to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a
new featured game on this page. The game may be good,
average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter!
Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia!
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by Gary Grigsby
text of the present article comes from the review published
in the twenty seventh issue of the British C64 magazine
ZZAP!64 (street date: June 11th, 1987).
I'm Philippa Irving. I've been editing 'Frontline',
the CRASH strategy column, since the beginning of the
year, and now here I am at last to provide a similar
service to you, the ZZAP!-reading strategy enthusiast.
I'll be scrutinising, in my own uncompromising way,
any software with the vaguest hint of strategy which
wends its way from Ludlow to Oxford. I'll be giving
the large number of wargamers who read the magazine
(that's you!) a chance to air their views through the
Despatches section, and perhaps (if the powers that
be let me have enough room) I'll introduce a modest
hints and tips column. All of this despite being in
the final extremities of avoiding studying for an English
degree at Oxford! I need the money, you see, to keep
up the usual lifestyle -- punting on the Cherwell, going
to the Christchurch ball on a double dining ticket,
rioting in restaurants and existing largely on strawberries,
cream and vintage champagne.
interests are many and varied, and include writing novels,
singing, role-playing, media fandom, knitting and hi-fi.
However, ever since my family got a Commodore for Christmas
a few years ago, and particularly since I bought my
own Spectrum, collecting, playing and studying 'entertainment
software' has been a constant source of enjoyment and
I'm still an enthusiastic and discriminating member
of the software-buying public, I try to bring the perspective
of a potential purchaser to my assessment of the games
reviewed in this column. This is not always easy when
I get the games free, and I can be surreptitiously grateful
for a simplistic system that lets me get in and out
quickly and off to a tutorial, but I keep in mind that
the games I've valued most have been those which seemed
at first to offer limitless hours of play, and yet were
attainable in the end after many dedicated weeks. I
think in particular of the great Spectrum arcade adventures
such as Marsport, and the sheer sense of scope
created by the artistry of the Midnight games.
Lastable games create their own world, so atmosphere
is just as important as complexity of detail, the difference
between Battlefield Germany and Vulcan
is like the difference between 'Sir Charles Grandison'
there's a degree of common ground between all entertainment
software -- it all, as a principal element offers the
player interaction without the presence of another human
being -- I believe as a point of principal that some
kinds of games should have specialised treatment. No
reviewer would measure a text adventure by the same
standards as an arcade game, yet it's not uncommon to
find reviews treating a strategy or wargame as if it
were a Gauntlet variety that didn't move fast
enough. It's true that because of the comparatively
small number of wargame releases there are fewer opportunities
for good games to surface from what is probably the
inevitable mass of mediocrity -- it's also true that
production values are usually lower, especially when
it comes to graphics and programming standards. There
are some strategy and wargames which cannot be faulted
on presentation and programming, but it's common to
find a game of this genre seriously presented as a major
release, fresh from a BASIC compiler in somebody's back
bedroom. Some people, fed up with the increasing blandness
and crassness of modern releases, would welcome this
as a return to Victorian values; there's still one area
of computer gaming where content is valued more highly
than presentation. Unfortunately, a badly-programmed
game is more often than not just a bad game full stop.
A lot can be done towards careful, attractive design
without compromising the availability of memory, and
nothing is less likely to create that essential, elusive
quality 'atmosphere' than a few monochromatic blobs
on a featureless screen.
Commodore, with its disk facilities, offers a great
deal more potential to the wargamer than the Spectrum.
It also offers American imports at astronomical prices.
I'll be trying to assess in this column how much these
sort of games really offer, and I'll be giving what
I like to think is a slightly alternative approach to
hardware problems have delayed my arrival in ZZAP! and
have truncated this month's column. Hopefully I'll have
it sorted out by next month . . . meanwhile, it's back
to Wordsworth and Richardson.
