Tactical simulators helped to grow the early PC gaming community back in the 90′s, they dominated the sales charts for years and I think it’s fair to say that games like Panzer Commander had a huge hand in making gaming what it is today. Turn based strategy games have been in decline in the current climate of adrenaline fuelled action set pieces, epic role players and MMO’s.
Capital J Media are working to change that with their new game Battle Fleet 2, the sequel to their hit game Battle Fleet. Battle Fleet 2 is a great “Back to basics” 3D top down tactical simulator set in the Pacific theatre of World War 2.
You will start by picking your side in the conflict, you can choose to play as the reeling United States or the tenacious Empire of Japan. Both sides play out in the same way with the same unit types and weapons with very little distinguishing gameplay on either side. While it would have been nice to have special units for each fleet it isn’t a deal breaker.
I was impressed with the how good the water looked on the PC version of the game and the splash effects as shells hit the water adds a nice sense of dimension. The ships, while slightly basic, look entirely passable and will take slight visual damage as they lose health. Seeing a fleet of battered and smoking ships limping from a battle makes this title feel less like a point and click mobile game and more like the old school turn based tactical game that it is.
The campaign is set in a classic “World map” style and is divided into different areas. Your main goal is a simple concept: eliminate the enemy. You can build new ships for your fleet by using Prestige Points, these are awarded at the beginning of each turn or by the much more enjoyable method of sinking enemy ships. Building ships is a straight forward affair with a standard one turn build time, all you have to do is pick the class of ship (Frigate, Destroyer, Cruiser, Battleship and Carrier) and choose the weapon loadout. This may well be one of the most important factors Battle Fleet 2 will throw at you and I found that having a diverse fleet was the key to success, I played one game thinking I was being clever and sending my fleet that only had torpedo launchers against enemy ships that simply blew me out of the water before I got close enough to use them. Trial and error is definitely needed as the game lacks a tutorial and lets you simply fend for yourself. A tutorial option to familiarise us with the different abilities would have been preferable over the help boxes that pop up throughout the game. The controls are easy enough to learn but are difficult to master, you will need a keen eye and a steady hand if you intend to prevail.
During combat missions you can zoom in to see your individual ships and see the near misses in a good level of detail but I found that I spent a lot of the time in combat zoomed out to a tactical gridded map. The level of choice you have is admirable and it’s your decision as to how to play, I favoured the gridded view as it was easier for me to judge the distances for my shots.
Once again movement is straight from the classics and you can move your ships one map area per turn this will include attacking an enemy fleet. When you enter combat with an enemy fleet you are transported to the combat map, these range from open water (my favourite), island or coastal maps. Picking where to fight the enemy is key as Battle Fleet 2 can be very unforgiving, ships can easily be worn down by coastal gun emplacements or airstrikes from nearby airfields and I lost more than one ship by simply running aground.
I really like the old school mechanics that Battle Fleet 2 throws at you, standard movement choice apply and your turning arc and the distance you can travel each turn will vary on the class of ship you have but when it comes to firing on enemy ships you have to do everything yourself. There are no dice rolls at the click of a button, you have to aim your guns and choose the power of the shot, the more power the further the shot will go. It takes a good bit of getting used to and it is easy to misjudge a curtail shot that can, and has, lost me the battle.
I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment every time I successfully sunk an enemy ship with a full broadside and I found myself wanting to high five anyone when the last enemy ship was sent to Davy Jones’ locker. For such a basic game it does a fantastic job of instilling a sense of importance to your actions and I have to applaud Capital J Media for a job well done. Visually Battle Fleet 2 isn’t the most imposing game I have ever played but it certainly puts substance before style. There is a surprising amount of depth to the combat and adapting your play style to accommodate your weapon loadouts will be the key to success.
I really enjoyed the single player and have found myself going back to start it again and with randomized skirmish maps there’s tons of replay value to be had.
Battle Fleet 2 is available on PC, Mac iPad and android and one of the most exciting things about Battle Fleet 2 is that is boasts fully cross platform multiplayer. Unfortunately at the time of writing the game hadn’t been officially released so there were no multiplayer sessions for me to play but I see no reason why tackling a human player won’t be even more thrilling than the AI.