The game brings naval and air action with RTS control in one neat package, that is also plagued by some significant nags
Before we go into the intricacies of the game I would like to make it clear that if you are searching for a good RTS experience in this game, as I did when I bought it, you might as well leave them at the doorstep before you pop in this DVD into your PC. This is not an RTS but merely offers a few basic RTS operations. Of course, there is some strategy planning to do but that's of a different kind.
The game doesn't force a tutorial on you, which might be good news for veterans of this franchise. You are provided with a 'Tutorial' option in the neatly designed menu interface. However, it is a nothing more than a sandbox with a few basic objectives which in itself might take you some time to discover and that is not a good sign. The game introduces to its concepts through a number of help pop ups, but they have the knack of popping up at the wrong time. Moreover, this help system is still quite inadequate and may not exactly clear things out for the gamer.
To add to the frustration and the bad first impressions, the developers have included the so-called cut scenes, which by far are some of the most uninteresting and incoherent ones I have seen. This is in no way helped by the choppy voice acting. The delivery of the dialogues are amateurish and there is a lack of clarity. This problem is evident both in the cut-scenes and in-game. One has to be thankful that you can skip these scenes.
Coming to the brighter aspects of the game, the first thing one would notice when the game begins is the breath taking visuals. The environments, especially the water have been beautifully rendered with great attention to detail. The ships too have been modeled quite well, but compared to their surroundings, they appear quite bland. The aircrafts, on the other hand, have been rendered along the same lines as the environments.
Playing as a ship commander or a pilot promises loads of action and fun, with more intense action in the air. The developers have done a commendable job in bringing about the authenticity of the mechanics of both. While it may take some practice to learn how to properly control either, once the you have mastered it, there is little to stop you from wreaking havoc on the enemy. Words fall short of describing it. You will have to play the game and find out for yourself.
The missions are varied and well constructed, such that the gamer does not find himself or herself repeating the same thing each time. Each mission feels refreshingly different and does enough to maintain the flow of the game. However, there are times when the pace slackens, especially in naval missions. Crossing fairly large distances with your heavy ships takes time and here the game shows a stark contrast with the its core gameplay characterized by intense action.
As an added feature you are given the option of controlling your units from the tactical map, as you would do in an RTS game. So you could order some of your units to undertake a certain task while you can jump into the action with another unit. Sounds good, but this where the game fails. The scope of the RTS element is very limited and you will find yourself shifting between units, thanks to the inconsistent AI. The main problem here is that the allied units under AI often perform the assigned task in an inefficient manner. As a result your focus in the battle keeps varying between macro control and singular unit action, not allowing you to enjoy the game enough.
Following up with AI, it is a little more than mediocre at best. Aircraft AI is quite good but ship AI is flawed and inconsistent. This applies to both enemy as well as allied AI, but can be predominantly noticed in the allied one. You would give an order to one ship in the in-game view and switch to another one, but find that the former has changed course and the AI has taken over. In another instance you would leave a ship to AI control and take over to another only to find that your last order was blindly followed, the allied AI non-existant in this case.
The game also suffered from technical difficulties, most notable being the unresponsiveness of the unit both on the tactical map and off it. It would sometimes take several tries to make a unit respond to your command and this is especially obvious on the tactical map, thus reducing the functional quality of the RTS element further.
Finally we come to the sound effects. The voice acting might be horrible but the rest of the sound effects are to be savoured. The hum of the fighter, the boom of the artillery, the splash of the water, every one of them is done to perfection. There is no background music in-game to speak but it is better this way.
In spite of being plagued by numerous nags, the game has its heart in the right place. The RTS feature is welcomed but the failings accompanying are not. The developers have to concentrate on straightening out these mostly cosmetic flaws. As for the gameplay... it's already at its best footing.