Naval combat games are often inaccessible to the armchair captain due to the inherent complexities of accessing every single one of your ship's functions. Not only must you carefully manage an entire submarine or battleship, but you must also do so while actively trading fire with enemy forces. PT Boats: Knights of the Sea differs somewhat in that it is more of a marriage between a real-time strategy game and a simulation, so it's slightly less deep than traditional naval combat games tend to be, which simultaneously makes it much more accessible. That's not to say that the game doesn't allow for a lot of thought and strategy, as it will destroy players who rush in without an ounce of either.
Nowadays, PT boats are an often overlooked facet of naval warfare in World War II; they were employed by the United States as a fast-attack craft designed to use its small complement of torpedoes to quickly advance on enemy destroyers and sink them. The boats were small, took fewer resources to make than other vessels, and were quite effective. While the PT boats were no technological feat, their strength was in their simplicity, and that, combined with their effective deployment in the face of stacked odds during many conflicts, earned them an almost legendary status even years after their use.
However, PT Boats isn't a title that makes the PT boats stand out as some supernatural force on the high seas. It represents them realistically to the point that I am truly convinced that PT boat crews had to be either incredibly courageous, certifiable nutcases, or a heroic mix of both. In addition to these vessels, the player can also take a plethora of other naval units into battles, such as carriers, destroyers, submarines and other craft. The combat is more realistic than otherwise, and even the PT boat can be sent on a twisting path to the bottom of the ocean if it takes a direct hit from an enemy deck gun.
The game can be controlled in one of two ways, either via the tactical mode or direct control mode. In the former, PT Boats handles much like a simplified RTS in the sense that it is relatively uncomplicated and relies on basic functions and controls. Rather than water down the game, however, it's a welcome simplicity; at the start of a level, you issue basic commands to your fleet and let their AI take over the minutiae of captaining and combat while you take the helm of your own vessel.
In direct control mode, the title turns from somewhat bland to incredibly engaging. In the preview build, the player can only directly control PT boats, but the level of control options on the single ship is commendable. The player can set his viewpoint to the captain's position to control the ship in first-person view and launch torpedoes, but he can also man the various antiaircraft and machine guns to directly attack the enemy. Heading toward an enemy destroyer under heavy gunfire at flank speed to try and close to optimal torpedo range is an intense affair itself, made more so when you use the mouse to look around and survey the naval battle waging in every direction.
That's not to say the preview build of PT Boats doesn't have some flaws, as it could be often difficult to figure out which gun position you were manning on the PT boat or what its firing arc is. The only way to select such positions is to repeatedly press the "2" key until you get the one you want, but otherwise, it is incredibly intuitive. For those who aren't naval strategists, it can also often be difficult to determine whether to use the best, second best, or even haphazard course of action, but at the same time, the preview build is more of a loose collection of levels from the Allied, German and Soviet sides of the conflict instead of anything that resembles a full game. Hopefully, the final product will have more in the way of tutorials to alleviate this issue.
The difficulty level is often intense, and though PT Boats is more accessible than naval simulation titles, it can still have an intimidating learning curve. Whether the player succeeds or is defeated on the open seas depends more on how effectively he can wield naval tactics and use the overall strength of his fleet, not on how well he can control one of the vessels. While a skilled player can inflict heavy losses on the enemy, his fleet is still his most powerful tool, and sending it into combat with random vessels is a surefire way to have them sleeping with the fishes in a hurry. On the other hand, if the player is not only skilled in captaining vessels but also takes the time to periodically and effectively issue commands and updates to his fleet, the enemy often goes from walking on deck to swimming in relatively short order.
While the title can be played in DirectX 9 mode, it looks stunning in DirectX 10. Much of the good looks come in the form of post-processing effects, and effects, such as the flash of deck cannons reflecting off of the water below, are impressive in their implementation. Some things, like the strange width of tracer rounds, seem a bit off in the preview build, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule; otherwise, effects are pretty impressive, from the particle effects used when cannon rounds hit the ocean to watching a destroyer break in two and slide into the ocean. While in the captain's viewpoint, you can watch as gunfire sends your front gunner ragdolling backward in his position; under further fire that sinks your vessel, you can then watch crewmen emerge from below decks and leap into the water to escape.
The audio side of things in the preview build will hopefully see some care before release. The musical score is made up of a very short list of tracks, and even the existing ones are somewhat bland. Some sound effects sound extraordinary, such as the unmistakable sound of deck guns blasting away at the enemy fleet, while the effects used for small-arms fire hitting the water or the metal of a ship are repeated far too often and sometimes sound a bit too canned to be taken seriously.
Despite those rough spots, the preview build of PT Boats: Knights of the Sea shows serious promise. It definitely has a learning curve despite its simple nature due to the player genuinely needing to learn the best and worst roles for each ship in his fleet, but once that is taken care of, the player is free to use whatever strategy he sees fit to take down the enemy. The tactical mode is well suited by its relatively simple nature, which is good, since most players will want to use it to quickly issue orders to the fleet before getting behind the wheel of their own vessel to stir things up. Look for more details here on PT Boats as they are announced.
More articles about PT Boats: Knights of the Sea