Battlewake review (PSVR)

Battlewake, Survios’ nautical arena battler, has arrived on both PC-based platforms and Playstation VR. We took to the high seas with a PSVR headset.

We’ve talked before about the excellent track record that Survios has when it comes to VR, with Raw Data, Sprint Vector and Creed all being among the best games you can currently get on any VR platform. For that reason alone we were looking forward to Battlewake, and it’s also why we were eager to meet up with Survios and have Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer James Iliff guide us through a hands on demo of the upcoming The Walking Dead game (Onslaught) last month – that preview is here.

Battlewake is a little different than some of Survios’ other titles in how it’s somehow more accessible than a game like Sprint Vector or Raw Data is, and thus more newcomer-friendly. This was somewhat surprising to us considering Survios’ track record and the fact that Battlewake simulates ship-based (pirate) combat – which we imagine is highly involved experience in real life.

In Battlewake, you assume the role of a pirate captain in charge of his own ship, and a good starting point is the single player campaign that is comprised of twenty different missions equally spread across the story of four different captains. At the end of each captain’s five-level mini campaign, you have to defeat a bigger boss (which can also be a land-based fort), but the mechanics stay largely the same throughout the entire campaign – which can also be played in co-op with a friend and lasts for about two hours.

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Blowing your opponents out of the water is the main goal in Battlewake, and it’s done through a combination of navigation and combat – though the latter isn’t as involved as we would have guessed or liked. We’ll start with navigation though, which is both fun and intuitive as you grab hold of a large wheel to help you steer your ship towards sometimes rough waters. Depending on the arena you’re in or the positions of other ships, you might also have a need to turn the (anchor) handles on your sides for tighter turning, which is especially handy when you’re trying to get out of the way of an iceberg or two. The environment plays a role, and ranges from stormy tropics to iceberg-filled waters and from dense swamps to an active volcano.

Navigating these waters and getting in position is fun and works great in VR, but you’ll also need to come out victorious. Battle, however, is a largely automated affair where you pretty much just point out a target and your crew will proceed to fire in its direction. You’re not directly loading or aiming your cannons, but the position of your ship does matter and this has to do with where weapons are mounted on your ship. Longer range weapons are usually on the front, big cannons on the side and close range weapons (like a flame thrower) on the back.

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Playing will unlock money you can use to upgrade your various ships as well, which mostly helps in terms of the online multiplayer portion. Don’t expect to install new parts or weapons by the way – you’re just boosting your health bar and the amount of damage you can deal. What’s nice is that the upgrades you apply through the single player mode also carry over into the multiplayer portion, where you can mix and match captains and ships for original combinations.

The most familiar multiplayer mode is deathmatch-like, and this is where your special abilities really come into play. While the single player player portion can be completed fairly easily, using special attacks is crucial in multiplayer – and they include things like summoning a giant kraken. Which, as you can imagine, is an awesome thing to do and not so great to have happen to you. Access to these attacks can be gained by steering your ship towards glowing beacons, which are of course very much sought after by other players as well. This makes the action more frantic than the single player game is, also because the enemy AI in single player mode isn’t very challenging. A more mission-based and cooperative mode is available in Warfare, though we weren’t able to try this with four familiar players yet so our attempts turned into a bit of an uncoordinated affair.

Despite its (long-term) focus being on multiplayer, Battlewake doesn’t step into the pitfall of relying on enough players being online to get enjoyment out of it. The single player gameplay, while fun, feels somewhat shallow though, and the real meat is in the multiplayer portion. I would have enjoyed a more elaborate approach there (for instance one where you work together, Star Trek Bridge Crew style), but Battlewake’s an easy-to-approach, almost arcade-like experience instead.

Score: 7.0/10

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