|Dev: Turbo Tape Games|
|Pub: Paradox Interactive|
|Release: Q2 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
The 1990s have been over for a long time, but Turbo Tape Games simply does not care about this fact. Their forthcoming real-time strategy title, Naval War: Arctic Circle, takes its gameplay cues from the classic '90s series Harpoon, and as you can tell from the screenshots accompanying this article, modern-era graphics are not exactly a selling point.
I was able to spend some time with a preview build of the game, and while its tutorial system could use some work, this game is unlike anything else you'll be playing this year. And surprisingly for a title published by Paradox Interactive, it's not all that difficult to learn, even skipping the inadequate tutorial and diving right into the missions. Naval War won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're up for an old school real-time strategy game that's surprisingly realistic in some ways, you might find the title to be worth your while.
Unsurprisingly, Naval War: Arctic Circle is a game about a naval war in the Arctic Circle. The reason we're in the Arctic Circle is that the polar ice caps have melted—and just in case you haven't played enough games where Russians are the bad guys, NATO and Russian forces are fighting over access to the region's valuable materials. The year is 2030, and you can play the game from either perspective. Yes, it's a clichéd setup, but it's not like you were playing for the story anyhow.
The preview build features a single-player campaign, the option to play single missions from that campaign, a tutorial, and a one-on-one multiplayer mode (which I wasn't able to try). Unfortunately, the tutorial is rather confusing—at several points, despite following the seemingly clear instructions, I wasn't able to figure out what I was supposed to do. Once, I actually located the submarine I needed to, only to have it disappear on me before I could destroy it.
I had a lot more fun just diving into the various missions and seeing how they turned out. (I died a lot.) Those of you who are familiar with Paradox Interactive know that, as a developer as well as a publisher, the company is known for some of the most unapproachable strategy games on the market—the kind of games that have you scratching your head for hours as you figure out the various systems one by one. Fortunately, Naval War is pretty easy to get the hang of: All you have to deal with are a few different menus, through which you can launch your aircraft, assign them duties, and carry out attacks.
One of the things I initially found frustrating about Naval War is that the radar seemed glitchy—enemy aircraft would randomly appear, and then disappear before I had time to react. But the problem was mine, not the game's. What I was missing is that your vehicles are equipped with sensors that can illuminate enemy planes and ships—and whenever a vehicle uses its sensors, it becomes visible to the enemy. So we have a basic risk-reward scenario—the very thing that makes the enemy more visible to you also makes you more visible to the enemy. And stealth is very much rewarded.
Nonetheless, it's important to bear in mind that much of the time you'll be up against enemies you can't see—sometimes they're even submarines, and you have to drop sonobouys (think radar bombs) to figure out where they are. This is the game's great strength, because few other games do this, but it can also be tedious and frustrating.
Interestingly, despite being set two decades in the future, being built around a preachy global-warming plot, and making no attempt at graphical realism, Naval War is modeled on the real world in a lot of ways. Most of the ships, submarines, and aircraft you command are based on real and in-development military equipment, and so is the technology attached to your vehicles—as Turbo Tape is a Norwegian developer, it secured the help of the Royal Norwegian Navy to make sure it got the facts right. The game unfolds in real time as well, which is incredibly slow when the gameplay takes place on a huge map, though you can compress time in ratios up to 120:1. And as frustrating as it can be, your aircraft have a realistically limited fuel supply, and they'll return to base whenever they hit "bingo" fuel.
To be sure, Naval War: Arctic Circle is going to be a hard sell. It makes no attempt whatsoever to provide modern graphics, the basic idea was explored in Harpoon 20 years ago, and while the gameplay isn't that hard to grasp, as of now the tutorial is not particularly welcoming. But without a doubt, Naval War will provide an experience that's unique in 2012—and its quirky battles will require players to think on their feet.
Date: March 28, 2012