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Naval Assault: The Killing Tide (Xbox 360) artwork

Naval Assault: The Killing Tide (Xbox 360) review

"While cruising 40 or 50 feet below the surface, the game’s idea of acceleration mirrors that of a snail. It doesn’t matter if the submarine is traveling at top speed because the player will always feel like he’s riding a Rascal Scooter."

Few gamers associate submarine warfare with tactical espionage action, but after playing Naval Assault: The Killing Tide, they’ll be convinced that this game was designed to be a part of the stealth/action genre. It requires – no, demands – an insurmountable amount of patience. While cruising 40 or 50 feet below the surface, the game’s idea of acceleration mirrors that of a snail. It doesn’t matter if the submarine is traveling at top speed because the player will always feel like he’s riding a Rascal Scooter.

This is not a complaint – just a warning to let players know what they’re getting into. Naval Assault isn’t anything like the submarine game that spits out tickets at Dave & Busters. It has nothing in common with the sub mini-game from Final Fantasy VII, nor does it resemble Steel Diver, the tech demo that Nintendo used to hype the 3DS at E3. This is a game that, first and foremost, tries to find a balance between user-friendly gameplay and real-world authenticity.

Naval Assault doesn’t feature any mechanical innovations, but its controller layout is very easy to learn. Every function – from adjusting your speed and launching torpedoes to firing cannons and diving deep beneath the surface – is one click away. The crosshairs and camera controls (manipulated with the right analog stick) are a bit clunky, but they’re not intolerable.

As a result, players won’t have any trouble mastering the game’s mechanics. But they might be in for a surprise when the first mission begins. In contrast to the controls – which are suitable for arcade gaming – the missions were built for a simulator. Each one comes with exciting advice. For example, you might be asked to kill a major target in one mission, to protect an ally for the duration of another or simply to reach an extraction point.

The way these missions play out, however, takes us back to the Rascal Scooter reference. Allow me to illustrate this with a multi-step process:

Step 1: Look around the environment. Do you see any pedestrians (neutral ships) or prankster school children (enemy ships)? If so, proceed with caution. Set your scooter setting to “extra slow.”

Step 2: Watch out for bird poop droppings (minefields).

Step 3: Oh no! The school children are angry! They’ve started to throw eggs at you! To escape, run away (descend), shut off your scooter (turn off your engine), and sit completely still until the enemy forgets you exist.

Step 4: Finally, the extraction point is in sight. Wheel yourself into the drug store to pick up your prescription meds. (Press the A button to exit the mission.)

Amazingly, the developers were able to create some fun within this dreadful format. Though it is possible to coast through portions of the game – players will spend a lot of time traveling from Point A to Point B – you should be prepared to defend yourself at any moment. The warship battles are some of the best. While the aforementioned escape move can be used to survive a retaliatory strike, it can’t protect you forever – sooner or later, you’ll need to reach the surface and launch an attack of your own.

Unlike the game’s naval enemies, warplanes can’t be outsmarted with an evasive technique. In order to survive, you’ll need to park your sub, switch to the first-person cannon view, and attack every aircraft in sight. These battles are fun, but they aren’t much deeper than what you’d find in an on-rails shooter like The House of the Dead.

Minefields (which are everywhere) provide another challenge, creating an underwater obstacle that must be avoided at all costs. As you try to navigate through and around the mines, nearby enemies will double your trouble by releasing depth charges that sink quickly and explode on impact.

In the beginning, these obstacles seem like an easy-to-avoid annoyance. But when your health is low and the extraction point is only a mile away, things can get pretty tense. If the fear of death doesn’t get to you, the fear of having to repeat the current mission most certainly will.

Naval Assault may wish to be more of a simulator than anything else, but its AI was clearly programmed for mainstream consumption. Nine times out of 10, it is possible to escape harm’s way just by turning off your engine, which makes it hard for the enemy to keep track of your whereabouts. In a matter of minutes, all but the smartest enemies will become oblivious to the situation and move on. Once your radar is in the green, it’s safe to ascend to the top and proceed as planned.

This is a repetitive process, to be certain. But Naval Assault still proves to be more exciting than riding a scooter to the nearest drugstore.

However, make no mistake: this game is as niche as they come. Contrary to the hype and the promise of a storyline that’s “inspired by the events of WWII” (as printed on the box), Naval Assault was not developed for the average gamer. It is an acquired taste, through and through. Since it is impossible to know for sure who will enjoy and appreciate this game’s authentic submarine physics – versus those who will want to throw the game out the window because they think it’s too slow – I cannot make a definitive recommendation. But readers who have been intrigued by anything in this review should rent Naval Assault as soon as possible.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (July 17, 2010)

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