At the recent Paradox Interactive we were given a first glimpse of Leviathan Warships. A seemingly simplistic concept, with surprising tactical and strategical layers, that's meant to spearhead Paradox's future initiative into a world of "platform agnostic" gaming.
It's easy to take one look at Leviathan Warships a go - "am I supposed to get excited about a modern rendition of Battleships?" - and while it certainly builds on the heritage of that brilliant and simple game (don't mention the movie, don't ever mention the movie) there is more to Leviathan Warships than meets the eye.
Let's do a side-by-side comparison with Battleships shall we? It's turn-based. So is Battleships. It's got ships of various sizes. So does Battleships. The objective is to sink the ships of your opponent while making sure yours stay alive. Same goes for Battleships. But that's pretty much where the similarities end. In fact even though it's turn-based, these turns are divided into two phases, the planning phase and the action phase (played out simulataneously for all players). And more importantly movement, line of sight, weapons, defences, and vision comes into play, making Leviathan Warships a strategy game sporting some significant depth.
One of the most important aspects of Leviathan Warships is how you can use your weapons. Most importantly all weapons have a maximum and minimum range - this makes for some interesting scenarios where you may want to close-in on a ship that is punishing you rather than try to escape. As you plan out each turn a key to success is to predict the movement of your enemy so you can get your most potent weapons to bear on them in the result phase that follows. When you're in range during the planning stage you can also aim your weapons individually and target specific points of the enemy craft. For instance you can take out his or her radar and blind them, or you can take out that massive missile launcher that is putting the hurt on your ship. Your ships turn a bit slowly so if you're caught with your shield up on the wrong side or if you failed in lining up your weapons you're likely going to sink without a trace.
Platform agnostic - a term that rolls of the tongue like a pound of bacon. What it means, and this is a first for Paradox Interactive, is that players will be able to enjoy the same experience across multiple platforms, whether it's your PC, your Mac, your iPad or your Samsung Galaxy Tab. And you will be able to save and continue your game on any of these platforms. It's ambitious, even if it remains shrouded in mystery as to just how this will be achieved practically. For instance, the game was being presented as a $19.99 product - something that is hardly going to be successful on mobile platforms. We assume it's cross-buy (meaning buy one version and you own all), but that is also something that may present an issue across Steam, AppStore and the likes. Oh well, surely things will be explained in detail as the release gets closer.
Depth is certainly something appealing - but the lure of a game of Battleships - something I still enjoy from time to time - is the simplicity that's there, the suspense, and the psychological warfare that goes into it. Is Leviathan Warships overly complicated? That's a question that has to be asked when the strategy involved is almost overwhelming at first sight.
But in my mind it comes down to two main strategies and you have to go with one or the other - either you create a really specialised fleet - perhaps making use of smoke grenades, perhaps ships with far reaching radar and speed, or perhaps making use of the geography in a clever way - or the other alternative is that you make sure your entire fleet is made up of very versatile ships ready to take on any challenge and find an advantage during the engagement. It's a bit daunting to really dig in to all the options and optimise things, perhaps the developers are well advised to provide players with a few different styles of pre-sets just to get them started, but really it's all about having a plan with your fleet and then carrying it out to the best of your abilities.
While Leviathan Warships will feature a single-player campaign (playable in co-op) - the multiplayer is where the real longevity and potential lies. And it gets even more fun and interesting when there are four players populating the map. Just imagine 11 different ships that can make up your fleet, 16 different weapon types going into the multitude of slots available on the ships, and well, you have an almost endless amount of variables to consider with four players. Teaming up with a friend you've got more incentive to specialise as you share radar readouts with your teammate - thus one player can scout the opposition with fast moving ships with powerful radar, while the second player positions ships with a lot of fire power to finish the enemy off.
This is an impressive proposition, and the "platform agnostic" concept is very interesting. It may be Battleships on steroids and ritalin - but that's not a negative thing in my humble opinion.