Gamestyle Archive Intro: now this is a game I do remember as it dared to be different and was one of the more unexpected Japanese titles to receive a PAL release. This review dates from October 2003 and JJ.
Initially, Gamestyle was expecting Naval Ops: Warship Gunner to deliver a gripping World War II experience wrapped around the tactical flair so oft-displayed by Koei throughout its history. How wrong we were.
The opening sequence of Naval Ops sets up a scenario reminiscent of the alleged “Philadelphia Experiment”. However, this time you do indeed travel to a parallel world and see what is happening on the other side. This new world is almost identical, except a war is raging between the Freedom Fighters and the ruling Empire Forces. Here, victory is still decided with battleships and aircraft carriers, but now abetted by modern weapons such as lasers and missiles (alongside more traditional weaponry). This mixture of WWII ships and hi-tech armament is prominent throughout the main story mode. Historical war fanatics will be thankful that a WWII option accompanies the main mode, but minus the story. This option removes the destructive weaponry, and instead provides trainee captains with depth charges, anti-aircraft guns and those tremendous 14-inch-plus cannons. With or without these weapons, the ships themselves carry famous names such as the Bismarck, and are scaled replicas of the originals. Brilliant. Does a floating fortress of 65,000 tons, with nine 18.1-inch cannons at your disposal, sound like fun?
Gamestyle accepts this is no realistic simulation: enough fundamentals have been altered to give Naval Ops an arcadey feel. These metallic beasts now glide through the water with little resistance, and the whole battle system has been given a hefty dose of laxatives. Confrontations are based upon a style similar to that found in Dynasty Warriors – where bigger weapons, constant fire and swift movement will result in victory. Any necessity for tactical play has been thrown off the port side, as Naval Ops feels very much like a first-person shooter on water. By this analogy, Gamestyle means the focus is very much on maintaining quick movement to dodge incoming fire and circle targets – pounding your opposition into the watery depths. The most effective view is the default third-person viewpoint, as the aerial stance limits the area displayed; whilst the first-person view (enjoyable for pinpoint accuracy) does not allow control of the steering at the same time.
The speed of combat and its ferocity are not the only symptoms of a simplification in the game design. For every vessel that you sink, there is a chance of a bonus item being left behind (found happily bobbing on the ocean). What’s more, during battle you are allowed to conduct a limited number of repairs, which fully replenish your health. In spite of refreshment strategies afforded by the various bonus items, Naval Ops is a particularly unforgiving and difficult game to master or, as Gamestyle would hasten to advise, to appreciate fully. The mission structure is partially responsible, as it doesn’t allow for deviation from its linear route – but at the same time cannot be accused of being tragically realised. Forty varied missions form the main challenge (split equally into four sections), but failure to complete the next mission will result in a proverbial scuttling. The rigid storyline does not allow for any branching either, and despite a promising opening sequence, fails to further develop or capture the imagination of the player; instead mooring itself in military action.
The critical stage of the game is always in the dock beforehand, where you can spend points on developing new technology or manufacturing/buying new parts for an existing vessel. It is essential that your boat is fully-tailored for the missions ahead, as opponents increase in numbers as does their class of vessel. The menu system is cumbersome, and only improves over time; however, for Gamestyle, this is where the true joy of Naval Ops is to be found. Being able to construct and deploy a battleship of your own design is the stuff of childhood dreams, and far more memorable in a videogame (package) than a plastic assembly kit. There are factors to consider: such as cost, weight, armour, weaponry, and more besides. The opportunity to build the weird and wonderful is enhanced through good performance, opening up bonus items and new opportunities. The ability to possess several vessels at any one time adds more freedom to experiment, alongside the ability to scrap them. It’s a real shame the level of work needed to reach this plateau is beyond the pale of most players – however, this is a game that won’t appeal to the mainstream.
Visually, there is little on show here that will impress anyone. The oceans are undefined, and the coastal environments lack any real detail; even the ship models are not nearly as impressive as one might have imagined. Conversely, there is no ‘fog’ to speak of, thereby creating an impressive draw distance with a solid framerate in tow – small mercies that again enhance the arcade nature of combat. Matters improve somewhat when entertaining the soundtrack, despite some average-at-best voice acting. The sounds of gunfire and shells landing are well-matched with the efficient graphical notes. Releases such as Naval Ops: Warship Gunner should be applauded, as they allow us to deviate from the usual fare served up by publishers. The overall concept of the game is promising, and Koei should be congratulated for green-lighting such a release. However, Naval Ops doesn’t know whether to call itself an adventure or something much deeper – underpinned with the trimmings of a simulation. This personality ‘conflict’ has resulted in a game that fails to match the auspicious concept.
Gamestyle Score: 6/10