Naval Action Preview (The Naval MMO).

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Naval Action is an early access title with grand ambitions for the MMO scene. In some ways Naval Action is aiming to be the age of sail game to beat, featuring a huge historically re-created map of the Caribbean, authentic ships and realistic naval combat. Upon booting up the game you’ll be asked to choose a Nation to represent (Great Britain in my case) and you’ll be given a starter ship (a basic Cutter). The nation you choose determines where on the enormous map you begin and then you’re pretty much left to your own devices. As is often the case with Early Access there is no tutorial, and by design Naval Action features very little hand-holding, but more on that later.

Eager to find out what the open-world sandbox nature of the game was like, I hit the ‘sail’ button as soon as I’d located it on the entirely placeholder but functional menu system. I took a moment to admire my little boat bobbing on the water then set sail and sped off in search of a battle. After sailing around for a while I engaged in combat with a random NPC and after much hammering of keys and baffled grunts of frustration I got my tiny little stern handed to me. I returned to port with my tail between my legs. It was clear I would need to do some research. With the help of some informative YouTubers, I returned to the game with some understanding of how I might succeed as an 18th Century naval captain. Although not an absolute sim, Naval Action does opt for the realistic approach: cannon ballistics, the pitching and rolling of the sea, and most importantly wind are all important factors to consider when sparring with other ships.

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Fortunately, Naval Action goes some way to helping you avoid fights you can’t possibly win, but when you do get into battle you are transported to a separate instance where you and up to 50 others can duke it out across the waves. From my experience, these instances are entirely clear of obstacles and land (even if you start a fight near the coast) so there’s no danger of running yourself or your opponent aground. You can also escape from a fight if you have the speed to pull away from your attacker, it will be interesting to see how these mechanics will translate to a drawn out chase or when hunting in groups. In most cases, however, battles are a tense balance of ammunition, crew and sail management, all while trying to manoeuvre to keep the wind in your sails and your target within reach. This is also where I suspect Naval Action will divide the crowd: battles are long. You should expect most 1 Vs 1 battles to last up to half an hour or more. Just as it was in days of yore, cannons are notoriously inaccurate, stick a dozen or more on a boat on the ocean and they become even more inaccurate. Thankfully there are plenty of firing options, it takes some practice, but you’ll soon be skipping iron balls across the water and into the exposed side of the bad guys.

Clearly, the most amount of polish has gone into these moments of combat; the sails and pennants flutter in the wind, while movement feels weighty and cannon fire leaves a dense cloud of smoke wafting across the deck. As you circle your prey, you can chip away at their hull armour to encourage leaks or employ grapeshot in an attempt to reduce their crew numbers, or use chain shot to shred their sails to reduce their speed. You can set your crew to prioritise sailing or gunning or set them to plug leaks and repair damage. You can even perform boarding actions if you can get close enough although, weirdly, boarding is played out by selecting actions in a turn-based mini game.

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Naval Action is an MMO, meaning lots of people can play it at once, and I sincerely hope they eventually do because it can feel a little sparsely populated at times. Of course, the main goal is to form large fleets and go on the rampage. You can also take control of ports, smuggle contraband, craft items, build ships or simply trade goods between ports. I’ve read, in a few places, that Naval Action is comparable to Eve Online. There is some truth to this comparison but the biggest caveat that sets Eve apart from other multiplayer games is its single server structure. Naval Action currently requires you to choose from four servers and any progress you make does not carry over. If however, this game does eventually migrate onto a single server, then it will open up a myriad of possibilities. Players would be able to form power blocs of controlled and contested territory, a player-driven economy would develop as a result thus making crafting and trade much more meaningful.

As an early access game, there are a few quibbles, navigation is all but left up to you, this is by design but it’s a design decision that doesn’t produce any gameplay, and getting lost isn’t much fun. The lack of any land mass appearing in battle instances is a minor disappointment; I think it would provide even more tactical options. And Naval Action is no slouch in the resources department, you’ll need a fairly beefy PC to pump the water up to max settings – pun not intended. None of these quibbles are deal breakers, if you’re playing Naval Action it’s because you like ship porn. And Naval Action is like the holy grail of ship porn. It’s deliriously beautiful to look at. Each screen is like Patrick O’Brian book cover (look it up, kids). It’s a real pleasure to look at. It’s a good job too, because you’ll need to commit a lot of time to advance to the next ship with more guns, sails and crew. And while it’s still early days for the game there are plenty of mechanics to learn and skills to master, it’s not a game that’s intended to pass a few hours on a rainy weekend if this is your niche you’ll be here for months, if not years to come. Better batten down the hatches, a storm’s a-coming.

