Fearless, Indefatigable, Indomitable, Mindful... warships that participated in history’s bloodiest naval engagement, and what you’ll need to be to get the most out of this unusual real-time recreation of the event. Indie outfit Storm Eagle Studios have taken the Royal Navy’s darkest day and turned it into a convincing strategy game. What they haven’t managed to do is create something elegant or exciting enough to rival the best landlubbing wargames.
The excitement deficit is partly down to the subject matter. Naval scraps during WWI tended to be slow slugging matches conducted by fleets many miles apart. Destroyers would dash close to scuffle and loose torpedoes, but usually it was the side with the best ships and the finest gunners that prevailed. Because SES have stuck so closely to the history, bravely resisting the urge to shrink ranges or add krakens, we end up with a game that lacks the intimacy and tactical color of a Combat Mission or a Take Command.
Not that Jutland is without nuance or challenge. Endeavoring to ‘cross the T’ (put your line of gun-bristling dreadnoughts across the path of your opponent’s) can be riveting, as can directing the shoals of light cruisers and destroyers that screen and scout for the bigger beasts. Enemy captains are no fools. They maneuver ably, and know exactly when to run or pursue.
And running is a valid tactic. As SES have complemented their crude skirmish generator and 20-strong single scenario selection with a dynamic map-based strategic layer, scarpering back to Scapa or Wilhelmshaven when the odds look unfavorable doesn’t mean automatic defeat. Though the campaign only covers 1916 (or just May if you bought the standard edition) it does give a sense of the dilemmas faced by Jellicoe and Scheer, and endows even the smallest skirmishes with significance.
Consequences, operational freedom, worthy adversaries, smoke-spewing leviathans lobbing six-foot shells at each other... can this really be a 7-scoring game? Yes it can because, sadly, SES have made a right sea-dog’s dinner of the interface and copy protection.
Rather than adapt the standard RTS interface, they’ve gone their own weird way. The result is an awkward camera, a fussy system for issuing orders, and a bizarre panel-less screen layout that makes keeping tabs on your fleet far more difficult than it should be. A DRM system that locks you out of the game if you’re offline for more than seven days adds to the air of unfriendliness. Only devoted wargamers with a love of the sea are likely to endure these indignities long enough to get to the unique delights beyond.
Apr 28, 2009