Destroyer Command, subtitled WWII Naval Combat Simulator, puts you in control of destroyer escorts that protect larger naval ships not only from submarines but other ships and aircraft. With the promise of plenty of anti-submarine fighting and strategy, the potential for a superb wargame simulation is high, but unfortunately, too many programming bugs and glitches make the game nearly unplayable.
As a US Navy commander in WWII, you take command of up to eight units, choosing from one of 14 destroyers equipped with a pair of five-inch guns, though a few have three or four used for ship-to-ship and ship-to-air combat. High-explosive rounds, flak, and flares light up an area when protecting ships at night, and each destroyer has a machine gun nest. Depth charges blow submerged subs out of the water, and most destroyers use surface torpedo tubes when fairly close to the target. Fire too soon and you can miss the sub or hit one of your own ships that may cross the path of the torpedo. Several tutorials teach basic ship operations, navigation, helm and weapons controls. Quick-use icons for each major area of the ship's controls are supposed to allow easy access to various stations.
Quite a variety of gameplay awaits you when the game actually works. Unfortunately, four desktop crashes and two complete system crashes preceded play for this review. Fourteen solo missions take place in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific Oceans, with each designed to bring you up to speed on controlling the destroyers prior to entering the main campaigns. You can select from historical battles as well as those slightly off kilter with history, and most require you to act as bait to lure enemies away from capital ships, hunt for subs, or engage in sea battles with enemy ships.
The two campaigns, Atlantic and Pacific, have roughly twenty missions each and offer options for realism (difficulty settings). The Atlantic campaign doesn't limit you to sub hunting, which would have been historically accurate, as it adds German raiders and ships from the Italian navy. The Pacific campaign is more involved and more historically accurate. You assist General MacArthur on his return to the Philippines and take on the Japanese navy and planes, which involves some very immense carriers. Avid WWII buffs will be a bit disappointed, as history is presented in more of a Cliff Notes style than hard-core realism.
A map editor lets you create your own missions with just about everything any navy has to offer. Standard two-player games like deathmatch, cooperative missions, and base capture for up to eight players provide multiplayer action. A major draw of the game is the potential to link up with Silent Hunter II, allowing you to play against another person with destroyer-to-sub action.
When you aren't attending a major station like sonar, radar, torpedoes, guns, or depth charges, the crew takes over, and since you can only be on one ship at a time, the other vessels under your command are entirely crew-controlled. You can jump from ship to ship and station to station if you like, or issue commands from the navigational map, where you can issue orders for fleet formations, speed of each vessel, attack orders with choice of weapon, bullets, and so forth. In theory, the design makes managing the eight units easier, but due to the horrible AI, fails miserably in execution.
The challenge of a naval ship is finding a place to run to or hide in the open ocean, and it's the reason for following a set strategy and implementing all types of maneuvers and tactics. The battles in Destroyer Command are all about hitting hard and hitting first to render the enemy defenseless. Unfortunately, in reality, the only strategy employed is getting all your vessels into position to hammer the enemy and not each other, which is an exceedingly aggravating task due to the shortcomings of the AI crews. In fact, you'll replay missions repeatedly, not because they're tough, but because of the AI's lack of assistance.
As an example of the wretched AI, firing surface torpedoes usually makes for a quick way to eliminate a few ships or subs, since rarely do they make any attempt to dodge or counter. But, after the torpedoes are fired, issue a command to one of your ships to turn around and come back to assist the lead vessel with an enemy carrier, and instead of turning away from the incoming torpedoes, the ship will likely turn into them and be completely destroyed.
Others problems include your own ships turning into each other, enemies, anything that is sinking, land masses or reefs, and, of course, submarines. It's as if the radar for the guidance systems doesn't work unless you're there to issue a command to move away or stop. The absolute worst aspect, though, is the propensity of allies to engage in friendly fire. Since ships don't seem to want to get out of the way, or the AI commanders' are striving for martyrdom, make sure when issuing an order to fire that all friendly vessels are well out of range, otherwise start counting the kills.
Enemies do absolutely nothing to avoid attack -- they don't run when out numbered, spilt up to attack a weaker vessel, dodge, or try to out maneuver you, which is key to the game since there's no way to take cover. When planes come in to strafe your destroyer, they come in perfect formation and never deviate from it, and even if you destroy one, the others will circle back in the exact same position, so blowing them away is no problem. The only thing they do right is not fire on their allies.
The only challenge in Destroyer Command is trying to avoid your own troops. Submarines, historically known as the wolves of the sea, rarely chase after your destroyers. When they do fire a few torpedoes, they proceed to simply sit in place and hope for the best, which is usually woefully inadequate as most couldn't hit the moon from a few feet away. Essentially, they waste ammo and patiently wait for their destruction. In a few missions, you attack gun turrets on the shore that not only look horrible but react like all the other enemies -- fire while out of range and wait to die. The few night missions requiring the deployment of flares are no different, and despite the potential of good challenges and visual beauty, none of these missions deliver on either count.
The box indicates you can use this simulator to go from station-to-station and ship-to-ship, but the row of buttons used to jump from station-to-station is hidden, requiring you to constantly open the button selection from a collapsing menu bar. The need becomes moot, however, after you realize you can set your heading from the helm of the ship and command all your units from the navigational map. In fact, nearly every action you need to do can be done at the navigational map unless you truly want to fire the guns from on-station. Due to the atrocious AI, though, the navigational map is where you need to be to keep your ships from killing each other, and with so much time devoted to that single activity, the simulator really never gears up, effectively making the game a poor imitation of Risk.
The many glitches and errors in the game are glaring, and paying full-price will leave a bad taste. Even though a patch is available, it fixes none of the major problems, and makes you wonder what purpose it serves. The designers even skimp on the historical battles of World War II, which would have made the game a bit more tolerable. Nearly any discerning gamer will be hard pressed to cull any enjoyment from this simulation disaster.
Graphics: Graphics seem more attuned to a budget title. Other than nice images of ships, all other effects are hackneyed and bring a Pentium 4 with 512MB RAM to a near stand still. The potential for stunning visuals surrounding nighttime battles, flare effects, and ship-to-ship battles is completely ignored.
Sound: Sounds are the bright spot of the game, which is surprising given the poor design of all other aspects, with a wide range of engine noises, weapons fire and explosions. Crews respond over the radio, but they're always fairly happy, even if your ship is sinking, which results in a bit of unintentional, though out of place, humor.
Enjoyment: Taking two hours to get the game installed and working properly will dampen any potential enjoyment, and frequent crashes to the desktop and a few system crashes during gameplay ruin the experience. The fact that you spend more time defending yourself from friendly fire than from enemies is inexcusable, as is the poorly designed AI. Had the enemy been this stupid in reality, WWII could have been over in months, not years.
Replay Value: Playing through once is a gigantic effort of patience and frustration. Missions are linear and never change, though tactics employed to keep allies from sinking each other might. Engaging in multiplayer action with the number of bugs in the game is potentially risky.
People who downloaded Destroyer Command have also downloaded:
Dangerous Waters, Command Aces of The Deep, Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe, Enigma: Rising Tide, 1914: Shells of Fury, B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th, Armored Fist 3, B-17 Gunner: Air War Over Germany
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