£19.99 disk only
is a difficult game for me to review. Because of the
great complexity of the rules I have to admit that in
the short time that I've had to play-test, it hasn't
been easy to get a comprehensive idea of how the system
feels to play -- although the rulebook gives an immediate
understanding of the theory behind it. Getting the most
from the gameplay is a matter of co-ordinating the uncompromising
and unimaginative on-screen appearance with the material
in the rulebook (which might more accurately be described
as a source-book) and the realisation quickly sets in
that this is a long-term project.
Cruiser comes with the expected lavish packaging
of an American import, which is reminiscent of a boxed
scenario pack for a role playing game; the disk itself
is inconspicuously hidden in a corner of the box underneath
the glossy, full-sized, 29 page rule book. This is a
standard of presentation hitherto unknown to me, coming
wide-eyed from the homespun realms of Spectrum wargames,
and the amount of material in the book promises the
kind of complexity and thoroughness that only disk-based
software can hope to offer. The game's subtitle -- 'The
Complete Simulation of World War I and World War II
Surface Battles in the Atlantic' -- seems mildly ambitious,
but when you realise that the disk is double-sided,
and that 14 full pages of the rulebook are given over
to ship specification, the potential soon becomes apparent.
Even a short examination of the permutations available
on loading makes it clear that the range of historical
or custom-built scenarios available is enormous.
War I is contained in its naval entirety on one side
of the disk, and WWII on the other. The first screen
allows the player to tailor a set of fundamental options,
such as the number of players (you can even watch the
computer playing with itself if you wish, something
I've never seen offered by a wargame before), handicap
level for non-historical scenarios, and the speed at
which system messages are displayed. An important choice
offered is whether to play a historical scenario (of
which there are four offered for each war) or to build
building your own scenario is recommended. If you choose
to, further options' screens offer you the chance to
fight on the open sea or to design your own landmass
to play around; you can also specify the time and date
of the conflict down to the minute, with the year chosen
affecting the availability of ships. There is also a
chance to introduce further handicap levels by deciding
who has air/sea control of the battle area, who is best
at damage control, and what the visibility level is.
There are five different types of action offered, four
game lengths, and a selection (in one case) of 53 different
ships. Ploughing through these options before play even
in sight, gives the confused first-time player a bewildering
glimpse of infinity. Fortunately, the choices are methodically
set out and explained in the rulebook, and only a player
eager to get at the action would be confused. I suspect
that this group includes most people who load a piece
of software for the first time, but detailed reference
to the rulebook is an essential practice at every stage
in this game.
the game reaches the deployment phase which opens all
player-designed scenarios, and which offers another
chance to meddle with the variables. Ships can be auto-selected
by the computer for both sides, or by the player, from
a pool of 'ship selection points' allocated to reflect
the size and type of battle. In the deployment phase
the player can freely alter the bearing, speed and characteristics
of each ship, can change their division numbers, and
can even rename them according to his own fantasy. Renaming
ships is very useful if you have opted for the quick
cop-out of letting the computer auto-select your forces,
because it will probably serve you up with four Acastas
and live Renowns and you may subsequently have difficulty
in keeping track of individual ships.
anticipation raised by the long series of option screens
is very much dissipated by the first sight of action.
The player is confronted by a blank screen with a pale
square in the middle of it and a crowded menu of options
at the bottom. The game is driven by a number of these
menus, which are called up when appropriate and, again,
are fully and methodically explained in the rules; the
gameplay's visual presentation, which occurs very much
in terms of statistics, could kindly be called minimalist
and more honestly uninspiring, even weedy. Ships are
shown as indistinct shapes which just about hint at
their type (and more or less indicate in which direction
the vessel is pointing), though when both sides go into
battle it's impossible to tell at a glance which are
your own. Each class of ship is, however, illustrated
in reasonable detail in the reference guide except where
we are told, grandly, that 'historical reference is
not available.' Imaginative input on the part of the
player is required to get any pleasure from watching
the game. This distinctly shoddy appearance, particularly
when contrasted with the superior presentation of the
rules, makes it look like Battle Cruiser is deliberately
refusing to have anything to do with the cosmetics of
computer game design. An austere utilitarian approach
is all very business-like, especially when the important
aspects of the game are so well worked out, but computer
software has in theory the potential to be genuinely
attractive, and as far as wargames go, the computer
has to compete with the considerable aesthetic appeal
of the boxed game and painted lead figures.
