Andrew Bryant has 7 months to live, so checks out an indie Homeworld demake!
Babies are hard work, as anyone who has one can likely attest to. They also eat into your gaming time. The genius of Flotilla stems from the fact that this isn’t a problem…
You play an unseen yet hopelessly dashing debonair space captain type (with a twirly moustache and a space hamster familiar) who has just received some horrible news. With 7 months left to live, there’s nothing left to do but go out in a blaze of eclectic procedurally generated glory. Your end of days plays out in two core places, the galactic map and real-time turn-based 3D space combat battles (confusing, but explained later).
The galactic map charts your travels across the universe, jumping from planet to planet, each presenting you with a conundrum, gift or surprise. Said encounters are random beyond belief, be it encountering floppy-haired foppish assassins, winning a ship upgrade in a karaoke competition, gambling away your fleet in a casino, stumbling across a pair of fugitive feline drug smugglers or catching some treasure-hunting space-faring radioactive toucans stowing away in your hold.
An encounter can either work for or against you (predominantly the latter, if not always for reasons immediately apparent) and frequently ends up with you squaring up to two or more hostile ships in a case of space shooty bangs with a tactical twist. The scene bears more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned Homeworld, with all ships located in an area of 3D space littered with debris.
Moves are planned in advance and then executed in real-time (no time compression here) – Once committed, you’re a passenger for 30 seconds as your orders are carried out before time pauses again and adjustments can be made. Because you have no direct control over your ships for most of the time and no idea of your foes plans in advance, battles can be tense as a moment of genius pays off or your most treasured (aka. most upgraded) ship gets blasted due to your idiocy.
Flanking & pincer movements are key to the game, much more than brute force, as ships can only be efficiently destroyed by targeting the weaker armour on the rear and underside of ships. Unfortunately, the AI (or a human rival on a 360 pad) is also gunning for the same locations on your fleet, meaning battles can end up drawn out, especially when sides are evenly matched. Upgrades salvaged from previous battles and random encounters augment armour, speed and weapon output, but rarely make a difference in the grand scheme of things – often the most number of ships fielded wins due to attrition.
Landing a number of successive hits on hostiles adds to a ‘smite’ meter, allowing you to wipe out particularly annoying hostiles in a celestial blast, which is amusing, if a tad anti-climactic. Long drawn out battles aside, a Flotilla adventure isn’t a long game. A typical campaign can be blasted through in 10 minutes, topping out at ~25 minutes if you manage to last all 7 months on normal difficulty (each encounter equates to roughly 2 weeks). Hardcore mode extends your play time, but battles are significantly harder as your foes also have randomly adorned upgrades.
Flotilla is best played in incredibly short bursts – any attempt to derive any depth from the game will likely leave you bored and frustrated as ‘successful’ play-throughs end just as they seem to get going. Luckily the variety and comedy of the random encounters, coupled with the ‘just-one-more-go’ addictiveness, work in its favour, as it works on a fundamental throwaway level.
In closing, Flotilla is a turn-based real-time incredibly haphazard game featuring copious amounts of humour, pleasantly tactical battles and a crippled flamingo. It’s not for everyone, there’s very little depth outside of constantly restarting adventures in order to experience the deranged world Blendo Games have created and the tactical battles can be hard to grasp until you’ve been schooled repeatedly.
Still not sold? Try the demo, but if you have a couple of quid burning a hole somewhere and you feel the need for a space adventure game that can be played during your elevenses, then you can do a whole lot worse.