I think when we were younger, playing video games and watching movies, we didn’t really have any standards. Everybody has that one movie or video game they adored when they were younger, but after playing or watching it again years later, they realize what was awesome when they were seven is not necessarily awesome now. For me, that game is Battleship: Surface Thunder.
Perhaps the reason I liked the game so much back then was the way I obtained it. Here in Canada, General Mills had a promotion where they’d package free PC games with their cereals. For a young kid in the early 2000s with no Internet, free PC games in cereal boxes were like a dream come true. I was excited when I got Surface Thunder because at that point the only game I’d gotten from the promotion was Roller Coaster Tycoon, which was (and still is) a great game for the PC. I was impressed with the game when I got it. It had everything a seven year old boy could want: guns, explosions, power-ups, planes, boats, it was like sensory overload! Now, it’s worth mentioning that at the time the only video game system I had was a PC, and the majority of the games I had up until that point were Fisher Price educational games, so this game just blew my mind. But, how well does it hold up to my modern game standards? Let’s find out.
The game has 2 main modes: Classic Battleship and Arcade Battleship. Classic Battleship is the good old game of Battleship that you know and love, with a few tweaks. You can actually have up to 4 players per game, computer or human, and you can even play online over a LAN connection. This is the biggest reason to get the game: it has the best version of Battleship I’ve ever played. But, that’s not the main game mode, which is Arcade Battleship.
The Arcade mode has you controlling the Battleship from a third person POV completing various objectives while progressing to a whirlpool at the end of the level. These objectives generally open gates that block your route and require you to either save a certain number of lifeboats or destroy x number of y enemies. Your boat is armed with guns, obviously, and you use the WASD keys to shoot. What makes the combat interesting is that you have more guns on the sides of your ship and fewer on the front and back. This means you have to deliberate between shooting out enemies from a safe distance, but slowly and accurately, or going beside them with guns a-blazing and a higher chance of taking more damage. This most often leads to you grinding the side of your ship with another ship while your guns blaze away, essentially destroying all strategy in combat.
The two areas where this game succeeds are in enemies and power-ups. You fight a large array of naval vessels, including destroyers, battleships, small gunboats, submarines, transport ships, kamikaze boats and even boats that spew fire. You also have to contend with a few varieties of aircraft, and different kinds of turrets. Enemies spawn from docks, shipyards, and airports which you can destroy. When I was younger, I loved just destroying every last destructible object in the environment, and even years later there is still some simple joy in doing this.
Of course, fighting these enemies would be boring without some stellar power-ups, and the game has a bumper crop of them. You have your generic health and extra life power-ups, but the real fun comes with the weapon pick-ups you can get. Perhaps the best one is the submarine power-up, which turns your Battleship into a submarine, letting you avoid most enemies and obstacles, such as icebergs.
Despite these good points, in practically every other area the game underwhelms. Graphically, it’s disappointing for a game from 2000. The model of your ship looks pretty good, but everything else looks weak. The enemy models look mediocre at best, and the environmental textures are just painful with absolutely horrendous anti-alias.
The sound isn’t much better. Many of the effects sound like cheap royalty-free sounds that any 10 year old could use. The explosions are competent, and I found it funny when I’d get a health pack and hear my crew yelling ‘Hallelujah’, but other than that, the sound effects are bland and forgettable. The music is a bit better, with none of it being annoying. You won’t have a problem listening to it in-game, but by themselves, the tracks aren’t anything special.
You really don’t get a lot of game for your money either. You can beat the arcade mode in less than 5 hours, and except for the Classic Battleship mode, there is nothing to keep you playing. The Arcade mode felt like the right length, but perhaps another game mode or two would’ve made this more enjoyable.
Overall, this is a game best left forgotten. I was excited to get it after not playing for so long, and for the first hour or so I enjoyed myself. But once the nostalgia wore off, I was faced with a bland, banal licensed action game.
If, for some reason you’re interested in getting it, it can be hard to find. I got my copy from a garage sale for 25 cents, and I firmly believe that’s how much it’s worth.
Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!
– By Nick