Strategy & War
Ahoy mateys! Baton down the hatches and sound to quarters! Enemy ship on the horizon!
We are going to travel back to a time when ships ruled the high seas, a time when a captain made life and death decisions about an enemy mere yards from the hull of his own ship. We travel back in time to preview Salvo!, the new game by Shrapnel Games.
Set in the 17th to 19th centuries, Salvo! is a title that lets you command ships from England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and, of course, a small nation called the United States. As you control your fleet you see in real time the effects that combat has upon your war ships. Using its turn based gameplay, you plan your strategy and watch as it unfolds before your eyes. In the in-game scenarios you play Admiral and recreate famous battles of history to see how your choices would have altered the outcome of history.My copy of Salvo! was a demo/pre-release. The first thing I noticed is that it is played in Macromedia's Director runtime player. When you first start the game, you are presented with the Captain's cabin, where you have options for help, game start, and tutorial/scenarios. I decided to jump right into the water, so to speak, and play a game. I drowned. I found I was unable to move with any effectiveness towards an enemy. Salvo! has a complex set of controls that take advantage of wind direction, speed, etc. As I foundered in the water for a bit, I decided it was time to abandon my current ship, read the directions, and take a look at the tutorial. Fortunately, the included help does a pretty good job acquainting you with the layout of the land. There is a nice help section, and it opens up a browser and has detailed info on what you need to know to control your ship and the like.
I decided this game was complex enough to warrant a read through the playing directions. The demo comes with some tutorial missions that let you walk through the basics of ship control and manipulation. I choose a scenario that put my English Fourth Rate up against a French vessel of similar proportions.
This game requires strategy and planning. It's no point and click, or a title that rewards you for overpowering your enemy. I found that you can use the wind to your advantage and win battles where you are out gunned, if just barely. In my scenario, I managed to control my vessel easily enough, and steered myself to be in a position to launch some lead at them. What I failed to realize is that at my fast tack in the wind, I was able to launch only one volley of cannon against my enemy before I sailed right on past.
As Salvo! is turn based, I got to watch the effects of my last turn's decisions and then plan my next move. In my case, I had been hit badly and was in no position to launch a second volley in the next turn. As I was planning my escape for a quick turn around and second go, the wind change dialog popped up. Now I was in luck: I could make a tight starboard turn and be back in line to pounce on the French. Combat continues in this manner until you damage your enemy's sails enough to grapple on for a boarding. You send over some sailors and marines, and hope they do well. It took me four failed boarding attempts before I finally took my prize. You can control the level of automation as well. I started with nearly everything automated, so the computer took care of choosing the cannon shot, the proper guns to shoot, and the like. If you are looking for more challenge, then you can exact a finer control over your ship and make all the decisions.
This method of play is fairly frantic even though it is turn based, as you can amass a fleet that is involved in multiple battles, and you have to plan each well while taking into account your enemies' moves. I had one amazing turn where one of my ships fired port guns into one enemy and in the next turn crippled another ship with her starboard guns. You can even get in some pirate action in one of the scenarios where you must chase down the local pirates. Remember, pirates never fight fair. Another thing to keep in mind is that the wind changes regularly, sometimes in your favor but often not, so you have to check your speeds and direction often.