The first Battle Fleet game was available on Apple platforms only, so gamers on other platforms can be excused if this is the first they’ve heard of it. It was something of a hit, reaching the number one spot on the Mac App Store at the time of its release. Now, the rest of us get to try it out in an all-improved sequel released on Windows and Android as well as Apple platforms. The game focuses on the naval war in the Pacific during World War 2, between the American and Japanese fleets. At its core, Battle Fleet 2 is a turn-based artillery game, with basic gameplay mechanics broadly similar to Worms.
For those unfamiliar with this genre of game, players take it in turns shooting at each other by setting the angle and power for their shot, seeing where that shot lands and then adjusting their next shots until they hit and destroy their opponent. However, Battle Fleet 2 does various things a bit different to other artillery games. The most obvious of which is that it is played from a top down perspective rather than the traditional side on view, so setting your firing angle is mostly just target selection - the shot power is the only variable to really worry about. There are a variety of ships, from small Frigates to the mighty Battleships and Carriers - all carrying different weapon layouts, and having different levels of manoeuvrability and health. Unlike most such games, you are also not limited to just one shot per turn. Each turret on your ship has a different firing arc and you are free to fire as many of them as you wish during your turn - either before moving and (or) after.
Battle Fleet 2 has surprisingly detailed shot and damage modelling. Despite being viewed from above, the altitude of the shells are modelled during their firing arc, and ships and land have height. This makes it a little easier to hit ships than you might first expect because if you err on the side of overpowering your shot slightly, you can hit high up on the ships side rather than having to land a shell precisely at its location in the water. The flipside to this is that you have to be careful if high structured parts of one of your other ships, such as its bridge, are close up alongside the cannon you are firing from. It is important which gun you are firing from, as shots are taken from the guns actual position on the ship and so ones further back on the ship from your target need a little more power. With regards to the damage, whilst ships are sunk simply by reducing a health bar to zero, it does matter where the shot hits them. This is not just because of the impressive visual representation of the damage the ship has suffered, various systems and weapon hardpoints can actually be disabled by direct hits, reducing the ship’s fighting capability and manoeuvrability.
All this heavy ordnance is rained down upon your opponent with ease by virtue of the game’s simple interface. It’s just a matter of selecting the weapon you want, clicking on a target to set the angle and dragging a slider to set the shot power. To aid you in your first shot, a circle with a radius of 2000 meters is overlayed on the map, centered on your selected gun. If your target is on that line, then set your shot power to 2000 and fire. Otherwise, you need to use your judgement over the relative distance between you, the circle and the target - and it’s surprising how quickly you can get good at judging that. Before the end of your first game you’ll probably be hitting frequently with your second round, after a first experimental, range-finding, shot. Once you’ve homed in on a target, you can fire a salvo which fires all of your guns in range and within the appropriate firing arc at the same time. As well as looking impressive and saving you time, this has the added advantage of automatically compensating for the different physical positions of the guns on your ship.
Ship movement is carried out using a similar interface, you simply set the angle you want to move, which is limited to a certain number of degrees either side of your current facing, and the speed to go at. The game does a good job of simulating the poor turning circles of massive warships, although to keep things simple, it doesn’t worry about speed differences from one turn to the next. You have to be very careful manoeuvring a group of ships in close proximity to each other. Different classes have different speeds and it is all too easy to ram one of your ships into another - doing a lot of damage to both. You can even run aground if you’re not careful.
Beyond the basic cannon turrets on your ships, of which there are different variants with differing ranges and damage, there are numerous other things to mix up the play. You can use torpedoes which will hit anything in their path so the range is less important. Carriers can launch airstrikes which have an unlimited range and so can be carried out whilst the ship is in a position of relative safety. These can be stopped by AA guns on ships and by your own carriers carrying out air defence missions. In the campaign mode, there are also coastal defences and airfields which serve as land-based turrets and carriers respectively. Finally, there are optional crates which can be picked up by your ships which give you a single use bonus to repair your ships or harm those of your opponent in a variety of ways. A future patch is even going to add submarine warfare into the mix.
There are a few different ways to play the game, both single player and cross-platform multiplayer. You can start a custom battle which allows each player to build their own fleet up to a certain fleet cost, with better ships being more expensive. You can even customise which guns each of your ships have if you so desire. Or you can start a quick battle which randomly selects a fleet for each player. In each case, you can choose from a variety of maps containing Pacific islands to battle it out on. And finally, there is a basic single player campaign you can play through. This somewhat lacks depth but clearly isn’t intended to be the main selling point of the game, but rather an alternate way to present the tactical battles with a bit of context behind them, compared to the more typical skirmish mode.
The campaign sees the Pacific theatre divided into a number of zones, each worth a certain value. It begins with each side owning half the territories and a number of ships divided into small fleets. Your ships can move one zone each turn and if two fleets meet in the same zone, a battle ensues. You can typically only see the number of ships your opponent has in a zone but not the class so you can never be quite sure who has the edge at the start of a fight. At the end of each turn, you earn prestige based on the value of territories owned and the battles you have won. This can be spent on new ships but you are unlikely to be able to afford enough ships during a game to greatly affect the outcome of war, it will just give you an edge. This sounds limited, but in a game where units are few in number and powerful, it actually just prevents the game unbalancing. There are a few strategic choices open to you - such as whether to consolidate your forces into a big fleet or spread out, conquering territory but risk losing ships to an overwhelming enemy force. You also need to ensure you keep hold of a harbour as this is where you build and repair your ships. Finally, if you’re defending a territory with land in it, you may be helped by allied coastal fortresses and airfields. When it comes down to it though, your prowess during the naval battles, and your manoeuvring of your fleets around the map to ensure you have a strong enough fleet in the right place for those battles, is more important than your strategic choices.
There’s not much to fault this game on, other than a campaign mode that lacks some depth, although that isn’t really the main draw of the game. The naval battles are what you’ll play this for and they are quite simply just incredibly satisfying and fun. The fact that your artillery platforms in Battle Fleet 2 are massive warships weighing tens of thousands of tons serves to make things that much more impressive than other examples of the genre. The clean, simple to use interface makes playing a joy, whilst the sound effects and the precise damage modelling bring the fights to life. For anyone with the slightest interest in artillery-based games or naval strategy games, this is a must buy, especially considering its low asking price.