SUBSIM review: Pacific Fleet

Attention on Deck!

Mar. 2, 2014 by Neal Stevens

The goal of every game is to entertain the player. To provide a challenge, some mental stimulation, and a few pleasant hours. Pacific Fleet does this by being instantly accessible in times and places where you wouldn’t normally be able to play a naval game. In the library, on a bus, while waiting at the laundry mat, between classes, while on a break at work. I’ve reviewed a lot of sub and naval games since 1997, but for the most part, they have been PC platform games because they deliver the best simulation experience. But I never got a single minute of gameplay from Sub Command or Aces of the Deep while waiting for an hour in the doctor’s office. Pacific Fleet came to the rescue for those unproductive hours I was stranded away from home.

Mobile games for phones and tablets are abundant, but finding something that is easily playable on a 5″ screen and still not Pac-Man with propellers is the trick. Some years ago I reviewed a title called ShipHunt for the Palm Pilot (if you know what a Palm Pilot is, you can thank me later for making us both feel old). It was very primitive compared to Pacific Fleet. Developed by a two man app dev team, Paul Sincock and Nils Ducker, Pacific Fleet first came to life for Apple phones. Being an Android user, I had limited contact with the game by borrowing my daughter’s iPhone (I should get a medal for bravery–have you ever tried to pry an iPhone from the hands of a young woman?). When I recently bought an LG G2 badass smart phone, and shortly after Pacific Fleet was released for Android phones, I became close friends with the game. I’ve found numerous opportunities to play it several times a day when I would have otherwise been forced to make conversation with people.

Pacific Fleet is mission based strategy/sim game. It doesn’t crowd Silent Hunter or Dangerous Waters out of the simulation arena, but it really has too much detail and logic to be dismissed as an arcade game. You play as the US Navy or Imperial Japanese Navy in Pacific WWII naval engagements. All battles start with random placement–sometimes you are in great position, other times the enemy has the upper hand. Either way, it adds to the gameplay. Engagements can vary, single ships, military convoys, escorted and unescorted merchant convoys.

The battles are played by turns. You get two turns per ship, the first of which you can use to change heading and select speed. The second turn can be used to dive/surface if you are a sub, dive bomb if you are a plane, fire torpedoes (in single shots), guns, or depth charges. After you make your two moves it is the AI enemy’s turn. Torpedoes reload over three turns, so if you start firing from long distance on turn 1, you may be waiting on a reload by the time you get into close range. This is one of the ways the game design compels you to employs sound tactics to be successful, and that makes any simulation or naval game a lot more fun.

The targeting model is a simplified design where you set a line where you want to send your torpedoes or shells. It’s not automatic, getting hits does takes some skill. The longer the range, the more likely your torps will simply miss the target. And of course, the US subs have to deal with dud torpedoes. Frustrating! Ah, but that’s part of the historical aspect of the war, and again, it makes the player work to get his tonnage. Firing shells from surface ships is a matter of judging the range–frequently you will bracket the target, as the ranges changes and ships maneuver, so when you score hits, it means something. Yeah, you can really get a sense of satisfaction from your efforts.

The game also features a random battle generator where you can engage cruisers,  destroyers, battleships, light and   heavy cruisers, planes, and of course, submarines. The first impression of Pacific Fleet comes from the really crisp graphics. The ocean, the ships, planes, and sky all rendered in lovely detail. The explosions and smoke are far better than I would have expected from a mobile game. In night engagements, the gauges and keys have a rigged-for-red hue that really adds to the sense of atmosphere. Not all the visuals are perfect–the wakes are fixed in straight lines behind the vessels, even when they turn. But niggles aside, Pacific Fleet is a great looking game.

The game AI is adequate in most cases. Ships will react when you strike one with a torpedo. The merchants will zig-zag in their turns, but, being this is turn-based, it does not seem to have an effect on your targeting solution. It does, however, add to the sensation that these ships are being crewed by men who fear you. Once the chase is on, you can surface with your sub and chase the convoy (if it is unescorted), firing away with your 4″ deck gun. In the case of IJN naval ships, more often that not they will detect you when you close the range and they react aggressively. High value targets like carriers will seek to evade you, destroyers and cruisers will fire at you and move in for the kill.

Wolfpack realistic voice.

The game does have some design limitations that hold it back. There is no periscope view, where you can see the enemy the way a submarine would, with visual limitations. And torpedoes are fired once per turn, where it would be more interesting and realistic to fire salvos as needed. There are only two depths for the submarines–surfaced and periscope depth. The player cannot take his boat deep and try to slip away from an angry escort–it’s either sink or be sunk. The game developer, Paul Sincock, says by design the sub may chose to “disengage”, which would signify going deep and evading the escort, ending the battle. Finally, the game could use some pop-up alerts and messages, such as damage and other bits of info that would make the game seem realistic.

The game has a renown feature that rewards an ambitious and skillful player, unlocking new patrol zones and battles. A musical score very reminiscent of Silent Hunter 3-4-5 accompanies the game. The sound effects include explosions, sirens, howling shells and roaring aircraft engines filling the air. This little game has big sounds. But let me suggest using earbuds while divebombing Japanese island bases–the whistling bomb sounds will really freak out the other students in the room.


Pacific Fleet is a game that is so easy to like, and it comes at the very slight price of $5.99. They call these type of mobile games “time wasters”, but all Pacific Fleet did was take time I had to waste and turn it into fun. It’s a great investment for your smartphone. It beats the hell out of Solitaire, buddy, I can tell you that. The game shows a lot of time and hard work went into it and it really feels nice to reward the devs for it. Who knows, this may be the small acorn that could grow into the next Silent Hunter-level game. It certainly is headed in the right direction.

Get Pacific Fleet for iTunes/Apple platforms

Get Pacific Fleet for Android devices


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