What is it? Combat fan fiction that you set up and watch play out.
Developer: Brilliant Game Studios
Reviewed on: R9 Fury X, i5-3570K CPU, 16GB RAM
Fifty thousand penguins are waddling with murderous intent. Their target is a ragtag band of fighters—Roman legionaries, World War II-era US infantry, medieval archers, axe-wielding fantasy dwarves and Chuck Norris, all standing in wait for the avian horde. Norris breaks off first, followed by the Romans. Each legionary kills tens of penguins before falling, but there's still tens of thousands more.
The ranged fighters do well for a while, but the mass of writhing penguin flesh swings around to flank and subsume. The scene starts to draw some attention. Samuel turns to ask me something, but the question is lost as he notices the hundreds of dead penguins littering the battlefield. Andy is called over, but has to leave because he can't deal with the single-digit framerate as my CPU struggles to process the inadvisable number of angry, flightless birds I've created.
This is Ultimate Epic Battle Simulator at its most effective. It's less a game than a tool for generating ridiculous combat scenarios. Experienced as a bite-sized chunk of surreal action, it's incredibly effective. It's no wonder it caught the attention of some big name YouTubers, and why, as a result, it spent a large portion of its first week out of Early Access in Steam's top sellers list. Unfortunately, outside of the 30-or-so minutes of entertainment that comes from seeing penguins (or kangaroos, or orcs, or zombies, or Santas) do battle, it's not very good.
There's a decent number of unit types, historical, fictional and animal. You can assign any number of them, into a variety of teams, and place them across the handful of maps. The interface for this is clunky and limited, but it's functional. Once tweaked to your specifications, you watch the action play out. Usually, this involves wrenching the camera around (or sitting back in cinematic mode), and watching as fighters wave weapons at each other until one of them falls down.
It doesn't look very good, and the animations are basic. It's frequently buggy, too. Worse than that, though, it just isn't very pleasant to manipulate or control. I constantly felt like I was fighting against the interface or camera. A few usability tweaks would have made things more pleasant, such as an RTS style minimap that you could click to instantly warp the camera. Things get worse if you attempt to 'possess' a fighter—assuming direct control to try to help or hinder a team. There's no weight or depth to fighting, and that's assuming a bug doesn't trap the camera outside the boundaries of the map—as happened to me when I attempted to take control of Chuck Norris in order to kick a few penguins.
I like Ultimate Epic Battle Simulator's conceit—I used to love creating AI skirmishes in Garry's Mod—but here any potential drama is squandered by the poor execution. UEBS is good at the moneyshot—the ridiculous joy of seeing an unreasonable number of chickens swarm over some Nazis, or a super-powered turtle take on a cavalry brigade. But the joke soon wears thin, and, outside of that single gag, Ultimate Epic Battle Simulator fails to entertain.