Naval Action: Whistle and I’ll gun to you, my lad. - Games Weekly

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Naval Action: Whistle and I’ll gun to you, my lad.

The shrill peep of a whistle tells me my guns are loaded. I fire a single shot, watching through my spyglass as it arcs over the enemy vessel, plopping into the sea beyond. I adjust my aim slightly, and unleash a full broadside, firing all my cannon at once.

Don’t get too impressed; I only have four guns, because I’m in a Lynx, one of the smallest ships in the game. Nevertheless, it’s still carnage. I have to wait for the smoke to clear before I can see the result: torn sails, splintering wood, blood and thunder. There’s no Hollywood explosion, though; Naval Action is a simulator that just happens to be an action game In truth, most of my shots are less successful. Factors like wind and the angle of list affect accuracy, which is exactly why nailing your target feels incredible. “Every cannonball is tracked in the air and after it hits the target,” explains Game Labs CEO Maxim Zasov. 


“One shot can hit the stern, damage the rudder, then hit the cannon carriage, injure crew, ricochet from the floor and hit the opposite side.” In one battle, I experience this firsthand: a stray ball from an opponent knocks out my rudder altogether, leaving me floating peacefully towards inevitable defeat.
It already has a fan-made treatise written in the style of a Napoleonic captain
It sounds random and annoying, but it’s not. Most of the battles I play are pleasingly attritional: tests of resolve where my opponent and I pound each other from afar, scrambling to reload the guns and make every volley count. Armour, represented by blue bars, is thickest on the sides of each ship. The bow and stern are far more vulnerable. Mechanically, gunnery feels similar to naval battles from  Empire: Total War , but  Naval Action  is more intricately detailed. A similar cone of fire dictates where you shoot, but the viewpoint makes you feel like you’re on deck, surrounded by taut ropes, creaking wood and whistles. Always with the whistles.

Sailing is equally important, and it’s also the area that requires the most prior knowledge (unless you switch it to auto-skipper a sensible move for beginners). How advanced is it? There’s already a fan-made ‘Treatise on Naval Action’ written in the style of a Napoleonic naval captain. “Yard angles, ship angle to wind, cargo, fittings and ship condition affect speeds and turning rates,” says Maxim. “Correct tacking, boxhauling, clubhauling and other elements of the age of sail are possible.
Yards of the ship affect leeway and the captain can squeeze extra performance out of the vessel by properly positioning yards in relation to the ship.” These are terms that will bewilder anyone who hasn’t spent a lifetime immersed in the works of Patrick O’Brian, but that’s precisely why it’s so exciting. It’s as realistic as you want it to be. If you really want to push your vessel, learn how it handles and practise proper sailing manoeuvres, the option is there.

It’s complicated enough when the focus is purely on sailing and gunnery: you’ll have your hands full just trying to land shots on target, even without the advanced sailing options. Because of this, you act exactly as a captain would, issuing commands and aiming guns but not dealing with the minutiae of running your ship.

“We don’t plan to overload the captain with heavy lifting and pulling,” Maxim explains. “Your first lieutenant and boatswain are more than capable to manage the crews and make sure your orders are properly fulfilled. As a captain you will be deciding on fitting, crew composition, firing and manoeuvring commands.”

This extends to questions of resource management. You won’t be tasked with ensuring there’s enough ship’s biscuit to feed the crew. “The main design goal is to eliminate unnecessary tax on the player’s time,” Maxim says. “At the early access stage we will avoid the hassle of managing resources by hand. In the age of sail, a purser or victualler handled the provisions. Captains usually went out to sea prepared for a long patrol we believe that the detailed intricacies of managing provisioning composition could be avoided.” A fair point, but one which might disappoint anyone looking to hand out rum rations; consider it the lesser of two weevils.

Most intriguingly, this is just the beginning. Transferring these elements to an open world will alter how  Naval Action  plays. “You will not be able to see a specific class of the ship on the open world map,” says Maxim. “Attacking a generic heavy frigate in the open world might bring you o a battle with anything ranging from a 40-gun to a 50-gun super frigate.”

This naval sim’s combat encounters are thrilling enough when they’re guaranteed to happen; chancing upon any enemy in open water or having to run like smoke and oakum from a superior vessel can only make Naval Action even more compelling to play.

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