Pros:

-Realistic 18th Century naval combat

-Beautiful environment

-Ships!

Cons:

-Challenging mechanics

-Resource intensive

-Needs more players!

Tempest

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What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Well I could fire him, but that might reduce my crews’ efficiency and if I do that I might not be able to fight off the furious tentacles of the legendary Kraken. First things first, hopefully, this port I’ve just docked at has the ammunition I desperately need to make it to the next archipelago where a potential new recruit awaits with vital information for my next mission.

This is the life of pillaging and skulduggery that Tempest offers: sail the seas, choose your allegiances, keep your crew alive, supplies up and above all keep your boat afloat. At first glance you’d be forgiven thinking Tempest is a cute nugget of boating action. It comes in at a paltry 80mb to download, in an age where we are accustomed to downloading a 20-gig-plus game on Steam then wandering off to do the hoovering or watch another episode of Making a Murderer, Tempest was good to go in the blink of an eye. And that’s not the only surprise, for such a wee game it looks pretty and sounds great. A brief word of warning at this point, Tempest has clearly been designed to work both as a regular PC game and a mobile game. Various aspects of the control scheme support touch controls, so navigating the menus can initially feel a bit unintuitive. Unlike some PC-mobile conversions, however, Tempest implants both control inputs thoughtfully and they rarely get in the way of the core game.

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Finding yourself with a basic boat and rookie crew, you start on the fog-shrouded world map. As you explore you uncover ports and landmarks that offer missions or opportunities to upgrade ships, buy and sell goods, or hire crew.  In a rather neat mechanic (which, by the way will be dope on a touch screen), you must ‘draw’ your route on the map. As you travel, you’ll encounter pirates and other factions randomly but frequently. Each battle is played out on a random 3D map and you can choose to auto fight if you’re feeling lucky or decline to engage in combat if you have that sinking feeling. You can occasionally choose to take a side in a larger battle, this is good way earn loyalty with particular factions and can ease the challenge of fighting multiple enemies at once. Battles can get tricky, particularly when fighting multiple enemies alone and I spent a fair amount of time crashing into the various islands dotted about because rather than looking where I was going, I was aiming my cannons at the bad guys.

The combat is the real star of the show; ships buck and creak through the surf angling for the perfect shot. Movement translates really well, ships feel heavy and lumbering, while you fight the currents and wind to keep the accuracy of your cannons at their most optimum. You might be familiar with the combat of a certain Assassins Creed-Pirate edition game that made some waves in its release a few years ago. Basically, the same principal exists here: catch your target on your broadside, unleashing a devastating volley of canon fire to reduce their hull to splinters. You can buy a number of upgrades for your ship, providing incrementally improved equipment. Disappointingly, you don’t start with the ability to perform boarding actions, they only become available when you buy and equip guns for your crew. You can also purchase other weapons like mortars and longer range guns to open up more options for sinking pirates.

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Acquiring those upgrades is perhaps one of the biggest challenges, as money is hard to come by. Your main priorities will be keeping your ship stocked with the necessities to keep gameplay engaging, like an endless supply of cannonballs because you’ll burn through them rapidly, medicine for your crew, because they’ll likely get injured in every battle, and spare money for repairs because you’ll need to repair after every battle too. And everything is rather expensive, so some balance tweaks here and there would make that cycle a little more forgiving. It is possible to find yourself with no money and no ammunition and without ammunition you can’t earn money and without money, you can’t buy ammunition.

Tempest is in early access, so not all the promised features are present in this build. The current tutorial consists of a few text boxes explaining the controls and concepts but when and where they appear is not always consistent. It’s not always immediately obvious, for example, which buttons to press to fix your damaged ship, or how to re-stock your cache of cannonballs. But the game is simple enough that after a bit of experimentation you’ll have most of the basics covered.

According to the developer, a big content patch is just around the corner, so by the time you read this there’ll be more to explore, more ships, more upgrades, plus it’s likely some of the features already implemented will be improved. As it stands Tempest is a neat little ship-em-up, it’s stable and fun to play and that is a rare thing in early access games. Let’s face it the only reason you’re reading this is because you want to play pirates, and Tempest will surely scratch that itch. With a few balance tweaks, it could become one of those hidden gems on Steam that always puts a smile on your face.

