Preview: Battlewake

While the reality of being a pirate wasn’t anywhere near as adventurous and fun as we’d like to think – scurvy anyone? – that hasn’t stopped all sorts of fanciful tales and stories emerging, creating a litany of books, films and other entertainment media. Pirate themed experiences have begun to find their way to virtual reality (VR) headsets, with Survios showcasing its latest effort Battlewake during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2019.

Battlewake is very much an arcade style experience that doesn’t pretend to be anything else other fighting action involving boats, sea monsters and other pirates. It will have co-op and multiplayer modes, but for the demo during E3 this was a chance to see several single-player missions from the campaign in action.

VRFocus calls Battlewake an arcade-style experience mainly due to the control scheme and fast/frantic nature of the gameplay. Loot can be collected so that you can upgrade parts of your ship, improving the cannons or the ships ramming capabilities, yet from what was shown so far there’s not a lot more depth at present. This isn’t a role-playing game (RPG) so don’t expect to start naming your character and become a scourge of the Caribbean.

You are a sea lord, just one of four fixed characters, each with their own special abilities. Two were available so VRFocus tried Diego whose main ability was the creation of a giant water spout which could suck in enemies and cause major damage. Like all massive character abilities, this took time to charge, activated when a medallion appears on your glowing arm tattoo.

As this is VR Survios has ensured Battlewake’s control scheme for the boats is very hands-on and semi-realistic. As the captain, you’re at the wheel of your ship, which can be grabbed by either putting your hand near the wheel or pressing the grip button near it. The latter certainly seemed more intuitive, although there were points using either method where the virtual hand came unstuck from the wheel – slightly annoying when bringing the boat around.

Additionally, there was a boost button and the far more handy ‘hard turn’, activated by dropping the anchor (club hauling is the closest nautical term). Either side of the character are two handles depending on if you want to quickly turn left or right. These certainly proved invaluable for tricky manoeuvres such as encroaching rocks when your attention was elsewhere. The technique was handy in battle, yet due to the way the weapon systems work in Battlewake, it wasn’t always needed.

Your armaments on Battlewake are suitably over-the-top and full 360. Unlike traditional boats at the time which had to turn to aim the cannons, in Battlewake it’s as easy as pointing and shooting, no matter where the enemy was. Naturally, the best weapons were the side cannons having the longest range and most damage. A nice big aiming arc points out the side of the boat making hits easy – maybe too easy. Great for enemy boats, these are ideal for taking down land-based fortifications which started the demo.

Should an enemy pirate be directly in front then there were two options, use that boost mentioned to ram them, or if the distance was too great some small yet highly useful front cannons where available. Or, if a ship is at the rear then the mortar cannon with its massive range then came into play. What’s nice about the system was the fluidity. There are no menus or buttons to press to activate each particular weapons system, merely turning your body in the right direction initiates the correct weapon.

The missions were all about blowing stuff up as you might expect. Apart from the fortification to start things off, all the rest were boats. From general pirate ships and slightly tougher mid-bosses to cargo ships filled with gold, it was a non-stop barrage of fights so that there’s never a dull moment. The demo then finished with a boss which wasn’t a sea monster, unfortunately, but a reasonably tough yet rather generic looking pirate vessel.

At the moment the demo did everything right, providing a thrilling experience for roughly 15 minutes. Battlewake featured all the gloss you’d expect from a Survios title, with easy to use controls and exciting gameplay. With a 20-chapter story campaign hopefully the videogame isn’t too repetitive, and there’s still the multiplayer to look forward to.

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