With its combination of ‘simultaneous-turn-based-strategy' and a hilarious text boxed narrative which will have you spluttering Walkers all over colleagues and computers during your lunch-break; Flotilla is a low-budget causal which proves quality doesn't always come with an obscene price-tag. In fact, when it comes to making limited resources go along way, Blendo Games have pretty much proved that they are the MacGyver of the videogame's industry. And after ping-ponging your way across the galaxy - massacring hordes of penguin bandits with your fleet of pimped out rocket shops - you'll be amazed by how much strategic depth and eccentric randomness they've managed to cram in.
At its core, Flotilla is a turn based adventure game which casts the player as a desperado Captain (initially dubbed GRUMBLES) with a small flotilla of rocket ships, an entire galaxy to explore, and only seven months to live (so expect plenty of reckless gambling and drunken karaoke). The gameplay alternates between a randomized set of text-box decisions (or event windows), which pop up as you travel to various planets, and turn-based space battles. The former, which is basically the storyline, sees you selecting a destination for your fleet or flotilla, and upon arrival, making a decision based on whatever crazy scenario you happen to find.
These can vary from things like ‘After a weekend at the casinos you have gambled away your entire space fleet', and do you ‘a) Agree to do a favour for the casino boss in a bid to reclaim your vessels' or ‘b) Run for it?'. Or perhaps you'll find yourself crowned champion of a karaoke night and presented with some nifty piece of cargo. Or, on a trip back from some far flung corner of the cosmos, find a pair of Toucan stowaways cowering in your ship's hold. And while you can always throw a compassionate arm around the cute aliens and deliver them in safety, the option to brutally murder them, loot their dead bodies, and blast their mutilated corpses out the airlock is open.
All events are randomized, meaning that things always play out differently during each of the 20 minute adventures you undertake. And although things do start to repeat themselves after several goes, the whole narrative is hilariously well-written and insanely imaginative. Luck plays a big part in how well things progress, and you acquire cargo either through blind luck, robbing random characters, or winning battles. You're then able to upgrade your vessels with things like better rockets and more powerful weapons. Luck however, doesn't play much part in the combat side of things, and when you find yourself gate crashing a penguin bandit's family reunion, your only hope rests with careful strategic planning. Simply charging in there all guns blazing whilst screaming ‘Die Pingu Die!' won't achieve anything but an inglorious death all alone in the emptiness of space.
The battles themselves are simplistic in their presentation but nonetheless stylish. Your little crafts are plonked in a 3D area of outer-space facing the opposition's fleet - sometimes with a few asteroids or random pieces of scenery floating around - and then, using a system dubbed by the developers ‘simultaneous-turn-based-strategy', you start exchanging rocket salvos. All tactics (such as flanking moves and attack moves) are issued during an orders phase, and you then watch battles unfold during these 30 second intervals which are accompanied by classical music like some kind of Star Wars ballet. So you're essentially planning your moves and then watching your ships execute your orders at the same time as your enemy: hence the idea of ‘simultaneous- turn-based-strategy'.
Curiously however for a title which seems ideal for uniting players of different cultures and nationalities in deep-space duels to the death, Flotilla has no online multiplayer. There is the option to play with a friend via an additional controller, but the lack of online player support is a little disappointing. Furthermore, although there are plenty of strategies to implement when you're dealing with fleets, fighting battles after you and your enemy have been reduced to one ship can descend into a dreary duel as you endlessly circle one another. This does undermine Flotilla's style as a drop in game, and really makes you feel the absence of features like ‘Save Game' and time compression.
But niggles aside, Flotilla has charisma. Whether you choose to murder and pillage your way through - jettisoning the corpses of butchered fluffy animals into outer space until you find yourself betrayed by an angry parrot - or stay on the straight and narrow until your disease catches up with you, the whole thing won't fail to bring a smile to your face. On top of these there's a surprising amount of depth when it comes to the combat side of things. Upgrading ships and outmanoeuvring fleets of demented alien crocodiles can be surprisingly satisfying and addictive. Indeed for $10 you really are getting some big bang for your buck, and compared to many other big-budget titles (with all the assets of some high profile studio behind them) Flotilla really is light years ahead.