FLEET COMMAND
 

COMPANY: Jane's Combat Simulations/EA 
Requirements: Pentium 200+, 32MB, 3D Graphics card (more details)
PLATFORM: WIN95/98     CD-ROM  

FLEET COMMAND    Imagine the geopolitical situation of the near future. Russia has fallen on hard-liner times. China is on track to become the world's #1 economy and isn't too proud to gloat about it. Not to be left out, India flexes its newfound nuclear muscles. All of a sudden, it's not safe to live in the Kurile Islands or Taiwan anymore! Who're ya gonna call? Why, the U.S. Navy, of course. Jane's Fleet Command sets up that scenario and puts you in charge of the U.S. battle fleet, where you direct carriers, subs, missile cruisers, and planes with individual control.

      Fleet Command is a real time naval strategy game from Sonalysts, creators of 688(I) Hunter/Killer. Sonalysts brings a tremendous amount of expertise to the table--retired admirals and captains share credit with hardcore programmers to fine tune the balance between realism and gameplay. War is hell and so is trying to satisfy the demands of the expert sim player and the casual gamer alike. Fleet Command strives to get a lock on the realistic/playable/programmable target, something that could render a linear programming model paradoxical. The initial buzz on the news groups was that Jane's left out some ordnance load-out possibilities, or they flubbed some other aspect of the game. Truth is, who would know better than Sonalysts/Jane's the accuracy and technical details of military hardware. If they limited or omitted things, it must be assumed it was to enhance playability.

Is anybody out there?!

Graphics much improved
over 688(I)

      The first thing I noticed when I was installing the game was "Hey, they stole the theme music from Great Naval Battles IV!" The game installed without a hitch (note to Gateway users: there are some issues that may hinder your operation of this game. More to follow in TACTICS & TIPS). The minimum requirements of Fleet Command are not enough to play this game competitively. You need at least a 300+MHz or higher, preferably much higher. Running on a 200 machine, Fleet Command crawls, the mouse lagging behind, the enemy missiles suffering no such handicap. You can "play" FC with min reqs, but to win and complete the campaign and single missions, you need a high speed rig. And while you're at it, don't forget a 3D accelerator. It's a must have, too. Before each mission is the now obligatory newsflash style video. I've seen so many of these in so many games I'm getting a bit paranoid about world politics. At least they are more professional than the early computer games where programmers threw on a jacket and shades and tried to talk navy.

Four tutorials walk you through the bare essentials of using the excellent point-and-click interface, how to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions, ASM, and launching planes. You will complete the primers in less than 30 minutes. Then it's off to war, sailor. Fleet Command packs in a lot of single missions with a wide variety of missions and objectives. The campaign consists of a mere four interrelated scenarios described at the onset of this review. There is a certain amount of randomness in the campaign; play a mission over and the most of the basic combatants are present but their locations will be altered. This is not a good substitute for a fully dynamic campaign, however, especially in the absence of a random battle generator. Usually a Jane's sim will pack a hefty manual. Not this time. The Fleet Command manual is a mere 45 pages thin, with only eight pages to explain gameplay and strategy. Can you say Jane's Fleet Command Strategy Guide?

He's toast!

He's toast!!

      The display in FC consists of a 2D map view that comprises the top half of the screen, a regional map, Data Display, and 3D window. Clicking on a plane or vessel will bring up the damage, speed, weapons remaining, course, orders, and other stats. The 2D map gives you a zoomable from where you control the platforms in the theater. The 3D window shows you a view of the battlefield or specific plane, ship, sub, or weapon. Hit F3 and the 3D fills the screen with  gorgeous results. The graphics in Fleet Command are several notches above 688(I)'s "the water is blue; the land is green" palette. Ships fire off missiles with sleek smoke trails. Ships and planes bristle with visible hardware. Explosions throw chunks of debris arching into the sky, splashing down with circular rings. Switching to the 3D full screen to view a TSLAM home in is captivating. The enemy frigate wails away at the incoming missile with chaingun fire and SAMS. Sometimes he succeeds, other times he's blasted. A sinking skimmer slowly rolls over, the water creeping up over the deck. You can watch planes ascend on the elevator to the flight deck. I could see the hole in the Chinese sub I sank as it floated to the bottom in great detail. The seabed never looked better. The tethered/detachable 3D camera is a strength in its own right. I got quite a kick just following some ships around in full screen mode, watching them interact with others. Once I was trained on an enemy frigate and saw one of my Tomcats down a Badger high above, off in the background. Fleet Command packs a sim-environment wallop.

Nah!

Nah! Nah! Missed me!

      But you better not admire the pretty pictures too long--real time means really pay attention. As the fleet commander, your focus must stay on all aspects of the theater of war. Let your grasp slip and the dogs of war will put the bite on your forces. The more aggressive missions usually start off with your ships in harm's way. Incoming missiles must be knocked down. Planes need to be launched. Subs rooted out. Torpedoes avoided. Gameplay becomes a mammoth clickfest. Other missions, like looking for an Oscar submarine or taking out an aspirin factory require more patience and planning. Still, as with any game modeled on real life systems, things happens fast and furious. You think a clickfest is bad, consider what it would be like in real life. Hustle, baby.

Unknown objects are depicted as generic models. Your radar or observers can only report what they see and identification waits until the range closes. Anything that your radar or sonar doesn't detect doesn't show up on your 2D map view or 3D viewer. Ships, planes, and subs are shown on the 2D map as NTDS symbols. If that's too difficult to follow, a touch on the "I" key turns them into miniature game pieces.

