Review: Naval War Arctic Circle

There are a lot of different players out there. Some like action games. Some like roleplaying games. Some like strategy simulations. In all of those categories, it goes even deeper. Some action fans like platforming arcade titles and others shooters. It is a huge difference between hardcore Mega Man fans and Call of Duty fans. Both are action titles but completely different. In strategy, you have divisions like this. Civilization, Starcraft, and SimCity are all radically different games in the same genre. You’ll have your fans that enjoy simple management with in-depth unit trees. Others will look for 4X games (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) like Civilization. Naval War: Arctic Circle is a different beast.

If you enjoy games like Starcraft or Supreme Commander, you won’t find your fix with Naval War. Coincidentally, Civ fans won’t either. Naval War is a game for enthusiasts who enjoy real time strategy. If you’re in need of a military simulator you’ve found your best bet. This game is extremely in-depth and has a semi-steep learning curve.

I was given a few copies to review Naval War. One went to me, a fan of most RTS games. Another went to a Starcraft player on the staff, Brian Buck. The last key went to a friend of mine who enjoys a robust variety of strategy games and also happens to have a background in the military. The game appealed to his strategic side. He told me that the game felt like a real military intelligence screen set up to conduct naval battles. He felt that the depiction of military themes in Naval War were accurate and in-depth but may be over-the-top for general RTS fanbases. Our StarCraft fan was disheartened by the speed of the game and occurrence of battles.



When you start a game in Naval War you’re presented with a grid-like map (above picture) that is akin to something you would see in a War Room. This isn’t an open map like in Civilization or Warlock. Naval War’s themes attempt to place you in the boots of a admiral setting up and executing in a theater of war that happens to be in the Arctic Circle. When you click on a ship or plane you’ll be given a window near the bottom of the interface showing the object in full detail. This is where most of the graphics are located. There are less pretty distractions to keep your attention as you have plenty of other things to do. The game runs in a semi-real time speed meaning that your ships and planes will take a while to reach their targets. Planes won’t be able to go all-out offensive wise as they will need to refuel. You need to manage all of these instances. The adjustments you can give your ships and planes can really make or break a mission. You can set altitude, speed, combat rules, and patrolling areas for your aircraft and send them on their way. The same can be done for subs and the game has an ‘auto’ feature to make your choices lap over.

You can see that Naval War is a very detailed game. Think of it as the Axis & Allies of RTS games. You won’t get to see much action and missions are very specific as to what they want you do. More than likely you’ll find a lot of troops still headed to combat when the mission ends. You’ll be tinkering heavily with aircraft, submarines, and going back and forth between your air carriers. Although the game is primarily a navy game, air-based combat is what many of your battles will consist of. The tinkering can be somewhat of an issue at the beginning as the UI is a bit challenging to use. One feature that may help some gamers is that you can speed up the game. However, doing so will make your games very fast and you won’t get much out of them. The true strengths of this game lie in its realism and attention to militaristic strategy.

When your mission plan executes and the battles begin, you feel a sense of intensity and commitment as you just planned everything according to your strategy. Win or fail, everything rides on you. It really makes you feel like a navy admiral at this point. Watching the battles unfold and your units carry out the exact parameters you set is enjoyable. Clicking on units and watching their damage pile up on the 3D window is the best you’re going to get out of the graphics but they look nice. Having success in a large scale battle in Naval War is a feeling that you won’t find in many games. The amount of time and thought that goes into the game puts enough commitment and attachment to mission plans that you may even generate a couple beads of sweat towards the tail end of sessions.



That all said, Naval War has some issues that could be ironed out. The 1v1 multiplayer is lacking in options, especially matchmaking skills. At one point, I was unable to have a game load up with friend until we switched me over to the host. His computer (which was the more superior one in the room) just wouldn’t work with the multiplayer. It was a weird issue but we were able to connect to a different host. Also, 1v1 just seems like a low number for a game like this. There is a small amount of models used for the ships and planes in the game. All of the nations use the same models which takes away a feeling of being different from your opponent aside from a flag or icon. Deploying certain counter measures and actions can be a bit difficult with the UI.

Overall these issues don’t fully take away from the feeling you get in the more intense sections of missions and multiplayer sessions. Naval War is not a game for everyone but the demographic they meant to touch will find plenty to like here. Sessions are very long and you won’t find a game where you’re this attached to your strategy. Every decision you make decides if these guys and gals survive the day to fight again. That’s the way you need to take in Naval War. You are in the War Room. You hold the pieces. Will you flank or directly assault? Do you have patrols scanning your perimeter? How about anti-missile defenses? These are important questions that a real naval admiral would need to ask himself. They hold lives in their hands. They have a war to win. Naval War: Arctic Circle puts you in those shoes and makes you answer those questions. How would you fair?

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  1. Axe99

    This sounds awesome.  Not surprised that the top-down action fans (Starcraft, C&C, all the games that derive from Dune 2 but sped up the action at the expense of strategy) struggle with this – the ‘core’ RTS these days is much more about RT and much less about S.  Naval War, on the other hand, sounds _all_ about strategy.  I remember coming back to PC gaming after a break on console, having read all these posts about how ‘hardcore’ PC gaming was compared with console.  Games like Naval War were what made PC gaming hardcore (The ‘Dune 2’ RTS model is fun, but it’s always been the casual man’s strategy option, and coming back to PC to find that ‘hardcore’ (over console) is Counterstrike, Starcraft and WoW was like ‘you PC-only guys are really pretty much the same as your console cousins these days’ – Note, not suggesting the author of the review is like this, just most of the PC-only gamers I’ve bumped into).

    Except when you fire up a game like Naval War, or DCS Warthog, or Hearts of Iron.  Then you really are getting into depth of gameplay you just can’t play on console.  And that’s where PC gaming’s at for me – these days, beyond obsessions with texture res and framerates, consoles do gaming as well as PCs for the most part, and in many ways better.  But they just can’t do a Naval War, or a Europa Universalis, or Gary Grigsby’s latest work.  It’s games like this that make the PC as a platform distinct (and brought me back to it in the first place), and it’s great to see another one come out :).On the by, Axis and Allies isn’t a particularly complex game – if you’re looking for a complex recreation of WW2 in a boardgame, hit up World in Flames (there’s a few others, but WiF is my fave).  Axis and Allies is good, light fun though :).

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