This game is the ships.

Turn based strategy fans have to be really desperate to seek out Salvo. It's not a terrible game by any stretch but it's just too slow and ponderous to shake me out of the doldrums. I know a game is in trouble when all I do is think about things that would make it better.

Salvo involves controlling a fleet of ancient naval vessels for domination of the seaways. Playable countries include England, France, Spain, Holland and America. You can also play as pirates such as Blackbeard or just generic pirates located on the Barbary Coast. With each turn you have five minutes to launch an assault, board other ships and take measures to protect and maintain your own ships, crews, weapons and systems.

The game uses a hex-based matrix which doesn't allow for the best maneuverability. It feels restricted. Positioning is everything in naval battles especially when you're dealing with wooden behemoths that are hundreds of years old with no lasers or guided missiles. There are a variety period-specific boats that include schooners, fire ships, frigates, gun platforms and xebecs and bombards, which are more likely to attract fans of sailing ships than turn-based strategy enthusiasts.

There is a lot of information that needs processing upfront. To its credit the interface is rather easy to interact with. There is not a lot of stats to ponder but you really have to play a few games to know how things react. Gratification isn't instant and I can't say that the waiting makes success any sweeter. The AI will definitely kick your ass for a while until you learn how to coordinate your attacks. The only way you can do this is to know how your ships react to commands. This entire learning curve could be reduced to mere minutes if control was real-time.

Once you get into position your crew will begin firing on enemy ships. You must always be careful about getting hit yourself. When you get close enough to board a grapple icon will appear allowing you to send a crew onto the enemy's ship. Resources may be limited because you have to keep some of your crew aboard the vessels to keep things running smoothly.

Salvo is not a good looking game. While the ships and environments are rendered in 3D there is very little detail in the graphics and animation to take advantage of this. The water looks solid and the cannons dribble out little wisps of smoke with weak sounding effects to highlight the overall lack of production values.

The map is static and there is no zoom feature. Commands are easy enough to issue but selecting various ships can be a pain in the arse as the game sometimes fails to recognize that you're directing an entire fleet. There is no editor or multi-player modes to extend the replay value. You can replay the various missions numerous times for totally different experiences but after a few times through it's pretty evident you're playing in the shallow end of the pool. Salvo! might while away the remaining summer days until reality kicks back in, but those who sail these seas will be a small dedicated audience who may or not be as forgiving of the games inadequacies.

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System: PC
Dev: Sprucegames
Pub: Shrapnel
Release: July 2005
Players: 1 -
Review by Dav