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Publisher: Shrapnel Games    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.1.5    CPU: G4 @ 1000 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    8x CD-ROM

December 13, 2005 | Sean Daly

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I remember sitting around the kitchen table as a kid, drinking New Coke, and playing strategy board games with my older brother. One of the games we played was Wooden Ships and Iron Men by Avalon Hill. It recreated a time when getting a splinter usually resulted in death, not a kiss from mommy. Salvo!, a game published by Shrapnel Games and developed by Sprue Games tries hard to recreate the intensity of naval combat during the peak and dying days of the age of sail.

Salvo! did not make a good first impression. I was immediately confused when instead of a custom Salvo! icon I was greeted by the generic Macromedia Director icon. Now, don't get me wrong: I love Director and have done my fair share of Ling, but making a 3D strategy game in Director is not the wisest of choices. The fact that Salvo! was shipped without a custom icon is inexcusable. This, and many other flaws, make Salvo! a difficult game to enjoy even for the hardcore strategy gamer.

Gameplay in Salvo! is pretty straightforward. You command a ship or fleet and try to defeat an opposing force. In most scenarios you are attempting to capture ships or objective locations (flags). Several nations are available to choose from with campaigns ranging from the Dutch vying for control of the English Channel in the 1600s, to the British defeating Napoleon's Grand Fleet, and the Americans battling the Barbary Pirates. Unfortunately, you are not able to create your own scenarios. Each scenario and campaign is pre-set, with set starting points and objectives.

Salvo! suffers from some bizarre user interfaces. For example, to move your ship, you need to click on your ship and then one of several movement arrows. However, some movement arrows cannot be clicked. At first I thought it was because it was an invalid move but after reading through the manual, which in itself is a chore, I discovered that only valid moves are shown. It took me several minutes of tinkering to realize that the ship's clickable region was blocking the movement arrow's clickable region. So, to get the ship to move in the direction I desired I would often have to select the ship, rotate the play field, and then click on the movement arrow when it wasn't being blocked by the ship or, in many cases, by the proximity of the ship. I could always see the arrows and could easily put my cursor over them, but to get my click to register took patience. Also, while doing this, I discovered that if I started clicking excessively an error would occur and the game would quit. Movement, one of the most basic gaming principles, is a chore in Salvo!.

An intriguing aspect of Salvo! is the ability to change crew assignments. Assigning more crew to the sails will increase your speed and ability to turn, more crew assigned to the cannons allows the ship to fire more times per turn, and the more crew assigned to a boarding party the more likely one ship will conquer another. Crew assignments are a nice touch but they are simplistic and are easily mastered.

I was surprised to see enemy ships colliding into each other. The AI in Salvo! is very goal-oriented and appears blind to its own friendly ships. I could not understand why ships behaved the way they did. When I placed my ships on automatic the results were equally as baffling. A naval concept the AI seems completely oblivious to is "crossing the T," or the ability to fire a broadside at your enemy's bow. This brings your greatest number of cannons to bear on your enemy while they can only bring a few, if any, to bear on you. A strategy game based on naval combat should have an AI that follows key concepts of naval combat. Heck, I would be happy if enemy ships didn't collide into each other while leaving a harbor!


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