Leviathan: Warships Preview
What's most interesting about Leviathan's array of weapons and enhancements though is the way they're controlled, with both the PC and tablet UIs appearing identical and the level of depth proving surprising. Getting the position of your ships correct is essential to victory, for example, as most weapons aren't capable of firing either across islands or over the bow. It's all about facing your broadsides on to the enemy.
The control system meanwhile is based around what developer Pieces Interactive calls a 'flower menu' which pops up when you click/tap on your ships. Like a contextual, radial menu lets you drag out a course for your boat, select any weapon on deck and see the effective range, damage, etc. You can also rotate a digital compass to alter the direction the ship is facing, while setting waypoints which intuitively reflect the turning circle of the ship in question.
Turning circles turn out to be quite a big deal, by the way. More than once we almost lost or damaged our own ships by accidentally creating collision paths or grounding them in shallow waters. You can't affect a plan once you've committed yourself, which increases the tension and encourages you to pay close attention to ship movements.
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Unfortunately though, just as turning speeds give Leviathan huge tactical potential, the movement speeds also nullify much of the excitement. These are huge naval beasts after all - Leviathans, even - and therefore can't nip spryly over the maps. Instead, they lumber along like lame horses most of the time and five seconds is rarely enough to move your ship anywhere at all.
One the one hand this lends Leviathan: Warships a fair bit of tension and stress, but on the other it can also make matches feel slow and tiring. The opening moves of the match we played, for example, were particularly tedious as the fog of war was pulled back at less than a snail's pace.
Movement speeds end up affecting more than just the rate of play too, but also affect the changeability of the match outcomes too. An opponent within the range of your railgun and it'll take him at least five seconds to move away even if you aren't chasing him; the exact opposite to the situation seen in similar games, such as Frozen Synapse, where last minute course corrections can play a vital role.
The counter to the limited movement speed though is that, unlike most of its peers, Leviathan doesn't feature any random levels, as far as we've seen. Instead, levels are set and there seems to be a plan to offer expansions to the roster in the future. That too will likely change the way the game is played in the long term, as players develop strategies that are more sophisticated and less reliant on dodges.
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The biggest worry to be levelled against Leviathan though is the same as gets thrown at every other multiplayer game - whether or not it can generate enough buzz and a large enough community to reach the critical mass of popularity. There's no point playing any multiplayer game if there aren't multiple players, after all.
And, honestly? It could go either way for Leviathan. Paradox has shown now that it knows how to attract and expand upon online communities with games such as Magicka, but it has to be said that Leviathan doesn't have the same attention-grabbing premise or strong visual design. It's of a game where you look at the screenshot and it makes an immediate, lasting impression - and that could be a problem. We actually found it an incredibly fun game to play once we'd into the thick of it, but at the same time the announcement trailer we saw earlier in the day didn't exactly inspire us to take a closer look. The hilarious tagline - 'Ships Just Got Real' - was the most remarkable part, in fact.
Ultimately then it may end up being a case of wait and see, with the deciding factor being how much interest Paradox can drive in the months leading up to the release of this fun, but unexcitingly presented title. Ubiquitousness is all well and good, but alone it can only take you so far.
Leviathan: Warships is being developed for PC and tablets by Pieces Interactive. It will be published in 2013, by Paradox Interactive. It's ubiquitous.