Naval Battles Simulator has a long way to go if it is to compete with Rule the Waves14 Jul 2020 2
There are some genuine nail-biting moments when playing Naval Battles Simulator (NBS), the Early Access game by indie developer, Anarchy97 Games. With its campaign layer adding both context and consequence to its tactical naval battles, there is potential to develop into an engaging title– Yet, despite its solid foundation there are still some problems.
NBS is set during the Second World War and allows you to refight the Battle of the Atlantic. Play the Allies and, as you might expect, you need to supply Britain with war materials–Malta also requires supplies along with the USSR. The war is lost if Britain’s war supplies meter reaches zero.
Playing the Axis puts you in the shoes of Karl Dönitz, sending ships and U-boats to intercept Allied convoys. There are also 17 scenarios depicting fictional and historic battles, such as the Battle of Denmark Strait, and an inbuilt editor to create/edit your own scenarios.
The tactical gameplay itself is fairly engaging. However, this is not Command: Modern Operations and you should adjust your expectations regarding the depth of simulation on offer. You can set headings, speed, play with sonar, depth charges, and fire a vessel's guns and torpedoes. You can let the AI handle these aspects or manage everything on your own and you will be managing multiple vessels in most engagements. At first, I was a little disappointed with what felt like a pretty shallow simulation, but after playing for a while I felt it struck a nice balance between giving the player plenty to do, without overwhelming them.
On the other hand, the campaign can feel a little one-dimensional. After a few hours playing, I started to find the game a bit repetitive. There’s no research, design or ship production–vessels will simply appear in port at predetermined dates. No upgrades to dockyards or U-boat pens, no commanders/admirals to assign. You just create a taskforce and send it to a port to deliver war materials or you send wolfpacks to find and intercept convoys. In the game’s defence the repetitive gameplay loop might be symptomatic of the subject matter rather than the game’s design. But I wonder if additional elements could be added to the campaign to make it more interesting.
On a positive note, ship damage is one of the game’s highlights and is modelled in detail. Vessels are divided into three levels; the upper deck, lower deck and hull beneath the waterline. A ship's individual guns, magazines and systems are also represented. Flooding can occur and spread throughout a ship’s compartments along with fires. Individual guns, rudders and systems can each be damaged or disabled and a ships list angle can also be affected when taking water on board. Pumps can be allocated to compartments to help alleviate flooding.
As it stands, the UI needs work. You can’t name task forces. You need to left click and drag to scroll through menus. You cannot drag and drop ships from one taskforce or group to another. You must manually select one ship at a time (no holding the shift or control keys to select multiple vessels), then click the move button.
The main screen is divided into an awkward set of windows. One window is a world map from which the game is played, the other a scrolling timeline with notifications, such as battle reports, monthly summaries, historical recordings of speeches and intelligence reports. The timeline acts as a curtain that can be extended downwards to cover the main map–the notifications are pinned on multiple vertical axis of the timeline. The problem is that you are constantly dragging the ‘curtain’ down to read a notification and then dragging it back up so that you can return to the map. A notification icon at the top of the screen, similar to any Paradox Interactive game, would be more intuitive and less intrusive to gameplay.
There are also issues with pathfinding. Plotting a course from New York to Liverpool will attempt to send your ships through Ireland not around it. Your ships will simply camp off the coast until you manually add waypoints back into the ocean. You are therefore left with micromanaging every route, manually adding waypoints across the map. This isn’t so much a problem when setting search patterns for vessels. However, it would be nice to be able to plot a course without having to manually navigate around every small island, quay or coastline. Similarly, I have yet to work out how to cross the Suez Canal and for some reason, the Kiel Canal does not seem to be represented in the game.
The developer seems to have a genuine interest in the subject matter and it certainly feels like a labour of love. But I am weary of Early Access titles, especially when they are developed by a small indie team. Consequently, unless you specifically want to refight the Battle of the Atlantic, you might be better off checking out Rule the Waves 2 (RtW2). It is another naval simulation with a strategic component. Whilst the games overlap in terms of theme and tactical battles, RtW2 is not grounded in a specific conflict. Instead, it’s about designing, building and maintaining a navy from the late-Victorian era through the 1950’s. It comes highly recommended by resident Wargamer, Joe Fonseca–check out his review here.
So, where does that leave us? Despite only costing $14.99 USD, I would suggest caution before purchasing NBS. The keel has been laid and it has the potential to be a solid tactical simulator, with an engaging operational layer of gameplay, giving your battles urgency. However, the UI needs a lot of work, the gameplay loop can get repetitive, it still feels a little barebones and I am left wondering whether RtW2 is the better purchase. As NBS gets more updates, it might develop into something special. But at this stage, I think it’s best to wait and see how development progresses before buying.
Naval Battles Simulator was released into Steam Early Access in late February 2020. At the time of writing, it is scheduled to hit Version 1.0 around six - ten months after that.
This article was generously donated to Wargamer.com by the author.