Steel Horizon starts with an opening video sequence of computer rendered graphics showing a naval battle. The battle scenes are fun to watch complete with an upbeat soundtrack and effects, but the frame rate is poor. One scene shows men running across the deck of an aircraft carrier. They have several horizontal lines trailing them as they run, an obvious graphic defect that was overlooked during beta testing. The games campaign mode follows the story of a commander who defeats the Axis forces and takes part in several secret missions to destroy the evil battleship Bismark. While the plot may be interesting, the gameplay, graphics and sound are boring.
At its core Steel Horizon is a turn based strategy game. In each turn you maneuver, repair, build and battle with your ships. Bases are scattered throughout a large map and once captured each base yields 100 to 200 credits per turn. The credits are used to upgrade bases to shipyards and purchase new ships. A maximum of eight ships can be in each fleet and only eight fleets can be built. If you encounter enemy ships in a turn you have the option to battle them. Battle mode is in realtime. If the enemy attacks you first, a command blackout is enforced for a varying amount of time, usually about ten seconds. During this blackout you cannot give orders and your fleet does not respond to enemy fire or torpedoes.
I was impressed with the fact that the game can be controlled without the stylus. The developers did a good job with laying out the interface between the top and bottom screens. The bottom DS screen usually displays an area map indicating the position of your ally units and any visible enemy units. The praise of the turn based gameplay ends here though. As you play you will discover that the AI does not target weak fleets. For example: I created a fleet of eight landing crafts. Landing crafts are used to capture enemy bases, the more you have the faster the capture. I sailed my ships between two enemy fleets of submarines and captured their base with no resistance. A flaw this large in the AI of game should have been caught by the beta testers before release. After this event occurred, I quit playing the game in campaign mode and started writing this review.
The realtime gameplay feature seems rushed. The battles only last two minutes and can easily be won by scrolling through your ships and pressing X to activate their battle specials. The battle specials overpower most enemy forces. For example two destroyers can easily defeat a pack of four Axis submarines. While battling, you can give ships a new heading. However, you cannot control fire, speed or submersing for submarines. After a battle is over a statistics screen shows the damage to both sides and declares you as victorious or as defeated. Amazingly you can lose a battle and still have ships left!
Campaign mode brings the ability to upgrade your chosen ship type. The upgrades are awarded using Performance Points. The points can be used to purchase sets of upgrades for your battleship or upgrades that deal penalties to the enemy during battle.
The game has three game save slots. Get prepared to save often; the first mission features a map so large it will take over a dozen turns to cross to the other side! The strategist should marvel at this because this gives you more area to hide and launch ambushes from. However since the battles are so easy, you will get tired of the pointless ship navigation screens.
A major concern for me so far was that there is little variety between the forces. Every side has the same ships, with no specials that are unique to either side.
When you complete a map you are not given any detailed statistics on your performance. Campaign Mode does give you performance points, but thats it.
The interface to this game is actually good. I the left and right paddle buttons allow you to quickly switch between fleets. When a fleet is selected a circular, eight icon based menu is displayed that can be quickly scrolled through. The game map displays mine fields color coded as follows: blue for Allies and red for the Axis powers. The same color code is used to display fleets as well.
The graphics fall apart in the realtime battle mode. Poor frame rate and a jumpy interface make battling a challenge. The 3D graphics are not anti-aliased and the camera angle cannot be adjusted leaving a display that is hard to make out.
The soundtrack to this game is almost embarrassing. The music so poor I kept expecting Simon Cowell to take my DS away and burn it. When playing in realtime battles, the X specials trigger voice overs. The voice overs are done in British.
The developers left a lot on the table when they finished this game. A wider variety of ships, customized for each side: Axis or Allies would have been a great start. The game provides little replay value because the AI is so weak. The realtime battle mode is so short, easy and hard to see on a DS Lite youre better off just looking away for a few minutes.
Why is the review so short? Anyone in my position would have written the same short review. The most exciting feature of their game was the opening choppy video. I was severely let down by the content this game offered. For comparison check out Custom Robo Arena, released the same week and at the same price. The title offers realtime gameplay and online gaming.
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