I approach the Mili Atoll with my ragtag tin can sailors, weary from submarine hunting and convoy interceptions. This mission is different, however. See, on the Mili Atoll there’s a supply port controlled by the Japanese and it’s too close to home for comfort. Our admiral has requested that we wrest control in what has become a constant game of island hopping. Success means we’ll have some much needed R&R and enough cash to scrape together another ship or two to join our fleet… failure means certain death. With no enemy patrols in sight, we launch a night attack. My two destroyers and one submarine escort a dozen or so landing craft full of nervous, young men dead set on taking that beach head at any cost. As we approach, an enemy destroyer and cruiser lurch out of port to meet us head on.
The thunder of war cracks around us and screams fill a previously quiet, still night. Landing crafts explode in plumes of water around us as the cruiser fires the first shots. Their destroyer turns port side and I spot the telltale wake of a torpedo headed my way. My lead destroyer comes into range and opens naval artillery, striking the antagonist destroyer’s munitions, causing it to rupture and sink instantly. Alas, I turn too late to avoid the torpedoes and my lead is crippled, floundering in the open. The cruiser and my last destroyer battle it out for minutes, battering one another to near mutual destruction. Finally, my submarine enters the fray just in time to strike a killing blow. The port is ours, at a heavy, noobish cost.
Victory at Sea is a naval RTS set in WWII. Assuming you start off in the campaign, you’ll name your captain and choose his appearance. Then there’s a brief, informative series of video tutorials and levels and you’re off to do what you’d like. Take ports and slow the spread of the enemy’s sphere of influence; stalk supply convoys; or take out the big dreadnoughts that menacingly cruise the seas. You’ll have three locations to play in: the Mediterranean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic. You can fight as either the UK or the USA.
The gameplay is simple enough. You direct your fleet towards, let’s say, an enemy fleet on the main world map (which cycles from night to day). You can increases and decrease your ship’s speed and the general speed of the game to get to the location as fast as you’d like. When you encounter an enemy target, you’ll see a series of minuses or pluses that indicates their strength to yours. Choose to engage and you’ll decide which ships you want to battle with and enter the tactical map. There you’ll see your ships and the enemy fleet. You can switch between the tactical overhead map and a ship level map. You’ll be able to manually control your ships or let them go on autopilot (I recommend micromanaging. You can pause the combat and switch quickly enough between your ships to give them orders, aim your shots, maneuver, etc.). You’ll see your health displayed, the statuses of equipment and weapons, crew, and captain.
Each ship type has different combat options. Subs for instance can submerge and fire torpedoes relatively quickly from aft or bow, but they move slowly. Destroyers move faster but can only fire torpedoes off port or starboard side with a slower reload time (though their main guns have great range and reload quickly). Aircraft carriers launch planes to harass enemies and move at a snail’s pace. And battleships… battleships are just really cool, floating fortresses of doom.There are a lot of ships to choose from, and choosing the right ship loadout for combat scenarios can really make a difference. As you kill, capture and sail you’ll accrue experience. That experience increases your captain’s level, unlocks ships, and earns you war bonds to spend on new ships… or to salvage ones you’ve lost.
So that’s the campaign for you, but there’s two other modes. Historical mode lets you fight out actual naval battles, allowing you to maintain the current timeline or alter history and create ROBO-HITLER, YOU JERK. There’s also a point battle mode that allots you a set number of points to spend on vessels for two combatants; choose a side and fight it out.
Victory at Sea is very fun. Choosing your battles, taking out enemy ports, watching the map turn in your favor as flags are hoisted over friendly ports, and unlocking cooler, more powerful vessels to wage war is all very rewarding. But there are some flaws to note. Graphically it isn’t going to raise any eyebrows – and I know, graphics really aren’t all that important when you’re playing an RTS. But ships will take direct hits and you’ll see a little explosion, some smoke, and nothing else. There doesn’t appear to be any gradual damage. Sometimes a little fire will break out but that’s about it. And when a ship sinks it just sort of floats down. Don’t expect any cool Titanic-esque sinking in Victory at Sea. There isn’t any multiplayer currently (though the devs seem interested in possibly implementing it). At the moment there are only six historical battles (devs say they intend to add more). And the 25 dollar price tag is a bit steep, especially with similar titles like Battlestations: Pacific going for nine.
So does Victory at Sea sink or swim? I say it swims. It’s maybe not a strong enough swimmer to cross the English Channel, but it’s a swimmer nonetheless. It isn’t breaking the mold and it isn’t flashy but it’s fun to play – and that’s what counts. If you have any doubts just wait and see what support the devs give it. Otherwise dive right in. And take out that frickin’ OP Bismark.