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Naval Assault: The Killing Tide

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Artech Studios
Release Date: June 15, 2010 (US), June 11, 2010 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox 360 Review - 'Naval Assault: The Killing Tide'

by Brian Dumlao on July 20, 2010 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Naval Assault: The Killing Tide is a World War II era, arcade style, submarine action title offering players the chance to command their own WWII submarine through multiple combat zones in the North Atlantic.

The common train of thought for gamers is that simulation is a genre that's best left to the PC. The attention to detail to ensure that the experience mimics the real one requires as closely as possible requires a dedicated amount of attention. It seems easy to grab that focused attention from a gamer on the PC, but on the console, it becomes more difficult, possibly due to the game console and television being more social experiences in comparison to a personal computer. While there are exceptions, such as racing simulators, most simulation games stick with the PC as the preferred platform. That doesn't stop a few developers from trying to break the mold. There have only been two attempts to put a submarine simulator on a console: Silent Service for the NES and 688 Attack Sub for the Sega Genesis, both ports of PC games that did fairly well in their respective eras. Artech Studios, which gained recognition with their XBLA releases Aces of the Galaxy and Boogie Bunnies, has decided to try its hand at a console submarine simulator with Naval Assault: The Killing Tide. Unfortunately, the game doesn't break any molds and only reinforces the current train of thought.

The plot indicates that the submarine an important maritime weapon. World War II has just broken out, and Germany has run roughshod through Europe. The English, French and Polish armies have been decimated, and the Russians have been forced to sign a treaty with the Germans to save what they have left. With Europe out of the way, the Germans have set their sights on the last remaining formidable force: the United States. Starting with an attack on New York Harbor, you take on the role of a submarine commander who is not only trying to defend America's shores but is also intent on stopping the German naval forces through 30 different levels.

The gameplay can be split into two distinct areas when piloting a submarine. The first is combat, which differs depending on your vehicle depth. When you're just below the water surface, you have access to torpedoes. You have a limited supply and they can be slow, but they deal enough damage so that only two or three are needed to sink a large ship. When you're above the surface, you have antiaircraft guns that are just as powerful as the torpedoes. While they have unlimited ammo, the guns need to be reloaded often during combat. The other gameplay mechanic is stealth, which is governed by your speed and vehicle depth. The deeper the sub is, the harder it is for the enemy sonar to detect you. When depth can't be achieved, slow speeds just below the surface work just as well.

Naval Assault may be a bit ambitious, but it is host to a myriad of problems. The largest problem is the balance between being a simulation of a submarine and delivering an arcade experience. Aside from the unlimited amount of ammunition given to your antiaircraft guns, you only have three settings for any type of movement. You have three speed levels going forward and three speed levels in reverse. You also only have three levels of submarine depth: surface level, below the surface and a deep level. With those limitations, one would think that the game would be more fast-paced, but this isn't the case, as the submarine tends to move rather slowly through the water. Objectives can be improperly marked or located far apart, so most of your time will be spent travelling between locations instead of in combat or deploying tactics.

The other major problems have to do with the enemy AI and the overall game progression. There are only a few missions where enemies become problematic as they do things to avoid being hit. Most of the time, the planes fly in straight line patterns and the ships only proceed in one direction at a constant speed, almost as if they're waiting to be hit. Your companions may turn out to be smarter than the enemy and kill them for you. There are a few times when the enemy is formidable, and that usually occurs during the longer missions when you have a real chance of dying.

This brings us to the problem of progression, as there aren't any checkpoints within levels. This idea may sound good to those who were raised on older titles, but when most of the mission is spent travelling slowly from one spot to another, it's frustrating that you have to do it all over again because the enemy got in a lucky shot or you ran into a mine. Even more frustrating is the fact that some levels require you to complete the mission with a certain star rating before you can continue. The first level is a perfect example of this; if you complete the mission with a one-star rating, you need to replay it to get more stars before you can progress. The gameplay mechanics already make this game less appealing and more aggravating.

There is a basic amount of multiplayer in Naval Assault. Matches can be played with as many as four people and can either be time-based or point-based. However, I couldn't play a single online game during the review period due to the lack of others playing the game online. If you really want to get an online session going, your best bet would be to convince a friend to pick up the game with you.

Controlling the game isn't as much of a chore as one would think. While one can grasp the controls rather easily, there is one issue that needs to be pointed out due to it being in the tutorial mission. You control your depth by hitting the d-pad up or down to go between the three depth levels. Going up or down one level is fine, but the tutorial instructs you to hit the d-pad up twice to quickly go from the lowest depth to the surface level. No matter how many times you hit up, however, the transition never occurs. You have to wait for the sub to go from lowest depth to below the surface before you can hit up again to go to surface level. Aside from this issue, players won't have much of a problem piloting their submarines and engaging in combat.

The graphics are anything but exciting, and the environments are largely to blame for this. Since you'll be spending most of your travel time at the lowest possible depth to ensure stealth, the water tends to be very murky and bland. The level of visibility you have is limited to your sub alone, and even then, the craft doesn't look visually arresting. Move below the surface, and things remain murky but get brighter, though it still isn't much to look at from that depth.

Getting to surface level treats you to a nice effect where the camera acts like it is also rising to the surface (complete with water trickling down), but the surface environments are only slightly better. The water has a decent texture, but the illusion is broken when you see parts of the water clip through the sub surface as it travels. The sky is pretty static, though some of the levels provide a decent-looking sky. The surrounding objects — buildings, mountains and trees — look like they would be at home on a PS2 or original Xbox. The ships look as interesting as your submarine, meaning that it does a good job of looking like a ship, but you won't be interested in checking out the model to find any details. The only redeeming element from the graphics is the explosions, which look good but aren't spectacular.

Like the graphics, the sound is sub-par at best. The music that plays on the title screen is good and foreboding, while the score for the rest of the levels fits well in a wartime movie. However, at the default settings, the music becomes too overwhelming as it has a tendency to drown out every other sound in the game. Only a few of the sound effects show any level of quality. The explosions sound nice, as do the sonar blips, but more specific sounds, like the rush of water when the submarine surfaces, don't sound as convincing.

When you're on the surface, you'll hear waves as you man your antiaircraft guns, but the sound tends to get choppy and cuts off abruptly on your rear speakers, so it becomes bothersome instead of immersive. The voice acting is quite poor, as the game attempts to have just about every nationality crammed into your sub. There's an English guy narrating the cut scenes, a Russian guy warning you of sub damage, and an American who has a slight Southern accent barking out mission directions. This would have been fine if the acting didn't sound forced. It also doesn't help that tutorial directions and mission objectives get repeated often during a mission, sometimes being delivered after said objective has already been completed. This is one of the few games where turning down the sound is a paramount idea.

Naval Assault: The Killing Tide could have been good. The idea of submarine warfare is still exciting, and the Battlestations series has shown that submarines are still very powerful vehicles of war. Unfortunately, the pacing of the title as well as the indecision between a simulation and arcade style hurts the game significantly. The graphics and sound are less than mediocre and don't make the game any more appealing. In its current state, Naval Assault is hard to recommend to anyone. Submarine aficionados should look to the PC if they want to get their fix.

Score: 4.0/10

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