Blast boats out of the water in Rovio’s raucous Battle Bay

Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth your time (and money).

Rovio is best known for Angry Birds, but that franchise falls deeper into irrelevance with each passing entry. The latest, Angry Birds Evolution, is an almost impressively misguided attempt to give the brand a gritty makeover… because what’s been missing from the pull-and-fling franchise is surely a harder edge and 100-plus new characters, right?

Luckily, the company is starting to look past its fading cash cow, as well, and Battle Bay is a much more appealing iOS debut: it’s a five-on-five boat brawler, in which you’ll navigate choppy waves alongside real online allies to try and sink your opponents. Battle Bay is slick and easy to understand, and it makes a strong impression—but it also has a lot of freemium elements in play. Does Rovio’s new experience remain satisfying after the first few matches pass?

The pitch 

Battle Bay feels a lot like World of Tanks: Blitz on water instead of land, albeit with a colorful, cartoonish look that comes off like an extension of Angry Birds—at least the original, non-gritty version of Angry Birds. You’ll pick a small boat, strap on a couple of weapons, and then take to the seas to try and dominate the other team within five minutes.

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Aim, fire, and try to be the last boat floating.

You’ll guide your little cruiser with a couple of virtual analog sticks on the screen, watching it putter around as the giant waves batter it a bit. And then it’s show time, as your five-player crew encounters the other and attempts to have the last boat(s) still floating at the end. Each map can be won in one of two ways: by completely destroying the other squad, or by capturing a mid-map base by staying within its bounds for a certain amount of time.

Death can come swiftly, and it sticks, too. Once you’re blasted out of the water, you’re done for the match—and forced to sit back and watch as either your teammates finish the job you couldn’t, or are gradually decimated in front of you. Luckily, the speedy matches and serious firepower in play ensure that you shouldn’t have to watch for more than a minute or two before you’re able to jump into another match.

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You can also win by holding down a special spot on the map.

Of course, progression is key in a free-to-play, multiplayer-centric game like this: you can upgrade and swap out weapons, armor, and abilities, as well as choose between multiple types of upgradeable boats—and upgrades require both currency and parts. Meanwhile, there’s a whole sub-system of abilities upgrades available by “training” your crew in the menu screens and waiting for the timers to tick down one by one. Truth be told, Battle Bay is more complicated outside the game than in the heat of combat.

The catch

At least there’s nothing complicated about Battle Bay’s energy system—because it doesn’t have one. That’s a very good thing, of course, because nothing would kill the fun more in a multiplayer game than having to wait 30 minutes for another match, or being forced to spend money or watch an ad to keep playing.

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