There is simply no denying Survios’ pedigree as a virtual reality developer, with all of their previous releases across both original and established IP proving to be of a high quality and offering an assortment of diverse experiences for players to indulge in. They’ve kept busy too, and keep bringing new titles to all VR platforms with the eagerly anticipated The Walking Dead: Onslaught due to launch later in 2019. Before that though, we have Battlewake – an original virtual reality pirate-fuelled jaunt that sees you battling with or against other players in action-packed escapades at sea.
The concept of Battlewake is simple: you’re the captain of a pirate ship and you’ve got to navigate your way through each objective that’s thrown your way, all whilst taking down any rival ships in the process. You can do this using two Move controllers for extra immersion, though players will be glad to see that using the Dual Shock controller is an option too – whilst it’s not as neat as having the freedom of two hands, it can make controlling the ship a little easier.
Players hold onto the wheel and turn it in order to navigate their ship left or right, with a compass placed in front of you to show which direction you’re turning. If you need to make a quick and sharp turn, you can also grab one of the anchors that are placed beside you. The ship constantly navigates forward, so all you’ve got to worry about is making sure that it keeps going in the right direction by spinning the wheel. That’s when using the Move controllers though; Dual Shock players can just use the analogue stick to control their movement, which is a heck of a lot easier (even if it isn’t quite as satisfying).
Naturally, being a pirate, you’re armed with some decent weaponry on your ship, with the likes of cannons, machine guns and flame throwers to be found. Fortunately, using them is simple, with the player simply having to point towards the direction that they want to aim and pressing the trigger button to shoot. A white cursor will show the direction you’re aiming and the trajectory when using cannons, so it’s fairly easy to hit accurate shots too. However, you won’t get to choose which weapon is used; instead, it is based on the position of the ship you’re attacking and what weapon is nearest. It makes sense, but it also may encourage you to try to change up your own ship’s position when approaching an enemy in order to utilise your strongest weapons. We’ve all seen Pirates of the Caribbean, so we all know side cannons are the best…
Given that you’re taking on the role of a vicious pirate captain, you can expect to have a few extra tricks up your sleeve. There are four different characters to choose from in total, with each unlocking as you progress through the campaign. Whilst their aesthetic and ship choice changes up, they also each have different abilities. Some of these are simple things such as being able to blast ahead at a fast speed, but they also come with ultimate abilities that can deal a WHOLE lot of damage; these range from summoning a deadly typhoon to rip through the sea and blast rival ships away or even calling upon your friendly-neighbourhood kraken to dish out some vicious attacks on your foes. Not only do these attacks look bloody brilliant in virtual reality, but they go a long way in helping make the player really feel like they’re a part of this fantastical pirating adventure.
Everything comes together nicely to make for an experience that is pretty simple in design, but ultimately very satisfying. It’s all very pretty too, with plenty of vibrant locales to battle across (my favourite was the one with a huge volcano overlooking the sea) and visuals that actually look pretty sharp despite the PlayStation VR’s limited resolution. I have heard that there is more visual detail on the higher end virtual reality headsets, but I don’t think PlayStation VR gamers will feel let down by the Battlewake’s presentation.
The best place to find your sea legs in Battlewake is in the Campaign, where you’ll work across four adventures made up of five levels each as all four captains. Admittedly, the campaigns themselves are simple in design, with basic objectives in place such as reaching certain locations or taking out all enemies. However, they do give you a good chance to get used to Battlewake’s mechanics and all of the different environments you’ll encounter, whilst it’s also a lot of fun to play in co-op with a friend.
As you play, you’ll level up each captain and earn gold to upgrade your ships – it’s mostly a case of simply improving stats and so on though, so there’s not a whole lot of intricacy to the system. It does give you something to work towards though, whether that’s when playing through the single player or multiplayer portion of the game.
Multiplayer is where you’re probably going to spend most of your time in Battlewake, with the two different game modes offering both a co-operative and competitive experience.
Warfare sees you working with other players to complete a set of different objectives. I found that Battlewake was especially fun when playing co-operatively and there was a real sense of camaraderie to be found as we’d yell out instructions and work together, so I had a lot of fun in the mode. Admittedly, after an hour or so of play you’ll find that there isn’t a huge variety to your objectives, but there’s a good time to be had and your allies can be unpredictable so you won’t mind too much.
Plunder is where the competitive element kicks in, with up to ten players facing off in a raging battle at sea. If you get a full game, this can be incredibly frantic – in a good way, of course. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see endless cannons blasting above the waves, all whilst frantically making quick turns to avoid incoming fire (or icebergs – no Titanic fiasco here please) and seeing the likes of typhoons and krakens cause mayhem? Being a part of it all is a blast, and thanks to the simple nature of the game it’s really easy to get good at the game quickly. Every match I’ve played has seen a fairly even playing field and it’s made for some really exciting showdowns.
Despite how fun it actually is to play, it’s in the multiplayer where Battlewake shows some of its weaknesses. Firstly, with just the two game modes, there isn’t a whole lot of variety to be found. I have no doubt that Survios will bring more to the game in the future, but it’s easy to see everything that the game really has to offer in just a few hours of playing.
The second problem is the fact that the matchmaking in the game isn’t perfect. I’ve had the game for around a week now, and I’ve struggled to find a good selection of players to play with at times – in fact, there’ve been times when I’ve found no one at all. That was pre-release and with the recent release of the game in Europe, I have managed to find more players to play with, so it may not be too big of a problem right now; however, I do have the worry that as the player base dwindles, it might become harder and harder to actually find matches online. Tying in to my last point, additional content could easily see players return, but whether or not a community forms around Battlewake will determine just how successful it will be in the long run. There’s no cross-play between platforms either, so you don’t even have the whole virtual reality community to depend on.
Much like every other Survios game, Battlewake has a real air of quality to it that helps set it apart from most other virtual reality releases. The gameplay mechanics are simple but very satisfying, blasting across the visually impressive open-sea on your ship is immersive and neat, whilst the showdowns with enemies are action-packed thanks to the myriad of attacking options at your disposal. It’s just an impressive pirate-fuelled adventure that gamers will have a blast playing.
My only worry is the multiplayer focus. Whilst Battlewake is a lot of fun to play both co-operatively and competitively, I’ve already struggled to find others to play with at times. There isn’t a whole lot of content in the game either, so it may struggle to maintain an online community if new additions aren’t added in the future. If Survios do continue to support the game and ensure players have plenty to see though, Battlewake could be a game you’ll find yourself coming back to time and time again in the future.
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive