PT Boats: Knights of the Sea
The mighty-mite of naval sims
Feb. 9, 2010 by Neal Stevens
Akella (Sea Dogs, POTC, Age 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 limit detection.
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 a mission.
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 torpedoes”.
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 RTS game.
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.
|Game play||Repeat Play||Stability
|Multi- play||Mission Editor|
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US Publisher: Battlefront
Minimum System requirements: Microsoft Windows XP SP2, 32 – bit*, 2.5 GHz Intel Pentium 4 or an equivalent, 1.5 GB free System RAM, 2 GB free hard disk space, DirectX 9.0c (included on disk), 256 Мб video card GeForce 6600 or Radeon X1300 and DirectX 9.0c – compatible drivers, 8x DVD-ROM Drive DirectX 8.1-compatible audio card Keyboard, Mouse
Recommended System requirements: Microsoft Windows Vista, 32-bit*, Intel Core 2 Duo E6700+ or an equivalent, 2 GB System RAM, 3 GB free hard disk space, DirectX 10.0 (included on disk), Nvidia GeForce 8800GTX, ATI Radeon HD 4850 or higher, 8x DVD-ROM Drive, DirectX 8.1-compatible audio card, Keyboard, Mouse