Battle Fleet 2 - Preview
Battle Fleet 2 is an upcoming naval combat game set in the Pacific during World War 2. It’s the sequel to a Mac and iPad game from 2012 and this new version is also coming to PC and Android this summer. Battle Fleet 2 is a turn-based strategy game, but not in the way you might expect. This isn’t simply clicking where you want your unit to go and then clicking on a target - this is an artillery game, the type of game popularised these days by the Worms series. And what better mobile artillery platform is there than a warship? This all makes a lot more sense than Worms wielding devastating weaponry, gorillas throwing bananas, and tanks that mysteriously can’t move - depending upon your currently preferred example of the artillery genre.
The main part of the game is the tactical combat itself between opposing fleets of ships. There are a variety of ships in the game, from destroyers and frigates up to cruisers, carriers and battleships. All of them have different movement ranges, weapons and other skills such as air strikes or air defence. You take it in turns to move your ships around the ocean and each ship can carry out one move order and as many attacks as it has guns facing an enemy vessel. You can move your ship by picking an angle within a limited range either side of its current facing and then setting how fast you want to move. The faster you go, the wider your turning circle which nicely simulates poor turning circles but not the difficulty ships have in changing speed. Ships are stationary at the end and start of their turn and can pick any speed for the next turn. There’s still a need to be very careful here because you can easily misjudge your turning circle at speed and ram one of your own ships or run aground.
Each turn you can fire any number of your weapons and you are free to do this before and after your ship has moved. Targeting is where the real challenge begins as there’s no computer-aided fire-control systems in your ships, so in true artillery game style, you’re setting your gun range by feeling alone and then trial and improvement. Things are made a little easier by the fact the game is played from a top down perspective and the vertical angle and power is out of your hands - you are basically just setting the range you want your shot to go. You are also aided by a 2000 metre marker line centred on your gun to help you judge the relative distances and a marker where your last shot landed. It also helps that despite the top down perspective, height is simulated in the game. Over-estimating the shot is better than under as you stand a chance of hitting high up on the target ship. However, this can also hamper you if your shot needs to clear one of your own ships that’s close to you or the target - friendly fire is possible!
Tactically, you have quite a few options at your disposal during a battle. Fog of war hides ships outside of visual range whilst your cruisers can launch recon aircraft for scouting. Carriers can launch air strikes against enemy ships whilst frigates can defend against them but are otherwise weak in ship to ship combat. Grouping ships together makes it easier to defend against aircraft and makes it easier for you to target an enemy ship with the rest of the group when one has found its range. On the flip side however, manoeuvring without crashing into each other becomes difficult and you give the enemy a chance of hitting one of your other ships with cannons accidentally if they miss what they were aiming at. The cannons on the ships can only fire in a certain arc so your ship facing matters and some ships can launch torpedoes. These do devastating damage and don’t need the range set accurately, but the downsides are that they have a limited range and firing angle as well as needing a clear line to the target. Ships are sunk when their health is reduced to zero - on top of that specific systems can be knocked out depending upon where the ship is hit including weapons, engines and rudder.
There are a few different game modes to get you into these battles. The custom battle is probably the main play mode where you select a map, build a fleet up to a certain cost value and then fight it out. You can also quick battle with a preselected fleet and either of these modes can be against the computer or in a hotseat or online multiplayer game. There is also a campaign mode for single player games but this is a bit lacking in the preview copy. You earn in-game currency for territories under your control and performance in battles and you can then spend this on new ships at ports. Your fleets can be moved seemingly any distance on the map during your turn and when two fleets meet a battle ensues. It does provide a reason for the battles, but only just. This is just a preview version and an accompanying warning that this game mode doesn’t save yet implies that this section of the game is still under development. It feels like it needs something else added, such as researching ship improvements or unit veterancy to give you a reason to keep playing.
Overall the presentation is generally good. The ships are detailed, the water looks great and the sound effects from your shots are very satisfying. Despite the small scale of the top-down view, it all combines to really draw you into believing that these are massive weapon platforms exchanging serious amounts of firepower. The UI is still in development but despite the lack of any tutorial help at the moment, it was all very clear and helpful once you work it out. The only real disappointment on this front is how bland land masses look, but that probably wasn’t a major consideration for a naval war game.
On the whole, this is shaping up to be a very satisfying entry into the artillery game genre for the right kind of player. As it stands, that player is one who would like the battles for the sake of how fun the battles are rather than to play through the campaign. Hopefully the campaign mode will be strengthened between now and release to give a reason to play for those who like a campaign rather than skirmishes. It’s worth noting that you will also need quite a lot of patience as the battles last a lot longer than a traditional artillery game. This is aimed at turn-based strategy fans more than those used to quick games of Worms. Those of you who are interested in this title can vote it up on Greenlight for release onto Steam when it is complete in the summer.