When I think about the most memorable pirate experience for me in gaming, my mind goes back to Disney Quest, an arcade in Orlando, Florida that I visited multiple times growing up before it sadly closed. They had this VR pirate game for several players that featured a working ship wheel and cannons in an immersive environment.
Battlewake for PSVR brought back memories of this experience with its focus on fast-paced arcade action on the high seas. Driving my ship and firing my cannons felt great, but does this ship have the strength to sail with the best, or should this captain walk the plank? Let’s find out.
A Sea-Worthy Vessel With a Few Leaks
Battlewake comes to us from Survios, a very talented studio who has produced some of the best games on PlayStation VR in the past. With that kind of pedigree, I had very high expectations going into Battlewake.
On the surface, the game delivers in spades. There are multiple captains and ships, different abilities, a campaign, upgrades, and a full suite of multiplayer modes. When you first jump into a campaign mission, driving the ship feels great. Reaching out with your hands to aim and fire your cannons is intuitive and satisfying.
The first time you use your special ability (which varies between captains), it’s an impressive sight. You’ll start with the ability to summon a waterspout that does damage over time, but other captains have abilities like summoning an entire kraken to destroy enemy ships.
When it comes to first impressions, Battlewake really makes you feel like a pirate on the high seas. While that shimmer tends to fade as you dive deeper, the core experience is a big highlight for me.
Controlling your ship is simple, but intuitive. You’ll want to play standing for this, as you’ll need to reach out and steer the wheel with your hands. On either side of your character are handles you can grab to drop anchors on the sides of the ship. This allows for tight turns in the respective direction, which can lead to some truly epic moments in the heat of battle as you narrowly miss an oncoming vessel and swing around to bombard them with cannon fire.
Pointing your hands out from the sides of the ship brings up trajectories for your cannons, allowing you to line up a shot and achieve higher accuracy by taking the time to aim and letting the reticule shrink.
Beyond the cannons, you’ll find weapons on the front and back of the ship which are triggered by looking and pointing in that direction to bring up the aiming reticule. Beyond this, each captain has two abilities.
The first you receive is a burst of speed, but others include the option to bring up a tentacle from the deep and smash another ship. Ultimate abilities charge over time. Once ready, you’ll see a coin floating above your left hand. Grabbing and throwing it triggers the ultimate in that area. These are the aforementioned waterspout and kraken style moves, with massive damage and hugely impressive action on screen.
That’s about all there is to it. For some, it may be too simple, but for me it felt like a great entry-level experience with enough depth to keep things interesting as I progressed to unlock more captains.
The campaign, while 20 missions in length, is pretty standard fare. The missions are short, with five for each captain, and while the voice acting is solid, the story is pretty bare bones as well. Mission objectives do occasionally switch to something besides killing everything in sight, but this is rare.
All of this points to the main focus, which is multiplayer. There are several modes to choose from, ranging from co-op to PVP, and it’s here that Battlewake offers its true longevity. I don’t mind this focus at all, but I do wish the campaign had more to offer for those who like single player VR experiences.
The problem is that Battlewake lacks cross-play, which led to plenty of scenarios where I tried to use matchmaking and couldn’t find other players. It’s a shame, because the foundation of Battlewake is quite solid and fun, but it relies heavily on a consistent playerbase.
The Sights of The Seven Seas
Battlewake is an undeniably gorgeous title in VR. The use of vibrant colors results in constantly captivating sights all around you. I particularly like the variety of environments in the campaign. These run the gambit from idyllic caribbean settings, to mysterious swamplands, to icy shores and even an active volcano to name a few.
Little hitches in the performance at the beginning of the level don’t detract too much from the gameplay when things get moving. I will say that your hands and arms can pretty consistently warp into strange angles or clip through surfaces when you’re turning the wheel or dropping anchors.
Nitpicks aside, the overall gameplay here is quite fun and while it’s more shallow than I would have liked, Battlewake still shows that Survios can create a damn fine VR title in just about any setting. The studio is already working on patches to resolve some of the smaller issues. If the player base can increase (and cross-play can be added with PCVR), Battlewake could become a breakout hit.
In the meantime, I think it’s well worth a look if you keep in mind that these waters can be a little shallow when you’re not playing online.
Final Score: 7.5/10
A copy of Battlewake was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/27/19