In a fictional future, the U.S. and Russia have gotten into a bit of a mess with one another over a northern maritime passage that has opened up thanks to global warming. War, it seems, is inevitable. That's the scenario behind Paradox Interactive's military strategy computer game Naval War: Arctic Circle, as the player takes the role of an officer on either side of the conflict.
In truth, the story acts as nothing more than a reason for war to break out. After all, who would want to play a militaristic strategy game during peacetime? While NWAC's overall plot may often times find itself taking a back seat to actual gameplay, the developers at Turbo Tape Games did well to inject some humanity and bits of humor into the mission briefings.
Gameplay finds two different sets of missions from which the player gets to choose. On one hand, you have a stripped-down version of NATO; and the other finds an ambitious Russia eager to reclaim its Cold War-era glory. The motives for each differ, but the basics are the same: receive objectives, evaluate your equipment, create a plan, then execute it to the best of your ability while minimizing losses. While that may seem easy enough, players discover fairly early on that it's not as black-and-white as it may seem. The deeper into the game one gets, the more one things reading Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' might be just as helpful as a Prima Guide.
Then again, the Taoist tactical teachings of Sun Tzu's piece of Chinese non-fiction probably aren't enough to prepare the player against just how difficult things can get in NWAC. Kudos to the developers, as they've made a challenging game out of what could have been little more than video game 'Battleship'. Players will find themselves more than once in the trial-and-error state of mind when it comes to how to approach a mission. The game doesn't give players the option to save his game during missions, but that actually can work towards a player's benefit as it forces him to start over from that mission's beginning should things go awry.
For as interesting and challenging as Naval War: Arctic Circle's single-player campaigns are, that's only a warm-up for the game's exceedingly competitive online multiplayer. While it might not have the same smack-talking a hardcore Call of Duty player might spew at you, it does have the same butt-kicking difficulty that's usually associated with novices taking on old pros. Unless you like having your maritime butt handed to you each time you play, just go at it with player you know are around your skill level.
Almost as soon as one fires up NWAC, it becomes clear that putting together a game that looked as good as it played was not high on Turbo Tape Games' list of priorities. Simply put, Naval War: Arctic Circle is about as visually un-sexy as it gets while still being something mildly presentable. Ships and naval aircraft look, well, ugly; and the appearance of the various officers and commanders on briefing screens look almost New York Post comical (in a sad way).
The game's soundtrack is equally disappointing. The tracks that play don't exactly fit the game as well as they perhaps could. Those who grow tired of the tunes that play should look into muting the game and throwing a patriotic mix of MP3s into WinAmp, having that playing in the background instead.
The Paradox Interactive-published Naval War: Arctic Circle is a game that, for a couple of reasons, will fly under the radar for most gamers. Those who are seriously into military strategy games probably noticed it and are likely enjoying it. For those who don't like their strategy quite so, well, tactical, this title might best be left out to sea.
Final Game Guys grade: B-
(GamersGate provided a copy of this game for review.)