The RTS/strategy genre is a competitive field, with tons of big budget developers releasing high-quality games that not only play well, but look amazing. To dive into Naval War: Arctic Combat, you are going to have to leave those expectations at the door and give it some patience. Naval War is at its core a game built on solid mechanics and tightly developed gameplay features. However, surrounding and suffocating those features is a multitude presentation problems and unintuitive design that lead to a subpar product.
The story of Naval War does not bring much to the table, opting to give a series of text-based cut scenes that convey what is going on. There are some occasions of wit, and there were a few moments that made me chuckle. However, points are going to have to be subtracted for the number of rear admiral jokes. Cutscenes take place on static screens, with crudely drawn images of naval officers. The story depicts the various nations of the world in 2030, as they engage in a number of battles. There are multiple campaigns where you can play as many different naval forces. But for the most part, this is pretty bare bones stuff, as the story takes a backseat to the gameplay.
Once you get the hang of the gameplay, there’s a lot of depth to be experienced. However, it can be pretty difficult to do so given the nature of the controls. There’s so much going on that menus on top of menus are utilized to control the various functions of ships. The controls are a bit unintuitive at times, and even the tutorial cannot really prepare you for the full game, especially the online segments. Also, strangely, only half of the tutorial is mandatory within the campaign. However, as you will quickly find out, the entire tutorial is necessary to play the game effectively. Your fleet will be ripped apart online or offline if you do not complete the full tutorial.
However, if you get through training and are still interested in the content, there is a lot of it. The combat is very tactical and satisfying, requiring a lot of planning and strategy. You can literally control every level of ships and planes, allowing you to select what sensors certain ships are using, the weaponry that they will be deploying with and often deciding whether new ship and plane contacts are hostile or not. Once you get through the other weaker elements of the game, there is an incredibly strong core here. The game may just need a few dozen patches before the fun actually becomes readily accessible.
Aside from the gameplay, the other elements of this game feel cheap and rushed. Often objectives in the game are unclear, which can make them difficult to accomplish. Any sense of achievement or failure is hampered by the screen afterwards, which does not look like more than the quickest of Photoshops. This game is hurting itself, and it clearly shows that the developers, Turbo Tape Games, did not have the time or the money to make this game look as solid as it can play. The player should not have teach themselves, especially in the case of something as complicated as this.
There’s also the matter of the sound and graphics, which for the most part leave a lot to be desired. Sound effects can get pretty grating, as the looping sounds of propeller blades and submarine noises can get old quickly. The music is actually engaging though, giving off a kind of soft rock vibe that amps up as the action gets serious. I’m not sure if it perfectly fits the theme of the game, but it was a welcome cover of the sound effects.
Graphically, this game could easily be mistaken for a first generation PlayStation 2 game. Now, if the game did not highlight this, then it would not be a big deal. Ships move around on a huge, flat map that gives kind of a DEFCON feel. There are no problems here, as there really isn’t much to see. It’s simple, but functional. However, there is also a 3D view of the action, which is not a pretty sight. In fact, I’m really not sure why it is in the game, because it only serves to highlight the budget concerns. Instead, it really should have been patched in at a later date, when it looked a bit better. You can even make the 3D view full-screen, which I would not recommend unless you wish to suffer cataracts.
Naval War: Arctic Combat is a half-formed product based on a full idea. While the gameplay provides a foundation, it’s clear that the developers Turbo Tape Games had neither the time nor the money to fully develop an outlying structure. The game looks terrible, sounds almost equally awful and has a story that is not very compelling. And while the gameplay is solid, it is also incredibly unintuitive. Naval War just cannot seem to catch a break, which is a damn shame. A few more months of development time and it might have come out an ironclad, instead of a sailboat in the time of battleships.