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Flotilla (Xbox 360) artwork

Flotilla (Xbox 360) review

"I want you to understand just how inept a tactician I am so that youíll understand the magnitude of my meaning when I say Flotilla makes me feel like Iím in Ender's Game. You wonít spend all day playing it, but you might find you come back every few weeks for a new adventure, and to kick a smug deerís ass one more time."

I am a tactical dunce.

I can just about battle through the early stages of a turn-based strategy like Advance Wars but fall quite dramatically on my comically contorted face as soon as the enemy commanders stop taking to the field blindfolded and hung over. Donít even get me started on real-time strategies. I got about three or four missions into Red Alert before I started crying tears of mortal terror and burning shame. Only last year, Dawn of War kicked my ass with a boot the size of a small cottage. If I had been left in command of the Light Brigade, their charge would have plunged them off a cliff before even leaving camp.

Thereís a reason Iím telling you this. I want you to understand just how inept a tactician I am so that youíll understand the magnitude of my meaning when I say Flotilla makes me feel like Iím in Ender's Game.

You begin the game as an experienced captain of a tiny flotilla (of course) of two spacefaring warships. You have only seven months to live before a mysterious disease/parasite/exploding moose finally saps the last of your strength/eats the last of your spleen/showers you in intestinal moosery. Itís not clear whatís going on, except that you will be dead.

As a bold space explorer and/or pirate you want to have a final few adventures before the end, so you take your pair of destroyers out into the wild vastness of space once more. This is the back story, and itís really of no importance other than providing an excuse for your encounters and justifying a limit to the number of them you can have. A full Flotilla adventure usually runs to around the 30-60 minute mark, but theyíre randomly generated so itís easy to replay whenever youíre in the mood.

Flotilla comes in two parts. One is the framing bit, where you select planets from a map of space and speed your ships over to them to read an often silly encounter. Sometimes a haughty royalist deer will deny you entry to his peopleís territory. Sometimes a crazed hippo will blindly open fire on you, or shady penguin crime lords will seek your head as payback for disrupting their operations. Itís all a bit Douglas Adams, and itís quite charming as long as you get in the spirit.

The meat of the game jars with this a bit. Defy the haughty deer, defend against the hippo, and stare down the penguins Ė battle must ensue. This is where the gameís subtitle, ĎOrbital Battleship Maneuversí, comes into play. Unlike the adventuring parts, the battles are serious, strategic affairs that play out in stark orange against the depths of space, full of gauges, trajectory arcs and flat plane grids.

When I first played the trial version of Flotilla, this was what put me off. I played a one-off skirmish, and the whole thing was so confusing that I deleted the demo and barely gave it another thought. The problem is that Flotilla doesnít explain itself very well. Itís actually quite simple once you realise whatís going on, but to a non-strategic person with only the eight-minute trial period to work it out, it might as well have been a thousand graphs of insect mating statistics for all the appeal it had.

It was only months later, when someone on a forum mentioned loving it, that I went back to give it another try. Armed with a little foreknowledge about the key bits of combat, I found I really enjoyed it.

The adventure sections mostly just serve to get you into battle, along with the odd non-combat incident that gives you chance to gain more ships or trade some upgrades. The aim in each battle is to eliminate the opposing fleet, but it isnít as simple as just landing hits on them. These engagements are turn-based but simultaneous Ė you give orders to your fleet, the enemy commander does the same, then all ships carry out their orders simultaneously for thirty seconds in slow, balletic near-silence.

This unusual format isnít the only thing you have to cope with; orientation of ships is vitally important, and can decide whether yours cruise away victorious or get ripped apart. Every ship is heavily armoured on the front and top, but very lightly armoured at the back and underneath. They donít all have the same weapons though, and some have the advantage of range while others can rip right through your armour.

True to the idea of space combat, ships donít just power forward; they make a quick shove for momentum then spin and roll as directed, in order to present their strongest defence to the enemy.

To win battles in Flotilla, you must predict how your opponents will move, how fast and how far, which of your ships they will shoot at, and manoeuvre to attack their weak spots while not exposing your own. Baiting them into moving the way you want is an effective strategy, but a risky one. More than once Iíve lost ships just by underestimating the speed of a beam frigate. Flotilla requires some thought and a little luck.

When things do work out, and you manage to obliterate the assorted anthropomorphic animals that want you dead, Flotilla hits its peak. I have had some really awful battles where I was torn apart in a couple of rounds, but Iíve also had some spectacular victories. Itís deeply satisfying to face down a fleet of five powerful warships with just two tiny destroyers, and emerge victorious with not a single casualty. This is why Flotilla makes me feel like Ender. Despite my traditionally appalling strategy skills, something in this game makes sense to me.

For people who arenít very experienced or comfortable with strategy games, I can heartily recommend Flotilla. Donít be put off by the illusion of complexity; once you realise that itís all about rotating your ships to keep them safe, the whole thing becomes easy to understand. Those of a tactical bent might find the game a little easy, but there is a hardcore mode that I havenít dared attempt, and I think the lighthearted tone of the encounters and the shortness of each complete game makes it a lot of fun for an occasional play regardless of expertise. I donít often recommend indie games priced at 400 points, but Flotilla has earned it.

You wonít spend all day playing it, but you might find you come back every few weeks for a new adventure, and to kick a smug deerís ass one more time.

SamildanachEmrys's avatar
Community review by SamildanachEmrys (March 09, 2012)

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If you enjoyed this Flotilla review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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SamildanachEmrys posted March 10, 2012:

I just corrected some problems initially caused by copy/pasting straight from my blog.
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EmP posted March 10, 2012:

Your screens look a little oddly-placed; I would perhaps centralise the screenshots with a centre tag, and put the boxart to the left of the initial paragraphs, but thatís your call. Years of faffing around with Masterís asset work has made me overly critical.

But cool review; I played the hell out of Flotilla after Will spoke highly of it and, even though I am a bit of a stratnerd, enjoyed the same aspects of combat as you. The setting was what really sold me though. Oh, those rambunctious rasta-cats!

Itís also cool to see more XBLA reviews on the site. A while ago, I tried to supply a steady stream of reviews to the site, but time has been unkind to my efforts. Itís a direction Iíd like to see the site go in. Perhaps one day Iíll find the time to pick it up again.
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zippdementia posted March 10, 2012:

Yeah, I noticed Sammi's been writing some really good XBLA reviews on his blog and I'm glad he decided to carry them over here. Keep it up, Sammi!
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SamildanachEmrys posted March 10, 2012:

Thanks guys. I should point out that it was Zipp's idea for me to submit this here.

I did notice the formatting issue with the pictures, but it tested my meagre HTML skills to the limit just posting them at all. I have no idea how to centre them.
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EmP posted March 10, 2012:

I have played with your screens a little. In payment, I demand more XBLI reviews!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 10, 2012:

Speaking of which, I need to jump on that Don't Die Dateless, Dummy! review.

Speaking of which, I need to jump on buying Don't Die Dateless, Dummy!
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SamildanachEmrys posted March 11, 2012:

Thanks, EmP.

Joe, you really don't want to do that.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 11, 2012:

No, I don't, but I must. I'll be haunted forever if I don't.
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zippdementia posted March 11, 2012:

You mean hunted forever if you don't.

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