Editor’s note: The author of this preview is an actual sailor in the military, and operates in the Arctic Circle.
Naval War: Arctic Circle is an upcoming game from the Norwegian-based company Turbo Tape Games, and it’s their first proper game. It is published by Swedish publisher Paradox Interactive, known for titles such as Cities in Motion, Hearts of Iron, Mount & Blade and Magica, to name a few. As the name implies, it is a naval warfare RTS/simulator set in the areas around the Arctic Circle. The game takes place in 2030, and is confined to the North Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Sea, Barents Sea and the Baltic Sea.
The tutorial starts with you being appointed as Commander of an upcoming NATO exercise. From there it escalates to the Russians firing at Norwegian fishing vessels for fishing in Russian territory, and eventually leads to war. The story is actually interesting, both from a military and civilian perspective. You don’t need to go further back than March 2012, to the exercise Cold Response, a joint NATO exercise in Northern Norway to see these tendencies. In 2012, the Russians protested loudly against this “massive show of force from NATO”.
“This exercise so close to our border is a provocation, and the clear intent of NATO is to show muscles in order to claim the natural resources in the Arctic”, Russian officials said during the exercise.
In game, you can play as both Russian and NATO forces, giving players the unique opportunity to see a conflict from both sides—a rare treat in modern gaming.
The beta, so far, has been very stable right out of the box, which shows great promise for the final release. In the time I played I can’t recall a single freeze or crash. However, the game has its bugs—hopefully fixed in the final release, or alternately in a future patch. The game seems to behave strangely at times. For instance, even though you order it to, an airbase won’t fire AA-missiles at enemy aircraft, even when they are well within range. Chaff and flares cannot be deployed by the player, and the AI won’t do this on its own. This means that your aircraft has little to no defense against incoming missiles and will most likely be shot down. The enemy however, has no trouble evading your missiles.
Graphics aren’t terrible, but from a game being released in 2012, they are generally lower than expected. Playing this game on “ultra” settings and 1080p, it looks like it should have been released a few years ago. The animations seem off, and need some repolish. Aircraft will move vertically upwards, ships have no wake, and don’t even seem to move with the sea. I once experienced a ship moving slightly sideways through the water. Hopefully these are things that will be fixed by the time the game is released.
The game features ships and aircraft from the following countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States. The game feels like a simulator in the sense that the ship and aircraft models are highly realistic, and carries the same armament as their real life counterparts. I’m impressed by the effort laid down by the developers to ensure such realistic units.
The control system is simple and the interface isn’t hard to get used to. However, the whole thing just feels a bit clunky. Attacking a unit takes several clicks to get right, as most of the time, your selected unit will just put a waypoint at the enemy unit. If you want to change the speed of several units, you need to open the movement panel and change the speed for each individual unit. I feel these things, along with some other small annoyances, ruin the flow of the game and makes for a frustrating experience sometimes.
The campaign is very exciting, not to mention frustratingly difficult in places, and as I mentioned earlier, presents a somewhat realistic scenario. I felt very engaged in the story, and every casualty almost made me ragequit, while I found myself shouting “in your face!” on several occasions just after killing an enemy unit. Trying to find a submarine firing at you, using helicopters, under constant attack from enemy jets is an immensely hard task, but finding and sinking that sub is oh-so immensely gratifying.
The tutorial is a completely different story, however. Three missions make up the tutorial, covering the basics of moving a unit, firing a weapon and detecting enemy units. However, for a game this detailed, it falls short, and the player is left on his/her own to figure out most things. I’ve been in contact with the developers, and they promised a better and more detailed tutorial will be available at launch, so the previous arguments can hopefully be ignored by release date.
I personally have been longing for a game like this for quite some time, and I’ve been following the development of this game closely. Being in the Royal Norwegian Navy myself, I’m quite excited about this release. There hasn’t been a proper naval warfare game like this since Fleet Command and Dangerous Waters, both developed by Sonalysts in 1999 and 2005 respectively.
All in all, this game shows great promise, and I’m sure the release will be worth looking at by anyone interested in a little different RTS experience. This game will be a definite buy for me. It will be released mid- to late April.
It bears repeating that I’ve tested the beta version, and many changes and fixes for problems mentioned in this preview may not be present in the final release. The developers have also said the community will be able to make and release mods. Mod tools will be presented some time after release.