Naval War: Arctic Circle is a naval war simulator developed by Turbo Tape Games and published by the strategy extraordinaries at Paradox Interactive. The game is designed to bring a realistic war-room experience to your PC, and in many ways it accomplishes that task. From the moment you get your hands on the controls, you’ll find that this game of micro-management and slow suspense has the power to have you sitting on the edge of your seat. It’s short, limited missions and multiple eccentricities, however, make that experience a somewhat lacklustre one.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve despised egotism. I don’t mind when people are proud of their personal traits but I don’t appreciate having them shoved in my face. Egotism is especially annoying when it is undeserved. In the second mission of the game’s NATO campaign, the protagonist, your character, walks into his CO’s office and says: “Oh, and by the way, the new war room software is amazing!” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. As soon as I saw the letters appear on my screen, a shiver of disappointment ran down my spine, and it is a shiver I have been unable to shake during my play-through of it. The lead character is essentially telling you, the player, his opinion of the game. Not only is his opinion an overestimation of the game’s quality, it also breaks the fourth wall in quite an annoying way.
The dialogue in the game takes place between missions in text form and this is perhaps where my biggest gripe with it lies. The characters all appear to be the same. Politicians don’t speak like politicians. Military personnel don’t speak like military personnel. Everybody’s lines sound like the same angry Scandinavian nerd, presented with different portraits next to it. Trust me, I am one. The lines also go by quite fast and their order gets mixed up pretty soon if you can’t keep up. I, for one, am dyslexic and therefore need more time to read than most. Since I can’t, the text soon becomes illegible as I do not know in what order the lines go. Speech bubbles would have solved this issue nicely. The occasional grammatical error also makes the dialogue appear... amateurish.
As I mentioned before, the missions are quite limited. Most of them have you hunting down a couple of subs, or a group of planes, with a limit as to how many units you can lose in the hunt. Lose more than the allotted count, and you will lose the mission. In the missions where your targets are boats or planes, you simply have to order each and every unit you have to turn on their long-range radars and wait for the blips to show up; then send everything you have got at them. Mission accomplished in 15 minutes. In the submarine hunts, however, you’ll have to drop sonobuoys and hope you get lucky. The buoys have very short ranges and are live for a very short time. This means that you may end up looking for hours without a single sign of a sub.
The game’s AI is quite underdeveloped. On normal difficulty, most of the missions are very easy to accomplish as enemy planes fly by your ships without firing, leaving them open for attack by your forces. When ordering a unit to drop sonobuoys, they won’t drop them in an orderly fashion in the area you indicated. For some reason, they’ll drop them along the edges of the box you drew on the mini-map, making any sub that may be hiding in the middle of it safe. Missions tend to be exercises in trial and error as they all have predetermined parameters and predetermined units. The trick is to fall victim to the enemy’s actions a few times until you know exactly what he is about to do and then counter that act. This renders the game not a strategic challenge for the intellectual player, but a test of memory and reaction.
With every game I review, it becomes clearer and clearer that I need to invest in a new monitor. More and more games simply ignore the needs of those of us still using screens with a standard 5:4 or 4:3 aspect ratios. My monitor, coming in at 1280x1024, has a 5:4 ratio. In the beginning of each mission, a newspaper clipping sets the mood by presenting the player with the headline regarding the progress of the war. On my monitor, the first and last word of each line lies outside the monitor’s borders, forcing me to guess what they are. This is a problem I wouldn’t have imagined persisted with the range of sizes and ratios available in computer monitors these days.
The game isn’t all bad though, it does have its up-sides. The music, for example, is excellent. Harald Nævdal, better known as Demonaz from the Norwegian black metal band Immortal, was in charge of giving the game an atmosphere consistent with a conflict in the frozen Arctic sea. This, he has accomplished perfectly as the music matches the theme of the game to a ‘T’. Other sounds, such as explosions and launches, are quite adequate, but not more than that.
Problem is that Naval War: Arctic Circle appears to be less than finished. Turbo Tape have stated that downloadable content and updates are due, and the game world will be expanded. The graphics engine could do with a make-over as well. This being an indie game in a niche market, and considering its low price point, the community is sure to take the job of modding it into excellence into their capable hands. It certainly has potential, but I simply can’t find it within myself to recommend it at this stage of development.
Excellent music, realistic units.
Bad AI, bad dialogue, short campaign, empty multiplayer, numerous bugs.