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REVIEWS

Deep Tactical Combat in Shallow Waters- Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail- REVIEW

Game-labs, whose CEO worked on Darthmod, has now stepped into 18th-century Americana’s beaches. This game splits its planks (sails) and muskets into three categories: Sea, Landing Operations, and Land Battles. Most of the time, it mixes, shakes and stirs all three in a great campaign.

UA is a rich and expansive admiralty simulation, but it does have some flaws. While the mainmast, foremast, and excellency banners are all there, the mizzenmast needs some paint and polishing as the early access ship of first class in naval wargaming nears its end.

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UA’s “Truly Unique Naval Wargame”, a game that is based on the Age of Sail, has dozens of historical recreated vessels and weapons. From slow and lumbering cogs to small cutters, sloops and frigattes. Even the large man-o wars and ships of line can be seen in the distance. UA contains an arsenal of up to 126 gun per ship. There are crews ranging in size from 50 to 800, each commanded by a single officer. The gun deck is typified with Bogards and Carronades as well as Armstrong, Desagulier and Blomefield, and anything between. More than 60 lead-spitting, brass-and iron monsters are available to load into ships if the size of your ship and its capacity matches.

Mastering the art of sea maneuvers is half the battle. If you can gain the advantage of wind and place your ship so your broadsides will be more powerful, frequent and destructive than those of your opponent’s then victory is certain to arrive quickly. The simplicity of this wind model is amazing. The circle that surrounds each ship indicates its wind strength facing any given direction. If the green is bright, then you are at full speed. During the missions, wind changes. It’s hard to tell if the changes are random or scripted. The model appears to be pretty accurate and it works well in this situation. It was fascinating to see a triangular-sailed ship move in a zigzag pattern against the wind. Sincerly, I do not know if the developers intended this feature but it was astonished and amazed me at how real and dynamic it felt. Triangular sails tend to be used to maximize the use of front and lateral winds.

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It’s also important to ensure that your opponent is unable to produce as much hot metal into the ocean. Do not be mistaken, the battles are won by the person who has the largest number of men and guns. This is the essence of Age of Sail war. You can destroy a man-o’war using a few 5th or 6th class vessels. But it won’t come cheaply. The unrelenting seas and game mechanics don’t allow for any rusery.

Damage models are intricately detailed and beautifully crafted. Angle of shots, kinetic energy, armour, cannon poundage, type of ammunition and range of damage are all important. Your crew’s gunnery skills are of utmost importance, particularly if they are led by experienced officers. In a number of ways, the deadly war vases will be sunk. The armour can bounce or be pierced by shots. Fires may start, masts or sails could be damaged. Even the biggest ships can go boom after a powder room attack. Cannons and steering can be damaged. The officers might choose to lose their arms, legs or heads by playing catch with the cannonballs. This ablative damage simulation is very interesting and unlike any other naval game, the satisfaction of seeing structural damage accumulate as you shred an opponent ship is unparalleled. The sailors will also start firing at enemy crews when they are close by. If given the opportunity and the order, warships will attack and battle to empty the enemy vessel from any lives, giving the player the chance to take over and increase the strength of their own. Your war machine is your dinghy or raft. If you lose one, it can be a major setback.

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In UA: age of sail, there’s not much land that isn’t water. You will be plowing your way through sandy beaches to take coastal forts and shanty-towns. There may also be some exclusive land combat but this rarely happens without the presence of sailors. Landing is not rocket science as the majority of operations are unopposed. Battles only occur once a beachhead is established. Strangely, as soon as a soldier lands the link between ship and soldier disappears.

The exclusive land-based gameplay is a clear ancestor of Ultimate General, and leans more towards the latter series with 3D animations and models instead of sprites. The scale in the game is not clear to me. It does seem like it’s either 2:1 or 3:2. If you can explain, please do. Your list of units doesn’t vary much, and it shouldn’t. The fusiliers form the core of your army. Sailors and Marines serve as the naval infantry. Skirmishers perform their normal duties from afar. And militia is used when needed. Artillery and mortars provide explosive support to the infantry. Recently, the game added cavalry. They do what you would expect, which is to harass and charge. To keep muskets firing and fusils rolling, players can field supply wagons which move around the battlefield filling up supply bars. It may appear that the list is limited, but it doesn’t really matter.

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When the player is faced with tough choices on how best to use the strengths of each unit while minimizing their weaknesses, the true nature and essence of tactical combat becomes apparent. Skirmishers were my go-to units in the campaign. I used them to spy on the forest along the side of the road, to find out where the enemy was in the towns, or to surprise the unwary. They also helped me to prevent flanking maneuvers by harassing, poking, and generally snarling and poking. This small-scale battlefield will put more emphasis on the individual regiments in each field. In previous games, losing only 40-50 men was not a big deal. However, in UA Age of Sail a unit being wiped out or routed can be incredibly devastating. A fusiliers unit of 200 men is an incredibly powerful force that must be used correctly. The limited resource also forces us, as admirals, to make concessions. My sailors can start the battle and my fusiliers are going to follow soon after, wiping out the rest. Should the Fusiliers be the first to go and the sailors act as supporting units, securing flanks? What do I need? Skirmishers or artillery, perhaps? Will the heavy cannons slow us down, and lead to less rifle fire as a result? This terrain is it suitable for the kind of battle I want to have? When and where should I place my soldiers? These eureka moment are what sells a game for me. Land units are also able to be fitted with different weapons. Each has its own statistics and descriptions.

UA: Age of Sail currently has three campaigns. I’ve only dwelved deeper into the british and american ones, and mostly on the first of the two and while the scripted nature of these might scare away some potential sea-worthy-soon-to-be-admirals I must say- in true fairness- that I’ve replayed the campaigns quite a number of times and never, ever, they felt the same, simply due to the amount of choices you can make while creating your navy powerhouse and in the variety of ways each engagement can go. The campaigns in this game are what makes it so interesting. Each fight needs a context to make sense. It is difficult to envision Total War-style custom battles, which are engaging and interesting, in a sandbox style game where you can pick units at random. Campaigns have much to offer. You can hire officers, recruit sailors, marines, and fusiliers, and customize their equipment to suit your requirements. Both regiments and ships can gain experience and receive the benefits that come with it. Weapons and equipment can also be bought and sold, and new units, cannons and muskets researched to strengthen your navy. Ultimate Admirals campaigns are most replayable when you customize the game.

There are still a few splinters of wood in this game, even though the base is there. The game can become a hellish, endless loop when missions fail to update their objectives. The unit facing models don’t always match their ” Hitboxes “, with the ” rear flanked ” warning appearing when units are clearly facing enemy. Some skirmishers will also sometimes move very fast, rubberbanding around the entire map. The units will move around. In rare cases, the game can get the hiccups or die without apparent cause. During campaigns, the difficulty can spike and a mistake early on could cost you your entire campaign. Although I find it fair in my opinion, I cannot say that the game is enjoyable. Age of Sail, while still under development, is a well-established title in its genre. Game-labs has added another entertainment, engrossing and educational piece that’s also detailed.

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