Mommy!

I wanna go home!

     There is a time compression factor up to 4x but I couldn't find any way to slow the game down other than pause, take a pill for my nerves, and press on. It may not be a true tactical sim but when the fighting gets heavy, you will be immersed in this game. You have a decent amount of control over the planes and ships. You can set course, speed, depth, issue orders, determine which radar or sensors to employ, and select weapons, though the choice is somewhat limited, as previously mentioned. If a platform is out of weapons or doesn't have the proper weapon to engage the target you select, you will hear a regretful "Cannot comply." The sounds and audio in FC are pretty good. A lot of "Roger!", "Out!", and "He's toast!" ringing out against the background noise of the type of ship or plane you have selected. The music track is the usual Jane's fare; good mood music for this game, even though the frantic pace of the sim seems to call for Judas Priest at times.

Game screen

Fleet Command game screen

      A solid mission editor is included, giving you the option to play any of the 14 navies modeled in the game, as well as control over objectives, conditions, goals, and inclusion probability, along with the usual editor features. Naturally, Electronic Arts/Janes forgot to include the necessary custom file lock--hey, even Silent Hunter and Wolfpack were on top of this, guys. Multiplay for up to four players over the Internet is a feature to applaud. To date I've played several head-to-head games and the system works well. Visit the Jane's Website to find other Fleet Commanders.

      Gameplay has been addressed since the release of Fleet Command by several innovative players, foremost Ron Hunt, who tinkered with the doctrine files. With slightly altered characteristics, Fleet Command vessels will follow more intelligent rules, such as throwing up fire on incoming unknown aircraft if the speed is above that of commercial traffic. The Jane's doctrine mods allow the fabled Phoenix missile as an option on F-14s, despite their present phaseout. One thing, though. If you engage other Fleet Commanders online, all must be using the same doctrine files. While the improved doctrine files do somewhat address the shortcomings with Fleet Command, other areas of gameplay remain irritating. You cannot effectively task the subs; they will aye-aye your command and then take forever to prosecute a target. The only way I found them useful was to send them at flank speed to the nearest ship and then use torpedoes once in range. If you simply designate "engage", you can rest assured they will poke along for hours. Also, a cluster of "unknown" air objects will be hurtling toward your battle group at 1200 mph and the AI will refuse to assume they are hostile, when it's obvious they aren't a convoy of jumbo jets or steroid seagulls--they're enemy missiles! So you must rigorously click-click-click each hostile and defending ship to fire Sea Sparrows to save your butt. And the enemy AI is somewhat lazy. Seldom does the enemy do anything of strategic value, like send fighters after my AWACS or attempt to get me to divert my forces. Likewise, you cannot easily assign a target unless it is "known", a process that means a few aircraft downed in an attempt to classify the target. Whatever happen to spy satellites?

      How realistic is Fleet Command? That seemed to be the pointed criterion of many veteran players. How realistic is any strategy game? The Navy wouldn't give me that elusive security pass to compare but Fleet Command is fairly realistic in general terms. Harpoon 97 is more realistic, with features such as varying the loadout and refueling planes in midair, something Sonalysts overlooked. But Harpoon lacks visual appeal while FC is pretty and entertaining, and it is the first naval sim in two years. Think of it as Harpoon Lite. The graphics are way better, provided you have the computer to run it, even though the platforms and weapons systems aren't quite as complete. That can be tweaked through the doctrine files. It wouldn't hurt EA/Jane's/Sonalysts to include the random battle generator everyone keeps demanding to boost replay value. Jane's is gambling that over time, with Internet multiplay and the building of custom scenarios libraries, it will win over the diehard sim realist. Jane's marketers are also betting that the user-friendly interface, flashy ads, name recognition, excellent graphics, and engaging gameplay will appeal to large numbers of casual gamers. Don't bet against them.

 
 
Rating:  89

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Music
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play
17/20 8/10 10/10 7/10 15/20 7/10 14/15 5/5
BONUS:     Tech support (patch) +3  Mission Editor +3

 
 

Fleet Command can now be purchased with Jane's F-18 and Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer.

Supplies limited, act now!

Jane's Naval Warfare Collection with 688(I)
 

Visit the TACTIC & TIPS and PATCHES & MISSIONS sections for updated doctrine files. These smooth out some of the wrinkles with gameplay.

Also, check out the latest patch in the DOWNLOADS section.

 

Operating System: Windows 95 or 98
CPU Type and Speed: Pentium 200 +
Hard Drive Space: 11 mb minimum install
and 50 mb for swap file
Memory: 32 MB RAM
Graphics: 3-D graphic accelerator compatible with Glide 2.x,  Direct3D
Sound Card: DirectX 6.0 compatible sound card
CD-ROM Speed: 8x CD-ROM drive or faster
Recommended
CPU: Pentium II 266 Mhz or higher
Hard Disk Space: Full Install - 275 mb
Memory: 64 MB RAM
Graphics: 3Dfx Voodoo, 3Dfx Voodoo Rush, 3Dfx Voodoo 2, or 3Dfx Banshee
Required for Multiplayer Games:
Internet: (2-4 players, 1 CD per player); Internet Service Provider (ISP) with a 28.8 kbps connection speed or better


1999 SUBSIM Review