Man of War II: Chains of Command is the sequel to Strategy First's original game, Man of War. If you're not familiar with the Man of War series of games (as most people aren't, most likely), then let me enlighten you. Man of War and its sequel both take place during the late 1700s and early 1800s, a time of war between Great Britain and France. It was during this time that England was at war with Napoleon and while Napoleon's armies marched across Europe, it was England that controlled the seas. This era of warfare was dubbed "The Age of Fighting Sail" and has inspired such fictional and non-fictional heroes as Horatio Hornblower and Horatio Nelson, respectively.
It is this aspect of warfare which the Man of War games model. The glorious days of battle in which the only thing moving your ship is the wind blowing across the water. Unlike games of modern naval warfare such as Harpoon, the type of battles that Man of War II models don't take place over such wide spaces of ocean, nor do the ships under your command have any support craft, such as airplanes. What the game does have is close-up naval slugfests, capture operations and boarding actions. Man of War II is not a game for the impatient, as even with a time acceleration feature, battles can take a long time due to the slow speed and awkwardness of the ships involved.
Once the game is installed, you're treated to a nice opening cut-scene of two ships-of-the-line slugging it out. If you don't know, a ship-of-the-line was the mainstay of any fleet. These usually consisted of a two or three decked fighting ship of at least fifty guns or more. These ships would be arranged in a line and battle it out with the enemy's line. This is how naval warfare was fought for centuries and Man of War II models this nicely. The usual naval tactic (before aircraft carriers came into play) would be to have the main ships-of-the-line go at it against each other while smaller and faster ships, such as frigates, would harass the larger enemy ships. How does Man of War II handle all this? This review will tell you all that and more.
The game begins with the player creating a character who will be their alter ego during gameplay. There are three modes to play: single missions, campaigns and multi-player. There are choices to make before any mode of play begins, including such options as battle doctrine and the level of command. Doctrine determines the general behavior of your ship and others, such as the optimal range at which a ship will attack and so on. Once that is chosen, the player has three levels of command from which to choose and this comes into effect in all modes of play. This can be chosen by selecting the type of ship with that level of command or by previously selecting the level of command in the scenario selection screen.
The first level of command is a Captain. This means that you have command over a single ship and follow orders given by either your Divisional Commander or Admiral. These orders are issued by a series of flags (which I'll talk more about later). Once the orders are given, it's up to you to follow them to the best of your ability.
The second level of command is Divisional Commander. This is where you have command of a small number of other ships and have to give them commands that go along with the commands from the Admiral. Commands are given through use of signal flags and these commands can come under the same problems and limitations that real commanders had to face, such as your ships being too far out of range to see the flags or the flags being obscured by gunfire. This can lead to realistic results, such as Captains not following orders or seemingly ignoring you all together.
The final level of command is that of Admiral. This gives you total control, if you wish, of every ship in the fleet. You can give individual orders to every single ship under your command, give orders to Divisional Commanders or general orders for the whole fleet. These modes of command really give a nice variation to the gameplay, as you can have as much or as little involvement as you want.
Once the command level is chosen, you're taken to the command view of the game. This is a first person, 3D view of your ship and the surrounding area and it's used to give every type of command to your ship. There are no keyboard commands, so everything is done with left or right mouse buttons. This may seem a bit daunting at first but one gets used to it. This command palette allows for all types of orders from speed and direction to types of shot used in the cannons, to sail options and more. This comes into play more as a Captain, because as Divisional Commander or Admiral one should trust the command of those individual ships to their captains. While playing as Divisional Commander or Admiral, more time will be spent on the map screen which is used to get a general overview of the battlefield and to give orders.
How does this all come together? Quite nicely...if this is your thing. This game can be quite daunting to those who don't have any knowledge of either the period or the type of warfare involved since it's so rarely covered in the realm of computer gaming. The manual, while well written, interesting and informative, doesn't cater to the newbie as it does to the person who is more interested in this sort of thing. The other thing that might get in the way of this game getting wider appeal is the graphics. They are, in a word, lousy. They are as non-accelerated and as pixilated as you can get. One wonders if this is due to the large amount of ships on the screen at once and if the engine could have handled this under 3D acceleration.
Unlike other games in this era (c.1999) that have only been able to model a small number of ships, Man of War II's engine can model hundreds of ships at once, for example, making the Battle of Trafalgar much more realistic and interesting. Unfortunately, even though a large number of ships may be represented, the crew of your own ship is not. While you can wander around your ship at will, it's as if you're wandering around a ghost ship although you can hear your crew. The final limitation of the 3D engine is lack of ability to look either up or down. This is a very strange omission, given the fact that looking up to see cannon shot flying between the masts would have been fantastic and that many 3D engines of all types can look around in all directions. This will hopefully be fixed in the next version of the game.
Despite the game's learning curve, the outdated graphics and the strange 3D engine, it has a lot going for it. It has lots of single missions, an easy to use and comprehensive scenario editor/creator and two branching campaigns. This equals a lot of gameplay and the fact that you can add your own personal touch to the game by creating your own character is a plus. If you have an interest in this sort of warfare or the era involved, as well as a lot of patience, I'd whole-heartedly recommend this title. If, however, you have little patience and know nothing about this era of warfare, proceed with caution. While Man of War II: Chains of Command is a great game, it's only great to those who take the time and knowledge to understand its inspiration.
Graphics: Horribly dated graphics, lots of pixilation and an inability to look up or down.
Sound: Sparse sound effects and no music to speak of.
Enjoyment: If you have an interest in the area, it's highly enjoyable. If not, it might be an exercise in frustration or futility.
Replay Value: Again, if you enjoy this sort of thing, there's a lot of gameplay here.
People who downloaded Man of War II: Chains of Command have also downloaded:
Man of War, Lords of the Realm III, No Surrender: Battle of the Bulge, No Man's Land, Medieval II: Total War, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, Moscow to Berlin: Red Siege, Pirate Hunter
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