Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Turbo Tape Games
System requirements: Windows Vista/Win 7, dual-core CPU, 2 GB RAM, 512 MB GeForce GT 240 or better graphics card, 4 GB hard-drive space, DirectX 9-compatible sound device, DirectX 9.0c
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
I’m not cut out for Navy life. Being crammed into poorly-lit metallic rooms filled with smelly people in the middle of nowhere reminds me too much of my college experience. There’s also my problem with authority. While I don’t think I’m cut out for taking orders in a tuna can, sitting in a climate controlled C&C bunker giving orders is entirely different. Turbo Tape Games is there to fulfill my curiosity with their new strategy game, Naval War: Arctic Circle. Featuring a depiction of modern naval combat so detailed it borders on simulation, Naval War has more than enough depth to drown in. But is it worth braving the cold?
The dynamics of modern naval combat as depicted in Naval War are more what I expected of submarines, not surface ships. Instead of hiding beneath frigid waters, you hide your 1,000-foot-long ships from the electric eye of radar. It’s a deadly cat-and-mouse game in the arctic, and the more passive your sensors are, the better. Going hot at the wrong moment can light up your billion-dollar fleet to a pack of missiles and still leave you groping in the dark. Learning to survive in the arctic might take you awhile, but a series of tutorial missions does a good job teaching the basics. Then it’s on to the two campaigns, each following NATO and Russia in the year 2030, locked in a struggle for (what else?) resources. Well-written dialogue sets the stage for each of the 23 campaign missions, with five extra stand-alone tasks thrown in for good measure.
This isn’t the kind of game you play for graphics, but Naval War actually looks pretty good. You spend most of your time looking at the wire-framed overhead display, but the 3D screen is there to give you the idea that those little green triangles are actually massive vessels. You can swap the two displays if you want to get a close view of a well-timed missile strike, but don’t expect too many theatrics. There are explosions followed by a sinking animation, but the missiles simply get within a hundred feet and vanish.
As complex a game as this is, the interface is surprisingly clean. Commanding every detail of a naval fleet involves a lot of decisions, and it’s no small feat that the interface just dissolves after a while, especially when you remember that it’s a Paradox game. Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re seeking, it’s easy to find it without rifling through menu lists. That’s not to say that Naval War holds your hand or is especially inviting to newcomers, but it’s not more obtuse than it has to be.
A few niggling issues remain. For instance, there’s no mid-mission save. This could be used to preserve the tenseness of your tactical decisions, but not having even a save-and-quit function seems harsh. Even with insane time-compression, some missions can take hours to finish. Also, like most wargames, the campaign is just sort of there. You get a lot of missions, but the lack of persistent units or customizable loadouts seems like a missed opportunity. Nor does the rollercoaster difficulty curve do it any favors. Even in the one-shot scenario missions, there are no dynamic elements or customization. Even with the sharp AI, there’s only so much to do when every placement and deployment remains the same for every mission. Multiplayer exists, but only in four scenarios and for two players. A point-buy system would have been a great improvement.
It’s the moments when you pull tight on the net you’ve spent so long weaving that make Naval War: Arctic Warfare worthwhile. The strategy the arctic demands of you is both soaked in tension and immensely satisfying when it works. Of course, there are many, many times that it won’t, and when things inevitably go belly-up, you’ll have to start back from the beginning again. The game has its issues, and hopefully they can be addressed in future patches. Even so, Naval War isn’t going to win any new converts to its brand of deep strategy. However, if you’re the kind of armchair general who enjoys games like Men of War or Combat Mission, Naval War: Arctic Circle will scratch your strategy itch like never before. Everyone else has enough sense to avoid the cold.