proceeds in a fast, free mixture of order giving and
order execution. Through a system of menus, movement
and combat instructions can be given to ships individually
or en masse by divisions. The orders are then executed
in real-time during the action phase, which indefinitely
extends itself unless the player requests another order
phase. If anything interesting happens during the action
phase, the player is informed by messages which may
flash by very rapidly or very slowly depending on which
message speed was selected. To change the fleet's orders
in response to these messages, the player presses a
key to exit the action phase at the next opportunity
-- the response is not instantaneous, as the game seems
to want to finish what it's doing first. This is a free-form
system which releases the gameplay from the artificial
rigidity of fixed-length turns, and gives the player
a good degree of control. A save game option is automatically
given before each orders phase.
to combat, the player's fleet has to find the enemy
ships. The map, which allows movement in all the compass
directions by means of an extremely irritating cursor
system, is not enormous in real terms and the enemy
will probably be sighted within the first turn. As with
movement, orders for combat can be given to entire divisions,
and if an individual ship is set against one of the
enemy, a 'target' order automatically starts the firing.
Whether or not your ship will hit or do much damage
if it does, is determined by a vast number of factors.
During the orders phase it's easy to access a table
which shows the weaponry of each ship, and reference
to the rulebook gives details about the range and merit
of the equipment. When combat is happening during the
action phase, a hit to either one of the player's or
the enemy's ships is reported in specific terms of eight
possible locations, damage to which gradually impairs
the ship's own capacity. There are lists of equations
in the rules which explain the probable accuracy of
gunfire and the chance of penetration -- using variables
such as the speed of the target, the range, and the
specifications of the weapons. I may not understand
them, but I'm glad to see them; I feel that game mechanics
ought to be explained in the rules, and Battle Cruiser
does it in such exacting detail that one has the uneasy
suspicion that the information ought to be useful if
only one were clever enough. Certainly the rules give
the player the maximum possible chance of intelligently
making use of the capabilities of each ship, even though
in play it's easy just to target the first ship you
spot and watch in fascination as hits to various parts
of the anatomy are reported in quick succession. Hits
are accompanied by a sound effect which is useful enough,
but has no chance at all of generating the atmosphere
the graphics deny.
are scored for sinking ships and driving them off the
edge of the map. The number of points scored for ships
lessens if the victorious side has air/sea control of
the battlefield, so there is a price to be paid for
favourable handicap conditions.
'Battle Cruiser' is an impressive concept, if
nothing special as a piece of software; whether
or not you will enjoy it depends very much on
what you're looking for. The game in the computer
seems almost a supplement to the rulebook, and
it's clear that to get the best out of playing
it you will need to refer constantly to the fascinating
charts, descriptions and details presented in
the manual. For someone who is interested in the
technical aspects of naval warfare, this seems
to be as complete a model as one could possibly
want (though I admit I know nothing about it).
with the eight historical situations, the infinite
choice of player-defined open sea combat and the
option to custom-build maps, the potential variety
of play is enormous and I rate sustaining interest
as about as high a virtue as any game can have.
It is usually a very difficult quality to judge
for a review.
impeccable and expensive packaging is slightly
offset by the unevenly poor-quality on-screen
is a kind description.
So luxuriant, so faultless, that
they're more important than the game itself .
Comes close to justifying its claim
to be a 'complete' simulation.
Dry and puzzling to get into, but
once there swift and well-designed.
Extremely expensive, but when you've
paid you've got the whole Allied and Axis navies
and hours of play. It's a question of perceived
Excellent for what it is, but very
much a matter of taste.
Kiminas (25 Jun 2005)
There were no screenshots in the original review.
"Games of the Week!"