return to it.
- Salvo: This type works much the same as Classic, except each side gets up to five shots per turn: one for every remaining ship on that side. As a result, the game starts out much faster and gradually slows down as ships vanish beneath the waves. Losing your ships adds some welcome tension since it diminishes your firepower on top of bringing the game closer to its end. You could actually play the real board game with Salvo rules; I certainly would if I owned it.
- Super weapon: The most unique game type and only possible in videogame form. Both sides get only one shot per turn, but now they can choose up to three Super weapons at the start of the game. Offensive weapons take multiple turns to charge up and become ready, and one in particular can only be used once per game. They all have unique blast radiuses, such as firing five shots in an ‘X’ pattern or filling an entire vertical column with shots until one hits a ship. Defensive weapons are passive and include a shield that gives every ship a free hit and a sixth decoy ship.
Super weapon mode actually ties the entire single-player experience together. That’s because players don’t start out with all the weapons. Instead, you unlock new weapons by accomplishing different goals like sinking Y number of ships or hitting five different ships on a turn in Salvo mode. Considering the short length of most Battleship games and their otherwise disconnected nature, a metagame element is most welcome. However, even though you can only use the weapons you’ve already unlocked in multiplayer Super weapon games, those games don’t contribute towards unlocking new ships. It’s an unnecessary division that also spills over into the Achievements. More on that in a bit.
Battleship has two types of multiplayer: pass-and-play and Xbox Live. Pass-and-play contributes towards exactly zero Achievements, and so I doubt too many of us will play that way. Xbox Live on the other hand allows for asynchronous multiplayer over the internet (Wi-Fi or cellular) and has 10 specific Achievements.
While Battleship is the first mobile Xbox Live game with online play since the mediocre Game Chest: Logic Games, the ‘official’ system for Live play doesn’t seem to have advanced much. First off, the game has a bug in which the Xbox Live button will sometimes appear grayed out and unselectable. This happens even if you’ve accepted a ‘Your Turn’ notification from outside of the game. The only option then is to exit and relaunch the game – super annoying.
Once you get the Xbox Live option to work, starting a game is a bit of a hassle. There is absolutely no matchmaking, so you can only play against people you know. To challenge a friend in a new game, you can type out his or her email address or Gamertag or select a Gamertag from your Friends list by tapping a tiny and easily missable plus symbol on the corner of the screen.
The actual experience of playing against an online friend is held back by several problems as well. Lack of an in-game chat or messaging system greatly reduces the social element that all multiplayer games should have. If you’ve just made a move and you’re waiting for your opponent to do the same, you have little option but to twiddle your thumbs. Frankly, no true multiplayer game like this should be released without a way to communicate with other players.
Once the other side finally makes his move, as long as you’re still in the game a pop-up message will ask whether or not you’d like to see the move and begin your own turn. During this time, the game’s boisterous music absolutely blares, so I had to turn it off before long. No option to disable music but not sound effects, sadly. If you’re outside of the game, you may see a Push notification or ‘Your Turn’ notification in the Requests section of the Xbox Live hub. Unfortunately those requests don’t disappear after accepting them, so my Requests page is now a wall of useless Battleship notifications.
The perfect storm
Those multiplayer complaints aside, the number one problem with multiplayer stems from Battleship’s excessive load times. Whenever any menu option is selected, a ten second or so wait ensues. Menus should be kept in RAM and take one or two seconds at most to transition. On top of that, it takes even longer to download a multiplayer opponent’s move.
The loading times from launch through menus to finally receiving the opponent’s turn and beginning your own add up to at least a minute – more if you’re playing via cellular. In effect, you’re forced to wait more than 60 seconds before you can spend five seconds making a turn. It’s a bit less if you have already launched the game when the enemy’s move comes in, but not by much. Compare the time it takes to receive a move in AlphaJax or countless multiplayer indie games and playing Battleship feels like being stuck in the Bermuda Triangle.
At least these pointless animations can be disabled.
Battleship’s Achievements combine with its other faults to become a ship-killing iceberg. Single-player and multiplayer Achievements are completely separate with no real benefit to players. Several are poorly or inaccurately worded, too. The multiplayer Achievements say ‘Multiplayer’ but don’t mention it has to Xbox Live multiplayer - again, that requirement is bad for players. Speaking of which, winning 200 online games for ‘Admiral’ will take absolutely forever and require the serious cooperation of one or more friends.
Worse, ‘Winning’ requires you to win your very first (online) multiplayer match. Lose that match and you literally can’t unlock the Achievement without reinstalling the game. Completely stupid. Even single-player has a rather evil one: ‘Reinforcements did not come.’ It requires sinking five of the AI’s reinforcement ships in Super weapon mode. Unfortunately, for many of us the AI practically never selects the Reinforcements weapon. You can’t even tell if it has until you’ve fired at all the spaces the sixth ship could be in. I played for over an hour and saw zero reinforcement ships. Prepare for lengthy and pointless grinding if you ever hope to get it.
Battleship is a game that I can see casual players enjoying, while any serious player will eventually become bored and frustrated by its numerous flaws. I mean, the Salvo and Super weapon game modes are actually enjoyable if we put all other concerns aside. But the needlessly long load times, completely thoughtless and grindy Achievements, and buggy and undercooked online multiplayer all make playing for any serious length of time more work than recreation. If you must have an online Battleship game on your Windows Phone, free indie game King of the Sea is a much better choice.
Battleship costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Marketplace.