Naval War: Arctic Circle is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game which involves the player in an international struggle within the northern Polar Regions. In this game, players can take control over a variety of naval and aerial units in their efforts to secure highly desirable natural resources and supply lines. Ambitions towards regional domination are tested along the coastlines of multiple northern nations, immersing the player in a strategic conflict with implications far beyond its individual battles.
The storyline for Naval War: Arctic Circle begins in the well-designed tutorial missions and continues throughout the campaign modes. It is consistent with the overall theme of the game and follows patterns similar to those seen in real-world political and military developments. With that having been said, the storyline still suffers from a lack of depth and is not in and of itself a reason for playing the game.
Once the player has been shuttled through the brief background information and character interactions that precede each mission, they encounter the core of the game. At its heart, N.W.A.C. offers RTS gameplay that forces the player to come an understanding of why modern naval forces strive for the integration and coordination of the resources at their disposal. Even at the easiest level of difficulty, players that don’t operate individual units as part of a synchronized whole will find themselves in a disadvantageous position.
From integrating airborne and seaborne sensor networks to intercepting massive enemy missile attacks, players will find themselves immersed in the challenge of minimizing cracks in their defensive armor while simultaneously exploiting vulnerabilities in the defenses of their opponents.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said for the strategic gameplay is that this is not a game where ill-timed or poorly thought out mass attacks will bring a desirable result. Instead, N.W.A.C. requires the player to consider a large number of factors in every move they make. In line with this, the game will often painfully remind players that every perceived opening is not necessarily a viable avenue for attack and every pillar of their own defense may not be as stable as it appears.
Sadly, the gameplay is held back by multiple performance issues and a critical oversight so severe it begs the question of whether or not this game was truly ready to be released. This oversight is the lack of any way to save progress on a mission. It is simply inexcusable, especially in the light of the fact that it can take hours of playtime to complete some missions.
In regards to the performance issues, I failed multiple missions entirely due to stability problems associated with what N.W.A.C. calls “time compression”. While these problems were likely caused by the integrated graphics card on my Dell Inspiron One 2305, the time compression settings which are designed to keep the player from getting overwhelmed by a sudden burst of activity didn’t kick in until it was too late and the damage was done. This forced me to play the game in real-time or close to real-time, giving me a bit too much exposure to the meaning behind the military adage of “hurry up and wait.
While the strategic gameplay experience of N.W.A.C. is very much in-depth, the audio and visual experience does not follow in its footsteps. Despite the effort put into visual models of selectable units, there is little the visual experience does to enhance the overall experience of playing the game. At most, one can observe units change direction, fire weapons or blow up. The audio experience is about the same, providing little more than repeating background music and low-quality sound effects for things such as planes taking off and weapons being fired.
If the player wants to stick with it after they have become familiar with the overall game experience that N.W.A.C. has to offer, they can then challenge themselves further with the game’s mission editor and multi-player modes. Keeping in line with the detail-oriented strategic gameplay the campaign modes have to offer, these modes allow the player to create many scenarios that will test the abilities of their friends and themselves to command individual units as part of an integrated fighting force.
Overall, my opinion is that N.W.A.C. is a game that carries more potential than performance. It is built on a solid core of the in-depth strategic gameplay but hampered by a number of issues that prevent it from being all that it could otherwise be. As an entry to the middle of the line game, I think it has a place in the RTS realm. Yet those who play it will be left with a desire for what the game could have been instead of satisfaction with what it is.