In general, once you figure out how the game works control isn’t that difficult. I actually like the interface with only a couple of complaints. I would like the ability to chart a course for my ships as opposed to simply turning them certain directions. This would eliminate the need to continuously check back on them to make sure they turn the right way when I want them to; particularly when they are maneuvering among islands. The other is the minor change I would like to the view system. I do know that there are some folks that don’t like it and I can understand their dislike of some controls in the game but in general I haven’t had a problem with it, once I got used to it.
The single missions range from small encounters between a few ships to grand battles such as Tsushima, a battle involving almost 100 ships. Controlling such a large number of ships has its own problems and isn’t for those folks that can’t micromanage well. This is part of the reason it would be nice to set waypoints for your ships so you aren’t tying to click from ship group to ship group. I have found that a lot of the larger battles degenerate into confusion for me.
The AI in the game seems to be pretty good. Enemy AI has shown some pretty good tactics and if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing you will find yourself at a serious disadvantage. The computer will try to maneuver its forces to gain a tactical advantage and often you will find your T crossed. Maintaining a tactical advantage is always important in any game and the AI will try to gain an advantage — it can be very aggressive at times.
The original plans included shipping the game with just the single missions and quick mission builder. Some felt that this left the game somewhat short. Storm Eagle stated that there was a campaign for the game but that they planned on releasing it later as a purchasable add on for the main game. The idea was that people could play the game now and then upgrade to the campaign later if they wanted. Happily they decided to wait and finish the campaign and include it with the game. Yes, this increased the price of the game to sixty five dollars, at the top end of pricing for most computer games. While the base game made for some interesting gameplay, the addition of a full blown campaign makes for a superior one.
The campaign is basically a full scale recreation of the entire series of battles from the initial surprise attack on the Russian fleet to the final death throws of Russian ambitions in the Pacific. Granted, depending on how you do in the campaign history could be changed.
The campaign runs in real time starting from the 8th of February 1904, when Japanese destroyers attacked the Russian fleet at anchor in Port Arthur. This attack was relatively ineffective but two Russian battleships were hit and were damaged enough to delay any sortie by Admiral Makarov, the commander of Russian naval forces in the Pacific. There are two options in the game; the first is starting out actually attacking the Russian fleet-and risking either correct damage or the possibility that the heavy ships of the Russian fleet get away without damage, or starting the game after the attack with the historic results of the battle.
The ships of the time are set up at their respective ports. From there you can send out your ships on various missions either in the task forces that are already pre-arranged or you can create new forces with different ships. Ships can be set to sail in certain areas, to patrol in certain areas. These ships have varying ranges and you will get an indication on how far your ships can sail by the arrows that indicate the directions the ships are sailing. As you get to the furthest reaches of range your ships path will turn from yellow to red.
The goals of both players are really simple. The Japanese goal is to: A: destroy the Russian Fleet, preferably with a minimum of loss for the Japanese player and B: keep supply lines open to allow for the continued ground operations against the Russians near Port Arthur. The Russian’s job is actually a little bit easier. The Russian player needs to keep his fleet intact to interdict Japanese supply lines to the Korean Peninsula. Destruction of as much as the Japanese fleet is a secondary goal but the major goal of the Russian player is to screw up the Japanese ability to advance on Port Arthur.
The campaign has no real ground component to it. In Distant Guns you find yourself the commander of naval forces; ground attacks are managed by the computer and your influence on the ground campaign is very indirect. That is OK, in the game there is plenty to do without deciding where to attack and when.
There are individual types of missions available in the game to include mining of enemy ports. The mine was a very effective weapon in the real conflict; two of the best Russian battleships were destroyed by mines when they bungled into a minefield. One of the ships, the flagship of the Russian Pacific Squadron, carried Admiral Makarov to his grave. It is hard to say how the conflict might have turned out if the dynamic Makarov had remained alive.
The campaign is a gem in this game. This campaign fulfils several key components that make for interesting gameplay. The first is a variety to events that make no two games the same. Depending on how you run your ships around, you may find yourself seriously outmatched in a battle or you may get the jump on the enemy fleet. I have had both happen to me.
Early on I had a serious problem with the campaign crashing at odd times. I know others have had similar problems but this appears to have been minimized with most of the recent patches to the game. I haven’t had a crash in the campaign in the last 10 hours of gameplay so I am hopeful that the crash problems that occurred with the game have been corrected. It was very frustrating to lose what amounted to twenty or thirty game days when the game crashed unexpectedly. I am not sure if other people are still having trouble or not. I know that there have been over a dozen patches to the game since the first release and if they haven’t been fixed, they appear to be working on them.
I did not really get any opportunity to play in multiplayer model. The game offers TCP/IP support for single mission games. Campaign games are not available in multiplayer mode. This is somewhat understandable since there is no time advance in multiplayer mode. To play the game in multiplay would literally take weeks before something happened. There probably could be a patch to allow both individuals to advance time at the same time and this may be something for Storm Eagle to consider in the future but for now single missions are the only multiplayable games. I haven’t heard any major complaints about multiplayer in several boards.