 

Pros:

Great ship combat

Plenty of content for such a small game

Ships!

Cons:

It’s not finished yet

A few balance issues

Rebel Galaxy Review

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When I first happened upon this game, a quick glance at some videos and game imagery, I let my imagination lead me into believing this was some sort of space sim, maybe even an Elite clone. It seems to be a mistake that a lot of people are making.

It really is not an Elite clone, despite the looks.

Sid Meier’s Pirates would actually be the closest game in terms of mechanics, or for anyone that hasn’t played that game – the closest you will find is probably Assassins Creed: Black Flag. Not played either? Let me tell you all about this game then: I may reference the above games, but only in to tell you that Rebel Galaxy pulls off what both the said games failed to do – great combat and varied challenging ways in which to kick the bad guys in their ‘proverbials’.

Let’s get on with it then and let me keep it simple. A three-word review perhaps? If so, that would be ‘Pirates in Space’. Sadly, I can’t get away with that and as previously mentioned I enjoyed this game and it more than deserves me spending some time in telling you why. This is not Elite….. I repeat, this is NOT Elite

You begin the game with a small animated intro – flying to your first space station your character is looking for their aunt. You meet some shifty looking space-spivs and soon enough you can explore the station. Go the bar, bribe the barman for information on local bounties. Go to the commodities market and become a space-trader – buying and selling between the multitude of different space stations. Go the shipyard, there’s a great selection of varied ships to be had, with different numbers of turrets and placements for the likes of mining lasers.

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The story begins and this is my only real gripe with the game, it’s under-boiled and not that interesting. It matters not in the slightest. Why tell this shit then Lee? Well, most of the non-playable characters are given decent animations and the voice acting isn’t bad either! Just a shame they never gave them something interesting to say. I have to admit, my brain switched off during most of the dialogue.

The game is played out in a horizontal 2-dimensional plane. This really works well for combat and space travel and this was another positive surprise for me. Freedom is also at the heart of this game, play as a good guys, a bad guy, a miner, a trader.

Let’s talk about sex.

Or let’s not, but let’s talk about fighting instead. You will spend a lot of your game-time fighting in Rebel Galaxy. Thankfully the combat is this game is absolutely top notch. Referring back to my earlier comparison to both Pirates and Black Flag, combat in Rebel Galaxy is very similar, but those games failed to deliver anything meatier in terms of combat that a limp Quorn Lasagne.

In this game you can choose to fire your broadside weapons. This is where it mirrors the aforementioned games combat. Luckily, it’s leaps and bounds ahead in quality. You can affix different turrets to your ships and take control of then at ease. The broadside combat can be quite slow and clumsy (as it really should be), so firing homing missiles, or scatter guns is a lot more engaging and fun.

The game world is huge. I’m pretty sure there’s about 10+ galaxies, all connected by Mass Effect type relay wormholes and enough diversity between each (very large areas in their own right) galaxy. I’ve yet to mention these are procedurally generated as well. Travelling around in each galaxy can take a bit of time, but just like driving in GTA, there’s always something make you stop; distress beacons, pirates wanting to steal your goods etc.

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I have some strange ‘twitchy’ internal barometers to measure if I feel a game is balanced. One of those being the purse string test. If a game finds you having far too much money too soon and nothing to spend it on, that’s a fail. With the decent roster ships and upgrades and weapon to buy, there’s always good reasons to get out there and earn that dosh.

There are factions, but given the seeming lack of attention in the writing department (but, hey – this is a budget game) they actually lack any reason or heart to sway you from one to the other.

Bored of fighting? Go mining?

Bored by mining? Go Trade?

Seek out bounties, explore.

But all roads in Rebel galaxy lead to combat and everything else is just a distraction. As I’ve said before, it’s very satisfying combat.

I’ve actually spent about 20+ hours in Rebel galaxy so far. I was toying with a score. “A solid 8” were my thoughts. Now the game has dropped, it’s on sale for £13.49. There’s a lot of game here for that price.

It’s shallow, it’s dumb… but like all dumb shallow dates, it’s cheap and fun.

Pros

Lots to do

Combat is great fun

Great value

Cons

Bland writing and personality

Score: 9/10