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Flotilla - Seven Months to Live
What if you had only seven months to live? Would you wallow in sorrow as death slowly moved towards you? Would you spend your final months with your loved ones? Or would you launch yourself into the galaxy in an attempt to cause as much of a ruckus as possible before you died?
The last option is the basis of Flotilla, and in fact makes up the majority of the story. You're a space captain. You're dying. And in the spirit of bad-ass space captaincy, you're ignoring common sense and blasting yourself into space for your last adventure. Flotilla promises the ability to deliver awesome space combat in bite-size packages. Question is, can it do this without feeling dumbed down?
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Flotilla: Adventure Mechanics
In a way, Flotilla is really two games. On the surface it is a tiny choose-your-own adventure novel. When you start the game you are located at the Tutorial planet, which you can either use to learn the game or ignore completely. You're free to travel to other planets in the galaxy, and when you travel to them you'll either run into a random combat encounter or you'll be presented with a simple choice. Flotilla is not a serious game, and the galaxy you travel in is filled with cats on the run from the law, evil reindeer, a trading flamingo, and other such creatures. The choices themselves are fairly easy to understand moral choices, but they don't always work out the way you'd plan. Helping out a character might result in negative consequences later, while fighting a villain or pirate may result in another fight when the villain's buddies track you down.
Ultimately, the Adventure mechanics are fun, but rather thin. The concept is spiritually similar to the PC game Weird Worlds, but not as deep. On the other hand, Flotilla is a much smaller game. Your terminal illness takes you quickly, so much games will be over within 30 minutes or less overall. If you sit down and play the game for two hours at a time, the adventure element wears thin quickly. While the galaxies are randomized, the encounters are take from a pool of set possibilities, so you'll start running into the same things time and time again. If you play Flotilla the way it was "meant" be played, however - in 30 minute chunks a few times a week - the adventures are satisfying, but not spectacular.
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Flotilla: Combat Mechanics
Flotilla has been compared frequently to Homeworld. It is easy to see why, because Flotilla essentially uses the exact same movement interface as Homeworld. Flotilla's combat takes place in 3D space, and is turned based. Vertical movement is very important. Ships can not only move left, right, forward and back, but also up and down.
In fact, Flotilla is a game which is all about movement. Ships in Flotilla have heavy armor in the front which makes them invulnerable to attacks there. To do damage you need to hit the side, rear, bottom or top of a ship. Doing this without being hit in return is the challenge of the game, particularly in battles where you have even numbers or are out-gunned. There is a wide variety of ships in the game, and it takes awhile to see them and own them all.
Overall, the combat is like the adventure mechanics - satisfying for what it is, but not deep enough to hold under the pressure from repeated play. The AI isn't that smart, and those with some experience in strategy games will probably fine Flotilla a bit easy. The bigger problem, though, is that the movement mechanic is really all you need to worry about. There are no special abilities and no economy. Once you've mastered the movement, you've mastered the game, and it becomes a bit dull after that.
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Graphics and Sound
Being an indie game, Flotilla's graphics are not technically great. However, like many such games, Flotilla makes up for a lack of polygons or high-resolution textures (or hell, textures at all) with a very distinct style of mellow reds and cartoonish character artwork. There really isn't any other game which looks like Flotilla, and that helps Flotilla get the most from the game's limited graphics.
While the sound effects of Flotilla are great. While the sounds of weapons and explosions are the standard fare, there are a many little touches which really make Flotilla stand out from the crowd. For example, hitting an enemy ship is accompanied by a distinct "pling!" which sounds like it is straight from a pinball machine. Combat is accompanied by a soft piano tune which plays only when ships are moving. Giving the reliance on the movement mechanic in combat, it is clear that Flotilla is going for a sort of "space ballet" theory of ship combat, and the music really drives that home.
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Flotilla is a solid game so long as you take it for what it is. It is not a grand adventure game, nor a grand strategy game. It is, however, an entertaining diversion for those who'd like to play a turn-based strategy game but don't want to get involved in a deep and plodding game which takes hours to complete. Flotilla starts to feel dull if you play more than two adventures at a go, so don't. You'll be doing yourself a disservice if you take the game too seriously.
Thankfully, Flotilla's price recognizes that the game is a small one. It costs 400 MS points, which is a lot for an Xbox Live indie game, but isn't much at all for a game which is this much fun. While I try to stay away from talking about price too much (a great game is a great game regardless of cost) it really is worth mentioning that Flotilla is a great value. I have a hard time thinking of any other game on the 360 which offers so much for so little.