Unique and surprising, Flotilla is an oddity that should strike the interest of PC gamers. A turn-based space battle game, wrapped in an adventure involving fugitive cats, mad crocodiles and annoying yetis -- it's not a combination I ever expected to see. Created by Blendo Games, Flotilla features an adventure mode or skirmish mode, and can be played cooperatively or competitively online; thus, it offered more than I ever expected.
The adventure mode should be players' first port of call. Flotilla casts you as a captain of your own fleet, recently given just seven months to live. Consequently, you decide to go on the grandest adventure of your life. You'll start with just two ships, but through exploration and battle, you'll soon be at the head of your own armada. Flotilla takes typical RTS features, such as ship upgrades, and gives them adventure game twists. You select a planet from the Galaxy Map, and you'll be dealt a random event such as space cats who need rescuing. Should you choose to rescue the cats, you'll get an upgrade as a reward. But be careful, such decisions may come back to haunt you if you bump into the authorities.
Many events will lead directly into space battle: an attempted assassination, pirate attack or even the “cleansing” of a haunted ship you can pick up. This is where the meat of the game lies. A typical battle consists of two phases: the orders phase and action phase. The orders phase lets you give movement and target orders, which you then view in the action phase. The action phase lasts 30 seconds, before the orders phase starts over again. The aim here is, simply, to destroy the enemy fleet. However, your weapons will only damage enemies' bottom and rear armor, meaning you'll have to make good use of surrounding space to flank your enemies.
This is definitely a unique approach to combat, but can feel a little frustrating as the AI can rotate its ships to keep the heavy armor directed at your own ships, meaning you may well spend a lot of time “chasing” the vulnerable sections. Additionally, the camera can be a little tough to control, making issuing orders occasionally frustrating, though the system itself is simple, robust and, importantly, intuitive. The game also suggests a path for you to follow when you first select a ship. Although it won't offer any movement along the Y-axis, this suggestion is normally a very good choice, which unfortunately takes some of the decision making away from the player.
The game ends at the end of your seven month lifespan (unless you get killed first) creating an imaginative feature of the game: It doesn't outstay its welcome and gives a convenient way to balance out the scoreboards. There is a hardcore mode, however, for those who want to fully explore the galaxy.
Skirmish mode will be instantly familiar to strategy veterans; it literally lets you play a battle against either the computer or a friend. Fleets are customizable beforehand, so the game can be as big or small as you like. There is a fair range of different ships to keep things interesting, but not enough to offer tactical depth beyond flanking, which is a shame. Skirmish, traditionally, can be used to practice for the adventure mode, or to challenge friends online. It is no different here. The same issues affecting space battles in the adventure still apply here.
Graphically, the game is, well, unique (there's that word again). Battles take place in a sort of orange haze, which is reminiscent of the nebula effects of Homeworld, and gives the game a bizarre dreamlike quality. Ships themselves are nicely modeled, but don't actually have textures at all, which I personally find quite an attractive approach. Jettisoning the advanced graphics of modern games makes the game less cinematic and more like, well, a game. The sound, too, helps with this; rather than an orchestral score, with awesome sound effects, we get a piano led score, not dissimilar to what you might find in an indie movie. The sound effects themselves include odd noises like bells and whistles instead of explosions, which reinforces the idea that we're playing a game, not a movie.
The game can be frustrating while you get the hang of maneuvering your ships, the combat is a little shallow, and the bizarre approach to the storytelling and presentation is radical. However, if you let it, Flotilla can also be rewarding and entertaining. The approach is almost in direct opposition to the modern gaming norm, where everything must feel cinematic, authentic and real, and this will either be refreshing or frustrating.