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Aqua - Naval Warfare is an arcade-action shooter with tactical elements, driven by a story in a steampunk setting. Aqua is developed by Games Distillery on their own proprietary engine and published by Xbox Live Arcade.
In Aqua, the player commands an elite cruiser to navigate a world filled with vast seas and scattered isles. The game world is seen from a bird eye perspective with the camera tightly following the player's ship, with the exception of cinematic sequences. The player moves their ship with the left analogue stick and fire their primary guns with the right stick. Primary guns incorporate rapid firing machine guns, slower firing cannons, flamers, or other specialized guns. Also at their disposal are mines that can be used as both offensive and defensive tools. The player can lay whole mine fields to their liking, creating traps and strongpoints. Several types of torpedoes are another way of quickly disposing of intrusive enemy vessels. To compensate for being often vastly outnumberd in battles, the player can also employ AI controlled squads of elite watercrafts, giving them various context orders to influence the outcome of battles. And for situations seemingly lost, there is a special weapon, extremely powerful and devastating, that can be called in every time the player collects enough energy called Aquaflux that drops from destroyed enemies.
There are many different adversaries the player faces during the game. While some are just steel to beat, some require the player to try out different ways to effectively dispose of them. As the game progresses, tougher and tougher ships, crafts and various monsters pose new and rising challenges for the player.
There are four difficulty levels to suit players of all kinds, from casual to hardcore.
The game has several play modes, with the single player campaign being the essential one. Single player modes are:
- Campaign. Consists of 9 episodes (typically referred to as missions in games), and is driven by a plot that is presented to the player via in game cinematics and hand drawn comics sequences between missions. In the campaign, the player fulfills many different objectives, such as attacking and defending convoys, building a perimeter turret defensive line, defending important structures, conquering enemy bases, or even covert operations of infiltration and stealing advanced technology.
- Skirmish. The player's goal is simply to withstand an infinite number of enemy waves with increasing difficulty, and to reach the highest score possible. There are three maps to play on.
Multiplayer modes are limited to local sessions of two players:
- Arena. Very similar to the skirmish mode, only with two players cooperatively trying to beat endless enemy waves.
- Chase. Players try to simply obtain more score than their opponent by reaching checkpoints randomly appearing over the map, or by destroying neutral vessels. Death is penalized by score loss, and while players cannot attack each other directly, they can destroy explosive barrels and catch their opponent in a chain reaction. There are various ending conditions to choose from, and also three maps are available to play on.
Player ship types
Later in the campaign, the player can usually choose from three types of ships to control. Each of them has pros and cons compared to the other types.
- Speedboat (light class) is the fastest vessel, very maneuverable, equipped with light guns, and only one relatively powerful gun. Speedboat focuses on torpedoes, having three different types of torpedoes to fire, good resistance to enemy torpedoes and mines, and a unique trait - its torpedo ammo replenishes automatically over time. With Speedboat, the player can easily outrun most enemies, employing aggressive play style via hit and run tactics with burst barrages of torpedo fire, and laying carpets of combustible mines. However, the ship cannot take much damage, so is not very suitable for situations where the player is required to stand in the heat of a battle. Special weapon of Speedboat, called Angelstorm, makes the ship discharge heavy damage thunderbolts to nearby adversaries, stunning them, and rendering them easy prey for the player or their allies to finish afterwards.
- Cruiser (medium class) is a true all rounder with solid weaponry, medium resistance to all sources of damage, and medium speed and maneuverability. Cruiser is therefore a good choice in all combat situations. It has a devastating special weapon, called Angelstrike, which calls for an air strike of heavy damage rockets from the sky to scorch the battlefield. This is arguably the best special weapon in the game for its immediate drastic effect on enemy ranks.
- Gunship (heavy class) is the slowest vessel the player can take control of in the game. It focuses on heavy primary guns, and strong resistance to enemy gun fire and flames, with only very basic torpedoes and mines at its disposal. Gunship has by far the greatest durability in combat, and thus excels at defensive operations where the player is required to stand the ground for a longer period of time. Its special weapon, called Angelcraft, calls for assistance of a secret prototype airplane that follows the player and pounds all opposition with a devastating heavy damage laser gun.
