PT Boats: Knights of the
The mighty-mite of naval sims
Feb. 9, 2010
by Neal Stevens
Akella (Sea Dogs,
of Sail II) finally released their PT Boat sim in the US late last year.
It's about time; PT Boats has been underway six years. Subsim first
previewed the game at the
2004 E3 show, and it
was pretty far along then. In an
interview three years later, it was expected the game would ship in
months. One can only imagine the development process that took longer than
WWII. Well, it's here now. Really.
There have been submarine sims, naval sims with battleships, cruisers, and
destroyers, but this game is the first to feature the speedy buy lethal
Motor Torpedo Boats, or as they were called in the US--Patrol Torpedo, PT
Boats. When you ask an American what he thinks of when PT boat is mentioned
and he will likely reply John F. Kennedy, PT-109, and
McHale's Navy. Akella, being a Russian developer, has focused on the German,
Russian, and British PT boats and the European theater.
Akella has long championed this game as a
"strategic, tactical, and action simulator", and that's not a bad
description. The game offers two main interfaces; the top-down
strategic map allows the player to group and command individual ships, set
waypoints, and issue orders such as attack and maneuver. You can also manage
the damage control from this screen, although there isn't much to do other
than select which of three areas you want to concentrate your efforts
on--hull, fire, or propulsion. All movement is shown in real time, and enemy
units appear when they are visible and in range. Night and smoke effectively
The other interface is the tactical or first person view.
You can select a chase view or jump right down into the boat for a great
"you are there" feel while driving your boat. The boats are controlled by
the WASD keys and can trail smoke and launch torpedoes. You have a binocular
view and a torpedo aiming view, plus you can switch and man any of the gun
stations. You cannot whip the larger guns around, they slew with measured
speed and they remain in the position the player leaves them. During
reloads, the player pulls back moment-arily, requiring a second to bring the
gun back on target and increasing both the realism and the level of
challenging gameplay. The game does a good job simulating the high speed and
maneuverability of these boats and that's essentially where the "action"
mode comes in. By their physical nature, PT boats ramp up the action
quotient of the game without crossing into arcade mode. Launching a torpedo
at a destroyer takes nerve. You enabled the
torpedo director and close range, zigzagging like a rabbit. Once you launch
your torpedo, the PT boat lurches to the right or left a bit, a nice touch.
To get you started, the game has a few basic tutorial
missions with voice-over instructions (my favorite kind) which explain the
interface and controls. There are some keys you will need to know well to
switch back and forth between the map and the boat, but I didn't consider
this difficult. I found a couple key commands mislabeled in the slim 20-page
game manual, but that's what a pen is for, sailor. The game also includes a
nice booklet that profiles all of the ships and planes in the game.
The gameplay is built around
29 scripted single missions that are very loosely linked as a campaign. You
must complete the current mission to proceed to the next, and they really do
not have much continuity. Mission objectives had a appreciable amount of
variety: sometimes you will be attacking a convoy, sometimes
defending one. There were missions to destroy an enemy air
base with rockets, sneak into an enemy harbor, rescue a
stricken Type IX U-boat, and the good ol' search and destroy. Many of the missions are very brief, and the
difficulty varies between easy and staggeringly hard. The enemy always
appear in the same places, so scratch replay value. There is no mission
editor and no random mission generator, so once you play through the
"campaign", the game becomes shelf ballast.
The game lists multiplayer but that is outside the scope of this review. In
addition, the game crashed on me many times, usually either before or after
You can jump from one PT boat
to another, so in missions where there are 4 PT boats, you will have to
scramble to a new level of task management. Accurate gunnery is
critical to completing missions in the normal and hard levels. One nice
aspect is you can play as either side, so in a particular mission
you may be the Germans attacking a Russian supply convoy; change sides to be
the Russians protecting the supply convoy. You can play as British, German,
or Russians, and some missions feature all three sides.
In all, there are some 12 or
so PT boats to control, from the Elco, Komsomolets, Vosper and sub-like G5.
Each boat is represented well with different guns and controls, and the game
physics lend an authentic feel to the way they handle, turn, and drift.
Unlike helosims and tanksims I have reviewed, I do have some experience
driving speedboats and PT Boats shines here. You can also control the
direction of destroyers, subs, and merchants, but not actually man them.
The world of PT Boats takes place in
all kinds of weather--rain, fog, sunshine, and night. There are a few
missions where land is incorporated, including a port with some meager docks
and buildings. But mostly, the missions start and end in the sea. Visually
the game is competent but not awe-inspiring. The ships and planes are below
Silent Hunter 4 standards, and the wave motion and textures hold their own,
despite some odd shimmering effects. One of the many glitches that cropped
up from time to time were phantom boats--PT boats that showed up as hazy
outlines. Usually switching to the strategic map and back would clear this
up. Another annoying graphics bug had the smoke appearing and disappearing,
depending on the angle of the camera. Doesn't seem to affect the AI and
gameplay but diminishes the otherwise deep level of
immersion. The hands-down coolest
effect was using the searchlights at night--a mission ordered me to
stealthily approach an enemy convoy and shine my searchlight on them in
order to give the Luftwaffe a target. I
closed until I could see the looming shadow of a ship, switched on the
high-powered light and the ship was bathed in a beam of light--nice!
PT Boats has a nice score and the
sound effects pass muster. I wish I could say the same about the crew voice
acting. Heavily accented Russians sound like Arnold after a night of heavy
drinking. I got the impression someone was reading off a script and half-the time I
had no idea what they were saying. Speak English, comrade!
The core of any good naval sim is the
AI and PT Boats has good AI. The enemy ships will attack and react
realistically. I saw AI merchants detect incoming torpedoes and turn to comb
them, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The
capabilities of AI ships will vary with the damage they receive. Enemy
planes will seek you out, though I found them fairly easy to shoot down. The
game has three modes of difficulty, easy, normal, and hard, with several
realism options such as "friendly fire", "enable collision", and "realistic
The game comes off as very unpolished
but has real potential. I think it would have been a plus if the player
could actually bring his PT Boat into the shipyard and customize it, really
make it his own. The game engine and system would be a terrific fit for a
U-boats vs. Convoys game, where the player commands U-boats in a wolfpack or
merchants and escorts at the strategic level. It would not need to approach
the first person simulation at the Silent Hunter level, but with good AI, HF/DF,
radio traffic from BdU, and complex objectives, it could stand up well as a
Even though it took six years to get
PT Boats out the door and into the world, Akella should have put a lot more
work into it. The game is buggy and hobbled by the lack of a dynamic
campaign, a random mission generator, or any kind of mission editor. That's
not to say it's a total loss--the game is fun and entertaining, and I
enjoyed it while it lasted. It's about two weeks of fun in a genre that's
expected to provide two years of fun.
to add something or discuss PT Boats? Los!
Silent Hunter V
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Review - submarine games and simulations
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