Game Reviews

Battle Fleet 2

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| Battle Fleet 2
Battle Fleet 2
| Battle Fleet 2

I'll bet that every last one of you has played a game, like Worms, where you have to guess the distance to a target and try and calculate the right range and shot power to hit it.

It's old hat. But what if this mechanic wasn't part of some goofy invertebrate slaughtering game? What if it was used in a setting where it actually made sense? Like the Pacific naval battles of World War 2.

What if, grafted on top of the usual move and guess and shoot mechanics there was something else? Perhaps a strategic overview of that conflict where you can play either as the US or Japan, jousting across the waves for control of key islands in battles that will shape the world?

If those ideas sound like they could breathe life into a tired genre, then Battle Fleet 2 is for you. And if they don’t, you might want to check it out anyway. It's pretty fun.

Order of battle

You can play one-off battles by yourself or with other players. Then there's there the big single player campaign which effectively breaks down into a bunch of interrelated scraps. It's these encounters which form the meat of the game.

You get some points with which to build a fleet of different ship types, from swift but vulnerable Frigates to awe-inspiring Battleships.

Then you customise their weapon load-out from a roster including cannons, anti-aircraft guns, and torpedoes, all of which have specific strengths and weaknesses.

Your ships are then deployed randomly on the wide blue ocean, perhaps with some islands and land bases to keep things interesting. It's down to you to down to you to maneuver and fire with your fleet to take out the enemy.

At first this seems like it's largely a matter of luck and guesswork. But spend some time with the game and you'll find it requires a surprising level of tactics and skill.

Large ships aren't the most maneuverable things in the world, and the way their fore and aft armament hard points are positioned makes it tough to bring maximum firepower down on a single target. It takes experience and cunning to make the most out of your miniature armada.

Going it alone

Battle Fleet 2 bills itself largely as a multiplayer experience, but the campaign mode offers plenty of challenge for people who prefer to sail solo.

The overarching strategy adds plenty to the game. You're never sure about the position of enemy forces unless you waste valuable recon flights over their water. Battles include land-based airfields and gun batteries, and you're constantly worrying about your ships accumulating damage over repeated battles.

Ultimately though, there's something unsatisfying about playing a game with a heavy guessing element against a computer opponent. You know that it knows all the information to hit you every single time, and that its guesswork is a charade.

Doubly so because the AI seems almost wilfully obtuse at times, missing or switching targets after a decent strike.

As a result the game really does come to life when played against another person. The designers knew this, of course, and provided both a hotseat mode and a smoothly functional online matchup system.

Sadly there's no asynchronous play: you'll have to sit out the entire 15-60 minute battle or concede. But you'll probably be too engrossed to even notice the time passing.

Fog of war

Sadly, there's a large fly in this otherwise excellent ointment - the almost complete lack of tutorials or instructions.

The campaign mode has an inviting-looking "how to play" button, but it really doesn't explain very much, only covering the first strategic layer. Figuring out how the tactical aspects work takes almost as much guessing as ranging your shots.

But a little experimentation should sort things out.
Once you've got to grips with how everything interlocks, and understood there's some clever decision making underneath all the estimating, Battle Fleet 2 stacks up very nicely.

It's a small gem, formed largely from the discarded remnants of much older games, but it's precious nonetheless.

Battle Fleet 2

A neat reworking of classic mechanics, Battle Fleet 2 is a surprisingly fun modern package
Matt Thrower
Matt Thrower
Matt is a freelance arranger of words concerning boardgames and video games. He's appeared on IGN, PC Gamer, Gamezebo, and others.