Game Review - by James Allen
There have not been very many Age of Sail maritime military simulations. A sequel to one of the first, the appropriately named Age of Sail II gives the aspiring captain among us a chance to control a fleet of wooden ships into battle. Even with not much competition, can Age of Sail II deliver an accurate and fun simulation of this period's sea battles?
Age of Sail II comes with two main game modes: battles and campaigns. There are about 100 battles to choose from, most of which are historic affairs. Any history buff of this era would be impressed. Campaigns themselves are usually comprised of linked battles, surrounding a common theme, such as the War of 1812 (I forget when that took place). With all of these battles available, you'll spend quite a while completing all the encounters. Since almost all of the battles are historical in nature, you cannot customize the situations to your wants and needs. To have historical battles, you must have the historical ships, and they are included with a vengeance. With more ships than you can shake an anchor at, Age of Sail II makes the feat more impressive in noting that most of the ships actually look different, rather than just name alone. You can also challenge your friends over the Internet in multiplayer. With so many different battles and ships available, you can play Age of Sail II for quite a long time.
The sound effects consist of a dramatic musical score coupled with cannon blasts and ripping sails. There is no voice of any kind I can find, which eliminates a personal touch to the game. The background music is very good, and the explosions and impacts are effective, but you'll feel as though something more could have been done with the sound in Age of Sail II.
The gameplay of Age of Sail II could have been great, if it hadn't been for significant bugs that heavily affect the flow of the game. You can control anywhere from one to almost 40 ships at once. With the interface and its "quirks," you can only effectively control about four at a time. Most everything is completed with mouse clicks, rather than hot keys, which make shortcuts rare. Switching ships is easy, but you'll become disoriented very quickly, since the camera control system is very hard to maneuver, and does not change when you change your craft. Most of the commands you would want to issue are accessible through the controls on screen. You can change your sails, heading, ammunition type, and crew. You can assign a portion of your crew to several different tasks, such as repairing your hull or sails, extinguishing fires, and arming themselves with muskets. Boarding a ship is relatively easy, but not much indication on the progress of your marines is given.
The actual battles are pretty realistic, with floating smoke in the air, and strategy is needed, especially if you are outnumbered. Since the ships turn and move slowly (in general), you must plan your strategies ahead of time, and the player that makes the correct decisions usually is victorious. Speaking of players, one feature I do like is that you can control both sides at the same time. If you're into unbridled violence and destruction with no AI to worry about, and just want to see some ships explode, this feature is a nice addition to gameplay.
One of the most important aspects of the game doesn't work most of the time. Supposedly, you can specify formations for your ships to have a coherent plan of attack. Sadly, this does not work most of the time, causing your ships to wander aimlessly throughout the sea, running into the ground and other ships. Since you are the only source of direction, you must then control each ship individually, which is almost impossible with large battles. You'll continuously lose sight of your ships, and you lose the feeling that you are in control of the game. This helplessness adds unneeded complications to an already difficult and complex game. On top of this, ship bindings in the game are inconsistent; if you accidentally select one ship in your group, it may be dropped from the bound group, or the group may disband altogether. The last bone I have to pick concerns the fashion the battles end. If all the ships of one side surrender, the game immediately switches to the battle results, and gives you no time to bask in your victory. Every time it does this quick shift, I think it's the game crashing. No victory music makes defeating the enemy that much less pleasurable. These small inconsistencies make Age of Sail II unnecessarily difficult and frustrating to play.
Age of Sail II uses the same graphics engine as Sea Dogs (another game by Akella), and the similarities are evident, but some advantages and drawbacks occur. The level of detail on the individual ships is amazing. You can almost see each individual thread in every rope and sail. Plus, watching the crew run around the ship is a neat scene. Damage is also very cool, with fires appearing on board, and masts snapping at their base. The ships are very well done.
Seas, on the other hand, are unusually bland. In Sea Dogs, the seas were a rolling beast; in Age of Sail 2, they are merely ripples in a large pond. When they are set against the beautiful skies and islands, the blandness of the ocean blue becomes evident. However, you'll be spending most of your time trying to zoom in closer to the beautiful ships.
Age of Sail II is the best maritime military simulation of 16th and 17th century battles. Of course, it doesn't have too much competition. With the problems of inconsistent controls, playing the game as it was intended (controlling a large fleet of ships) is nearly impossible. Although it has nice graphics and realistic battles, you should be wary of the problems with large combat, and judge accordingly.