Review: Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal31 Jul 2018 3
Review: Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal
Released 03 May 2016
The problem that I have with naval games is what I call the ‘wall of death’. You know that moment when you have an overwhelming need to order waves of torpedo bombers to swoop down through the clouds but once you boot up the game you realize that you now have to spend a couple of hours preparing before you get to the torpedo launching bit. It’s akin to opening a pineapple with your hands, you know it’s going to be tasty but it’s a massive hassle in the interim and it makes you consider better culinary options instead.
So what I really like about Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal is that the ‘wall of death’ is more of an old broken down dry stone wall that just requires breaking stride rather than setting up the grappling ropes. Fundamentally Carrier Battles succeeds because it takes the juicy technical attributes of naval games and mates it with a cracking user interface. This is particularly important for tablet based games because of their design and the need for utility.
This ease of access comes through in areas that are often counter intuitive. For example, Carrier Battles allows you to set up a range of different long range search patrols with minimal hassle so that you can get on with the action. The game also makes it easy to get combat air patrols and strike missions set up without the possibility of some obvious error. Fleets separate easily when a damaged unit needs to be broken off or tasked on a new mission. Fleet movement is just a two-step process as is launching a strike. Someone has clearly put in a lot of effort to make this game accessible.
Despite this ‘accessibility’, the game doesn’t lack depth or historical authenticity. Everything you would expect to find in an accurate naval simulation is here. Certainly, the fog of war is well catered for and misleading information seeps in from various confused command chains. Damage reports are appropriate to the player’s level of command and easy to obtain. At the same time detailed ship and aircraft types are all represented.
The design of the game is such that once you have set up your plans and air cover the game allows you to move quickly to the next critical decision point without a lot of tedious repetition. Then when those critical moments come the interface allows you to easily digest the situation, assess your options and make the critical decision.
And there are plenty of difficult decisions to make; when to launch and retrieve aircraft, types of ordnance loadout, night fighting options etc. What’s really nice about the game is that it tends to pick the most sensible option beforehand so you don’t have to wade through a long drop down menu. Simple diagrams that outline the direction and width of a search characterize why this game works and why large fleet actions can be fought in a couple of hours. The result is that when the time comes to make a decision it tends to be meaningful.
Even though the name of the game reference Guadalcanal specifically, there are a wide range of Pacific theatre scenarios from February 1942 to October 1943 allowing for different types of engagements. For example it also includes the full Midway battle with a variety of historical options to choose from.
I have only three complaints: Firstly, when running some kind of docking mission it’s not entirely clear how to interface with the port and what is happening at the port. This isn’t great because it’s at that critical moment where you have invested a lot of time into the game and your game plan depends on getting in and out quickly. Secondly, you can’t be Japanese in the one player game which I found really disappointing. Finally, there are no command decisions in visual range fleet actions which in all fairness does tie in with the level of decision making but at the same time I do miss it. On the upside, the delegated decisions to the air groups and direct action ships felt plausible and realistic.
Yet all of this would be worthless without a half decent AI. Encouragingly, the AI won a few games against me despite my historical hindsight, so it felt like a genuine challenge. I have yet to play each scenario repeatedly to find out if the AI has more than one modus operandi, however.
The latest version of the game (Version 3.04) includes some new features, such as new scenarios, a two player mode and a raft of detailed “what if?” options that demonstrate the expertise of the development team. The coaching scenarios are well constructed and rules are all there in detail if you want to go through them.
Overall Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal is a solid WW2 naval wargame built around a great interface. It’s a realistic simulation that is accessible and fun, retaining depth while not letting the player get bogged down in menus or decisions. If you want to just get to the ‘release all torpedoes’ part, you can, and it is glorious.