Naval war isn’t usually known for its fast-paced excitement, so I was eager to see how Turbo Tape Games would try to garner an audience here. While Naval War: Arctic Circle is billed as a real-time strategy game, Turbo Tape tried to market it towards the niche simulation market, but in doing so they may have shot themselves in the foot a bit. If they had focused on one market or the other, we may be seeing a drastically different result. However, as it stands, we have a game that is unsuccessful in its attempt to appeal to two markets at once.
Naval War is an unfitting title for this simulation. The vast majority of the time I spent playing the game for this review revolved around ordering around different varieties of aircraft, occasionally pushing my carriers closer to the battle to save on fuel. The entire title could have been changed to fighting on land with very little difference. Outside of the occasional use of submarines, there really wasn’t a lot demanding of naval warfare.
The narrative is told through text driven scenes over a static background and newspaper clippings. While it is interesting to see the missions from both sides of the coin, the game attempts to put a lot of emphasis on characters that only exist in the cut scenes. Without having any frame of reference for them outside of the cut scenes it would have been hard to form a connection with them as it is. However, since a majority of the dialogue revolves around petty comments and jabs at each other, they became downright unlikeable. I understand that strategy titles aren’t exactly known for their narrative; however, this was a bit much. With the forgettable story line and unpleasant characters, I can’t help but feel Naval War may have been better off simply omitting it altogether.
The 23 campaign missions (split between the two sides) focus on a single battle with a specific goal. Unfortunately, due to this fact, there’s very little variance in how the AI will respond. A majority of the time, this devolves the game into a series of “trial and error” scenarios, where you’re forced to try a few different approaches until you find one that works. The missions themselves are fairly short, so having to restart due to a failed approach isn’t that big of a deal, but it does limit the replay value of the title.
One thing I want to make special note of is that, while there is a tutorial available, I highly recommend skipping the first three. The first few missions of the NATO campaign are ripped directly from the tutorial so, unless you’d like to play through them twice, there’s no need to fire them up.
Naval War: Artic Circle is true real-time strategy in that the game will actually play out in real-time on the default settings. Luckily, the missions allow you to speed up time anywhere from a 1:1 ratio to 1:120, in order to speed things along. On the default settings, the game will revert back to 1:1 anytime something of interest takes place. While this is a great idea on paper, every time an enemy launches an attack or appears on radar really breaks up the pace of the game. Luckily, these settings can be adjusted to changing the time to a more acceptable pace or simply not making any changes.
The time controls also seem to come paired with a few bugs. When slowing down from maximum time compression, subs seem to lose their targets, aircraft alter patterns or refuse to refuel, and choppers have a tendency to get stuck momentarily. These glitches weren’t exactly common place. However, if they were to happen at the end of a particularly taxing mission, it could be disastrous for the outcome. Since there’s no ability to save midway through a scenario, this can lead to no small amount of frustration.
As a simulation game, it’s hard to really give Naval War any real notable praise. With the aforementioned ability to drastically change the speed of time, the game is allowing you to burn through the short missions extremely quickly if you are willing to play a “set it and forget it” type of stance. Since you know pretty much exactly what the AI will be attempting, it’s not too difficult to simply have some units in place to intercept the initial attacks and sit back while the battle unfolds. It almost plays out more as a puzzle game in the aspect that you need to find the proper solution for the scenario, and it’s simply a matter of trial and error before finding one that fits.
The one thing that Naval War excels at is the excellent cat and mouse game played through detection. Almost every unit has some sort of radar or sonar that can be used to find the enemy, but there’s a risk/reward system in place for each of them. Using an active sensor will dramatically increase the range in which you can start picking out enemy units, but you run a much higher risk of being pinged by the enemy yourself. Passive sensors, on the other hand, will give you some much needed protection from being picked off, but you won’t be able to really get a feel for what’s out there. Once you add in aircraft and their ability to change altitude for more visibility, you really end up with your hands full trying to find the perfect balance.
The specific nature of the missions unfortunately downplays what could be a major bragging point for the title. The variety of units is impressive, as is the attention to detail that Turbo Tape made sure to include. As an Air Force veteran, I had an absolute blast looking through the different load outs I could use for my aircraft, as well as setting the rules of engagement. Having jets darting through higher altitudes for better visibility while my choppers were hugging the sea to find hidden submarines really set the tone of what could have been. It’s just a shame that, with the very specific and predefined nature of the scenarios, there wasn’t really a need for many of these options, and I wasn’t given full control of composing my fleet.
Multiplayer could easily be the standout feature for gamers who fall in love with what Naval War: Arctic Circle has to offer. The multiplayer pits you against your opponent in one of the scenarios from the campaign. Having another human on the other side offers a much needed breath of fresh air since you have no real way of knowing how they plan on meeting the objective. It does still suffer from the pacing issues from the campaign, but the game shines when two players of equal mettle face off. However, the lack of options and variety won’t do much to keep players invested.
There honestly isn’t nothing noteworthy about the visuals here. While you do have the option to look at your units or missiles with a 3D view, it’s absolutely useless for anything practical. For the vast majority of the game, you’ll be looking at a map from above, moving green representations of your units around. The artwork during the cut scenes isn’t much better with a static image that’s somewhat relevant to the conversation, and a black and white caricature of who’s speaking. There isn’t anything to sing about here; however, for a title like this, I can’t say anything else would have been better. The only thing I really can complain about here is that I wish I could zoom in on the map a bit more for unit selecting assistance.
I can’t imagine anyone outside of the most loyal fans will find much replay value to be had. There’s no customization to be found, and there’s doesn’t seem to be any modding support. You can either play the campaign missions as they are or hop into the slim pickings of the multiplayer.
All in all, Naval War: Arctic Circle isn’t a bad game, but it’s not going to be remembered as anything spectacular down the road. Fans of sim and strategy games have much better titles they can turn to, and the more mainstream audience could be turned off by the restrictive nature the game plays out in. I’d strongly recommend checking out the demo before putting down your hard earned cash if you’re interested, but I think it’s safe to say that that most people won’t be missing out on much by passing this up.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we were provided for review purposes.
Naval War: Arctic Circle is a game trying so hard to cater to different audiences that it sometimes loses track of what defines those audiences in the first place. While it is certainly not a bad game, it definitely falls into a niche market.