All special weapons are integrated into the game story, as the player acquires each of them in specific missions by fulfilling specific objectives.
In many missions in the campaign, the player can obtain a support in form of strong squads of elite ships loyal to the player's side. At times, the player can give them special contextual orders to carry out. Each squad comprises four ships, and there are four types of squads:
- Fighter. All rounder ships, quite durable and effective in most situations.
- Sieger. With its splash damage, Sieger squad is good versus small enemy ships cramped in large numbers, and exceptionally effective against enemy static defenses such as turrets.
- Healer. Healer squad can prolong lifetime of all allied ships, mainly the player's, by healing them with some kind of advanced technology.
- Sonar. These ships are the best answer to dangers lurking out from the depths such as submarines, as they are able to detect them and jam any homing missiles.
In addition to various guns, the player can also equip their ships with diverse upgrades. These items that can be found in secret areas in missions or are simply unlocked by progressing further in the game, enhance different attributes of player ships, such as gun damage, ship endurance, speed and maneuverability, or are adding some more specialized effects. The player can either build on their chosen ship's strengths and enhance them even further with respective upgrades, or to compensate for the weaknesses of their ship by complementing upgrades that improve attributes that the ship lacks. In combination with various guns and upgrades, the player can configure countless setups to create their own unique play style.
Game world and plot
The game world of Aqua resembles that of Waterworld to an extent. After a global cataclysmal event, the world is flooded, continents disappeared, and only little landscape remains above water level. Few survivors quickly form nations and forge empires to control vast oceanic territories, waging wars for every tiny grain of land. There is no direct reference to any real world figures, organizations or features. However, the game setting derives from the Imperial Victorian era.
The main protagonist, Captain Grey of the Emperean Empire, is considered by many a hero rising in the just finished war with the Samureans. The war was long and tiresome, but with the help of another strong world power, the Gothean Empire, the old fashioned Samureans were finally defeated. Only a few hours later, after escaping a victory parade to hunt for spoils of war in the nearby waters, Grey and his loyal board Engineer Polly Edison discover a severe treachery, when they realize that a considerable Gothean airforce is heading for the Emperean headquarters. Grey fights his way through an abandoned Samurean base now swarmed with vulturious corsairs looking for some loot. He finally arrives at the HQ, only to find it under heavy siege by some serious Gothean strike force. A good amount of the story after this revolves around fending off the Gothean invasion, fleeing with last remnants, and looking to establish a new base of operations. After desperate attempts to strike at the heart of the Gotheans, Grey and Edison discover that there is something bigger at the throne than the king himself, someone or something pulling the strings of the world power. During their own quest of putting this secret power, personified by a character named Cerbera, out from the cover of darkness onto the spot, they must cross borders with their own side, facing diffidence and disdain of the Emperean Empire itself. In the end, they manage to reveal the whole truth about the conspiracy to the world, and finally crush the greatest agent of the malicious Cerbera. In the last comics sequence, however, an escape module is seen fleeing from the smoldering ruins of the creature, indicating an open end in the story.
Aqua started as a simple project with very clear basic game play in mind. And that was a shooter game with ships on water, employing the very well known and verified principle of shooter games, which is simply to shoot enemies and evade their shots. Furthermore, it was clear from the beginning that Aqua should be more than just a simple arcade shooter. Rather than just a scrolling screen filled with enemies, it should use more or less a free world to navigate, with specific goals to achieve defined by a story, and a bit of depth in a way of enemy types and different ways of destroying them.
When having this basic prototype, the team then brainstormed and created various features and mission bits, from which the actual levels were built. The team faced serious issues when a first playable prototype was play tested by people who had never seen the game before. Many features and mission bits were changed, cut or completely redesigned. After this, more and more missions were added, and play tested again. Some basic focus test techniques were used during this period. Aqua was being constantly tweaked to the needs and feels of play testers.