One of the ironies in the years preceding World War II saw the leading powers reach an agreement in 1921 to observe a "naval holiday"; no capital ships would be built. Since the launching of the British battleship Dreadnaught some fifteen years earlier, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and America had been engaged in a breakneck rush to build bigger and faster battleships and cruisers with bigger and more devastating guns. Under the directive of the Washington Conference the U.S. scrapped twenty existing ships. Japan was forced to accept a U.S.:5, Britain:5, Japan:3 ratio of naval vessels. Britain would get an economic breather and retain her naval superiority. World War I left Germany defeated and mute. But in little more than the span of ten years Japan would repudiate the agreement and the Nazis would lead Germany on a crash building program. By 1939, the stage was amply set for the greatest naval battles of all time. Never again would so much might and firepower clash explosively on the high seas. SSI attempts to recreate these scenes in the fourth of its Great Naval Battles series, Burning Steel, 1939-1942.
Great Naval Battles IV Burning Steel expands the scope of SSI's line of naval simulators "to include World War II naval actions in many of the theaters that saw the shadow of the battle wagon. From the frigid Barents Sea to the balmy Mediterranean, the North Atlantic and the English Channel, the Allies can be pitted against Axis forces in one-day battle scenarios or longer campaigns. The Axis forces include the German, Italian and French navies, while U. S., British, and Soviet ships are available on the Allied side." More than fourteen major engagements are featured, including the Battle of the Denmark Straits, Atlantic Convoy Run, and Bismarck and Prinz Eugen versus the Hood and Prince of Wales of the Royal Navy. In addition, over 100 random scenarios for either surface or carrier actions can now be fought. The player has a choice of difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert. The higher the level, the more the computer opponent receives an advantage in material, rate of fire, and accuracy.
Burning Steel's interface is largely mouse-directed. The display is segmented into several unequal windows and screens with two menu bars and a slew of buttons and dials. The map panel shows a top down view of ships in sight or their suspected position. A view panel offers a decent view of the sea and sky and surrounding ships, looking faintly like Silent Hunter graphics but nowhere nearly as detailed or sharp. There are a few supplemental screens for fire and damage control, weapons, air ops, etc. Careful study of the online manual and plenty of practice is required to become adept at driving your battleship. You can sail as part of a task force or a convoy, or break free and act independently (once separate, a ship cannot rejoin the task force but can be directed to form up and support it). The variety of commands and sailing orders are impressive. The player is given complete tactical control of each ship, down to firing the big 14" guns, or he may choose to set tactics from the flag bridge.
There are so many features and options in this navalsim that to list more than a fraction would be tedious. Let's just say that the creators of this sim were striving for as much realism as they could squeeze into it. The graphics for this strategy/tactical sim are more than adequate. When night falls, the sky gets darker--even the map screen darkens. The gun turrent stations look sharp, again, very similar to SSI's other notable navalsim, Silent Hunter. It wouldn't surprise me if the same artists are responsible for both.
While Burning Steel supplies acceptable graphics, it falls short in the audio department. The game is almost silent. The crew chimes in occasionally but there are no sounds of the sea, no rumble of the boilers, and very little background noise. The massive guns fire with a muted roar and the return fire makes a similar subdued racket. What may sound like a small detail (no pun intended) is a real detriment. A warship at sea in battle should be a cacophony of sound. This sim needs crew's voices shouting reports and conferring with each other, mechanical noises clamoring in competition with a thundering roar of gunfire and the splashing of near-misses; wind, waves, fires, and blaring ship's horns. The sound profile of Burning Steel seems to have been designed by a librarian. A good sim needs to recreate the sensory illusion as well as the technical illusion. Despite the lack of shipboard sounds, GNB4 does feature a good martial theme track that gives the player "the sense of being in an old war movie as he guides his ships through the dark in search of the enemy."
Although the player is assigned a flag officer's role of overall strategic command, the ability to single out one or more ships and assume hands-on tactical command is where Burning Steel outshines Harpoon. The player can direct fire from the turrent of a battleship or launch torpedoes from a destroyer while the other vessels in the task force carry out the flag bridge's strategic mission. Missing from the retinue of warships are submarines. You can assign patrol zones but not assume tactical nor direct strategic command of U-boats or British subs. "Submarines do not actually appear in Burning Steel, but their effects can be felt by either side. Submarines have little tactical effect during a battle, but can provide invaluable information by reporting sightings of the enemy."
Burning Steel has most of the right elements of a good navalsim, with the exception of audio. A fan of fleet command sims will probably get many hours of enjoyment from it. It isn't the flashiest sim available but it does have solid functional realism going for it.
People who downloaded Great Naval Battles 4 have also downloaded:
Great Naval Battles 5, Great Naval Battles 3, Great Naval Battles 1, Great Naval Battles 2: Guadalcanal, Jutland, Fighting Steel, Silent Hunter: Commander's Edition, Command Aces of The Deep
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