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Review by: Justin Mills
Published: July 30, 1999
War. It’s a powerful word that instantly elicits disturbing thoughts and images. Scenes of carnage, horror and chaos often come to mind when we contemplate our most primitive legacy. Yet strangely enough, some of the most beautiful and elegant moments we know have also risen from the hellish depths of warfare. From the unfathomable courage of the Alamo defenders, to the relentless patriotism embodied in the statue commemorating Iwo Jima, the worst custom of mankind has often brought out the best traits in men. If any era seems to epitomize this dual nature of war, it’s the late 18th century’s Age of Sail. During this romantic period, grand ships glided across the surface of the oceans like floating fortresses that doubled as buoyant emblems of national pride. Finely crafted to be as beautiful as they were effective, it’s almost hard to believe that these breathtaking works of art were primarily deadly weapons of war.
Yet for every moment of grace, there were a hundred moments of ghastliness. As the large ships of war sailed by one another, separated by mere yards, they unleashed furious maelstroms of lead and shrapnel that effortlessly tore through wood and flesh alike. Men who were “lucky” enough to survive these barbaric confrontations lived another day to combat scurvy and starvation. In Man of War II, Strategy First attempts to recreate the drama and intensity of these legendary naval battles.
In the game, players assume the role of captain of their own ship during the Age of Sails. There are two single player campaigns available, as well as over twenty individual historical scenarios. The first campaign chronicles the exploits of John Paul Jones and emphasizes smaller scale skirmishes against the British Fleet during the American Revolutionary War. The second campaign takes place in the period between the Seven Years War and the American Revolution, and allows players to assume the role of a British officer locked in a struggle with the French. When you create a new character, you’ll have no medals or experience, and will only be permitted to captain your own ship. As you progress through the missions and accumulate higher rank and prestige, you’ll acquire new responsibilities. Once you’ve been promoted, you can replay the campaign as a division commander or an admiral. This allows you to control more ships than your own and broadens the gameplay from one-on-one tactics to overall fleet strategy, including formation and engagement orders. While this does add to the replayability, especially since some of the missions are only accessible to the higher ranking officers, I admittedly enjoyed the “down-in-the-trenches” duties of the captain far more than the broader tasks of the admiral that kept me occupied and distracted during the battles.
More than just a real-time strategy game, Man of War II is a simulation of sorts that requires players to learn a bit about this period of warfare. The different types of craft range from colossal cruisers to sleek schooners, and as captain, you’ll quickly need to learn how to pilot and engage these unique vessels. While anyone can hop on board and navigate these ships around with ease (thanks to the game’s incredibly intuitive interface), it takes some practice to really get a grasp of the finer details of sailing that’ll give you an edge in combat. In one of the first larger scenarios I played, I was captain of one of several large British cruisers charging towards an approaching French fleet. I turned hard to port and headed away from the battle in an attempt to flank the enemy. As I slowly pulled the massive vessel around their sterns, I suddenly heard my sails flapping above me. I had sailed too close to the wind and had lost nearly all of my speed and maneuverability. As I sat dead in the water, flailing about like the unseasoned navigator I obviously was, two French ships spotted the easy pickings and broke away from the fleet to put me out of my misery. Humiliated, I ordered my second in command to take the helm. He managed to clean up the mess I made in about twenty seconds. Only then, did I really start reading the manual.
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