The real-time naval strategy genre has gone some time without a new product. Jane's Fleet Command, developed by the naval gurus at Sonalysts, brings something new to the table for those of us who enjoy our military simulations on the high seas. How well does it stand up under fire? Let's take a look.
On the Box Experience
Those of you reading my previous material should realize by now that my bent is to look at a new simulation from a variety of viewpoints. While it's easier to take my naval grognard ethos into a low-level eyeball pass of any new sim, a more balanced view is achieved when non-core gamers are also considered, and the developer/publishers intended audience is brought into view. This way we avoid an unfair evaluation which measures a simulation in categories for which it was never intended.
So what is the publisher's take on things? Judging from the marketing material, it looks like they are being quite aggressive with their positioning of the product:
- "The Jane's team has just released the world's first comprehensive naval strategy game."
- "Jane's Fleet Command delivers pinpoint accuracy and realism."
- "Actual Navy war tactics and sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) challenge even the most experienced naval commander."
Though I've selected some of the more hard-core statements from the Fleet Command press release, you can see that Jane's is trying to position their product with few compromises. The many superlatives are typical of marketing hype: "comprehensive," "world's first," "pinpoint accuracy," and "challenge the most experienced." These statements give a clear sense of direction and suggest a hard core target audience.
But on the other hand, there are these statements:
- "Jane's Fleet Command's intuitive point-and-click interface and mouse-driven tactical map eliminate memorizing symbols and complex key commands."
- "Jane's Fleet Command features a range of single missions and multiple gameplay options, from sea lane patrolling missions for novices to a branching campaign for the advanced player."
It's pretty clear from the outset that Jane's is positioning its sim to cast a wide net. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as today's marketplace demands such a wide net. The question then becomes, "Does the simulation actually include the components required to appeal to the diverse groups of gamers?"
The ... Manual?
Jane's in its most recent releases seems to be shying away from the large, information-filled manuals of the past. The Fleet Command manual is 45 pages long and contains sections on Gameplay, the Mission Editor, Multiplayer, and the Weapons Platforms used in the Fleet Command database. By far the most attention is given to the mission editor.
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Arleigh-Burke Class Destroyer
The brevity of the manual quickly becomes a problem. On several occasions I had difficulty locating information I was seeking. On page 16 the manual lists icons that represent "air station", "ship station", and "rally points", but I had a difficult time trying to figure out how use these command in a pre-built game.
Finally, I found out that you have access to these commands only in scenarios generated with the mission builder (or ones where the mission designer used them), but I found this out only after posting a question to the naval newsgroup. The manual does not do a good job of adequately explaining this topic.
Also, each ship/aircraft has radars and sonars that assist in detecting targets. No where in the manual does it explain how these devices are to be used and when you might NOT want to use them, such as a stealth mission. Although I understand the difference between a fire control radar and an air search radar, I'm sure there are many new players who do not.
These are but two examples of areas in which I had questions. To me, the manual was of little assistance for all but the most basic queries.
Fleet Command includes a set of four tutorials that allows you to get your feet wet (pun intended.) An instructor narrates each tutorial and he gives you a good sense of how the menu/command structure works.
The training missions are also a good place to learn more about the different situational views and how to navigate across the operational area. Some commands are disabled during training to allow the student to focus on the mission at-hand.
The training missions are what I would expect a good tutorial to represent. They were not too long and they included the basic information on menu navigation, fleet operations, and weapons engagement.
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