Back in January I took my refund from the Hero’s Song debacle and picked up a couple of games off of Steam with the money. Refunded money is like found money and should be spent immediately. I grabbed Orwell, Death Ray Manta, and Atlantic Fleet, something I even documented on a Friday bullet points post. (I had forgotten about that until I went to make a tag for Atlantic Fleet and found I already had one.”
I let Atlantic Fleet sit for a bit, finally picking it up to play last month.
Atlantic Fleet by Killerfish Games is a tactical turn-based naval combat simulation that focuses on the war between Britain and Germany in WWII. You can replay the surface and submarine encounters that characterized the Battle of the Atlantic before the US Navy showed up.
For a game that is $9.99 it has a lot to recommend it.
The models of the ships and aircraft are good. The game runs well, being both stable and resource efficient.
The mechanics of the game are reasonably simple once you grasp them. For complexity, the game lies somewhere between the first person whimsy of World of Warships and the grognard impenetrability of Storm Eagle’s Jutland series.
There is a tutorial that guides you through playing the game. It doesn’t exactly hold you by the hand and guide you… it throws up a text box that requires you to both read and comprehend what it is telling you, so you need to take a minute rather than just jumping in… but there isn’t a lot to learn so once you get the basics things fall into place.
Once there you can pick one of the pre-set scenarios or start a campaign. I prefer the scenarios, which cover a range of historical engagements. I gravitated to the pursuit of the Admiral Graff Spee, an encounter that my grandfather deemed important, making me memorize the names of the British cruisers involved. (Achilles, Ajax, and Exeter.)
Of course, all is not perfection.
I found the basic AI to be a bit simple. It does what it needs to do and at least doesn’t lock on and hit with every shot. But it doesn’t seem quite up to the task of dealing with even a dolt like myself. I have played the Graff Spee scenario a number of times, playing each side, and I have never lost outright. My first run, when I was just learning and made many mistakes, I managed to sink the Graff Spee with desperate torpedo run, though I lost two cruisers, with a third damaged, in the process.
Later, when I figured things out a bit, I could zero out the Graff Spee without loss and then re-run the scenario and kill all three British cruisers and sail away barely touched, like Captain Langsdorff’s dream.
The Bismark scenarios likewise led to some different historical endings. I managed to sink both the Bismark and the Prinz Eugen with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.
I appreciate that you can use your skill to change historical events. HMS Hood doesn’t always have to explode… though I made that happen.
It was more a matter of my being able to change events, sometimes drastically, by just watching how the AI works rather than because I posses some special skill at naval combat. (Which I most certainly do not.) You can engage the “hard” level AI and “elite” AI gunnery, but that quickly becomes pretty viscous. AI is always a dicey issue because you want a game to be accessible (i.e. shouldn’t dunk new players mercilessly) but if it is too easy then things become tedious quickly.
This isn’t a huge fault, and given the game price the AI is pretty good, but it did strike me initially. And the default AI fights on to the bitter end. I had the Hood firing away at me still when its rear turrets were swamped by sea water washing over the rear decks.
Under the waves, submarine combat is just okay. You get to lurk and go to periscope depth and unleash your deadly fish.
But this is not a submarine simulator, and the submarine aspect feels very simplistic if you have ever played one.
The submarine scenarios emphasize this. They tend to start with the sub in position. You launch your torpedoes then dive and evade. If you aimed true and hit your target, you win. If you missed you likely lose.
Meanwhile anti-submarine warfare feels very simple and haphazard… which makes it pretty realistic for the time. You get a sonar contact with an estimated bearing and range, and then you either pop away at periscopes with you guns or you drop depth charges. Both tend to feel like throwing stones in the ocean which, again, is probably realistic. The most exciting moment in ASW for me so far was having the HMS Queen Elizabeth fire her 15″ guns at my periscope.
Then there is the aircraft component which I found unsatisfying. I am not sure what I would suggest as an alternative, but even in a simple simulation like Atlantic Fleet the aircraft feel tacked on. The aircraft models are nice though. I will give them that.
But perhaps the most unsatisfying part of the game for me is how turns are managed. I don’t mind turn-based combat. Not everything has to be real time and one likes a respite now and again to assess the situation. But how turns are structured, and how that structure influences the game irks me a bit.
Let us say you have a scenario with two friendly ships and two enemy, which I will designate F1 and F2 for friendlies and H1 and H2 for the hostiles. This is how a turn plays out:
You give F1 its movement order, then F1 moves. After that you select F1’s firing option, then F1 fires. Following that you do the same thing for F2, each moving and firing in their own turn. Then H1 moves then fires, followed by H2, which moves then fires.
A little clunky, but not the end of the world.
However, in order to fit this all together, the firing phase is rather simple. You designate your target then select which of the weapon systems on the ship you care to use. For a battleship, as an example, you can use main armament with armor piercing rounds, main armament with high explosive rounds, secondary armament with AP rounds, secondary armament with HE rounds, torpedoes, or a star shell to light up targets for night combat.
So you can fire your main guns, or your secondary guns, or torpedoes, or an illumination shell. They are all mutually exclusive. Furthermore, your guns get to fire every turn, there being no reload time differential between main and secondary armament. Effectively a battleships 15″ guns fire just as fast as a wee destroyers 4″ guns or a cruisers 8″ guns.
Torpedoes do get locked out until they reload, so you cannot launch a spread of those every turn. That would be completely unbalancing. But when it comes to the choice between primary and secondary guns, you wouldn’t ever fire the secondaries unless the mains were knocked out.
Ideally, I would have preferred to have a simultaneous scheme where you give movement and firing orders for all weapons systems and then the turn resolves, accounting for timers for things like guns with differing rates of fire. That would have been a better solution.
However, that is asking a lot for ten bucks.
And for that price the game delivers some pretty good value. In addition to the historical scenarios, you have a wartime strategic simulation campaign, where you place your ships and fight battles as they come up, along with a “build your own navy” campaign where you have to earn ships as you go along. The former is pretty amazing and intense, the latter is a bit silly, but all told you can fight a lot of battles. I like the historical scenarios, which are quick battles, and the ability to create your own line ups for such encounters. I’ve been battling the Tirpitz against various Royal Navy battleships.
So, to sum up, Atlantic Fleet might not be the naval combat simulator you want, but it is likely the one you need. If you have a naval combat itch to scratch, this will do it for you at a reasonable price. Well worth the time and money.
Meanwhile Killerfish Games has a Pacific Fleet version of the game in the works according to their site and just launched a new title called Cold Waters.
Cold Waters is a simulation of the naval actions in Tom Clancy’s book Red Storm Rising. Those actions were based off of a scenarios played with the table top game Harpoon which was later turned into a series of computer games which included the events from the book, making this new game a re-imagining of a conversion of an homage or something. I am not sure.
But it is $39.99, so I will be interested to see what the reviews say about it. That is past the point of impulse purchase price for me.