As I mentioned in the previous entry, the similarities with Fleet Command are there in the form of the tactical map and the 3D world view. Many years have passed and off course the interface of Naval War Arctic Circle (NWAC) takes advantage of present day coding languages, with a plethora of windows, clickeable info boxes and tool tips. Does mainstream-lining get in the way of a satisfying naval war gaming experience?
It all depends on what the player is expecting. This is not a game for data worshipers: there is a good selection of weaponry and fighting platforms that deliver them, but the vast and almost overwhelming array of hardware you can have at the tip of the cursor in highly detailed naval simulations like Harpoon, Global Conflict Blue or the upcoming Command is not in NWAC. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The compact format of NWAC allows entry-level players like me to focus in fighting rather than being worried about the technicalities of modern naval warfare. But I wonder how veteran war gamers with far more experience will take the modelling of platforms, sensors and weapons.
NWAC will feature individual missions and a couple of campaigns. The individual missions offer a decent variety of objectives and orders of battle. I didn't notice any type of randomization in the individual missions, but I could be wrong. There will be no mission editor included in the release version (maybe coming up in an update) and there is no random mission generator either.
The campaigns are linear, and progress through it is achieved by achieving victory at each scenario. There is some retro, old style delivery of the narrative in the campaigns (see screenshots below). In my case, all cuteness and fuzzy feelings about the way the back story is delivered was wiped away by the staggering losses I was accruing during my "victories". I mean, shouldn't we try to settle peace with the other side after losing 10 billion dollars worth of equipment in just a couple of battles? The post-battle victory screens have a refreshing tongue in cheek tone. The back story is limited war Clancy-esque and fun to follow. The battles are all out WWIII style Dantesque. They don't seem to match very well, in my opinion.
During battle, the aircraft, ships and submarines are commanded by standard RTS right clicks. Once the player clicks on a unit, the readily available commands are move-to (waypoints) and attack (in case the click is on an enemy unit. All that has to do with movement is consolidated in one menu that includes speed, waypoint(s) (you can assign many waypoints), return to base, speed, altitude (for aircraft), depth (for submarines). The sensors menu allows the player to control which sensors are on and off and the rules of engagement menu allows to set ammunition usage (low or overkill-high), defensive or offensive stances. Aircraft and ships that can deliver sonobuoys or other special sensors/decoys have a special menu to deploy those.
One particular menu that I liked a lot is the flight-deck. Upon clicking on a carrier or airbase, all the air assets, their status and weaponry information is readily available. With a couple of clicks the aircraft are placed on a queue and automatically grouped in a flight. In this menu, the aircraft can be re-armed for a different role than the one for which it was originally planned (there is a hefty one hour delay for re-arming aircraft). This menu is very intuitive and functional.
How much one has to micromanage in a typical mission? Not much. For starters, scenarios are not huge. In addition, units can be grouped to move together and with sensible rules of engagement, the formations (or individual units if you choose) will react to immediate threats. I've seen airbases to launch a healthy amount of Patriot missiles against incoming Russian cruise missiles. Aircraft will engage offensively or defensively and use the right weaponry. I've even seen aircraft on CAP missions refuel at a tanker all by themselves, without returning to base when at bingo fuel (which is something they also do without player interference). Groups or individual units can't be issued tactical orders beyond move or strike (this last one depends on the rules of engagement, off course) type. Setting up a sophisticated tactical mission is possible by using the move and strike orders, but it will take some clicking and close watching.
For units (air or surface) that are grouped in a formation, NWAC includes a formation editor. It was not working in the beta, but that will come in handy for fine tuning defensive or offensive tactical positioning.
To sum it up: a compact and solid offering with enough content and features for the entry and mid-level naval war gamer. At a very reasonable base price of U$ 20, veteran war gamers may take a chance at it. The Achilles' heel of NWAC is it's lack of random battle generator and mission editor, but I see a lot of potential here.