Author Topic: Aircraft Carrier Survival  (Read 91 times)

Huw the Poo

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on: April 24, 2022, 03:40:55 PM
Aircraft Carrier Survival (Steam link) is a carrier warfare game set during the second world war and is sort of halfway between arcade game and sim.

If you've played the underrated indie gem Carrier Deck, it's basically that x1,000,000. Focused mainly but not exclusively on deck ops, the main thrust of the game across a series of campaign missions is keeping the right mix of aircraft available and ready to carry out whatever missions necessary to win the battle. In a nutshell, you have fighters, dive bombers and torpedo bombers at your command. Like Carrier Deck, the missions you can order will depend on the tactical situation. If there are enemy aircraft approaching you can choose to launch a CAP, for example, or if you know the location of an enemy fleet but don't know its composition you can send an ID mission. Different missions require different mixes of aircraft. CAPs require two fighter elements (an element is always x3 aircraft in this game), recon missions require two dive bomber elements, air strikes require a huge mix of aircraft depending on how you have planned the mission, and so on.

The game has a curious mix of abstraction and realism. For example, you might wonder why you'd send dive bombers on recon missions. This is a classic example of that abstraction, and I guess was done for game balance purposes. You get used to it, to be honest. Another good example is the crew management: if you only have one crew unit on the AA guns, your air defense will be a lot less effective than if you filled all three slots. Not realistic at all of course, but it works in the context of the game because choosing where to position your crew - and buying/upgrading more crew between battles - is a key element of your strategy in the game. It works, mostly, because if you only have one crew assigned to AA all your guns will fire, they will simply be missing out on the efficiency bonus of having more crew assigned. The only time this abstraction breaks down is with damage control; here, the number of units you assign will literally be the number of damage control crews you have available. Even more out of place, these crews will only perform one of four actions (fight fire, repair, pump water, carry injured crew) until you tell them to switch roles.

The way the game works is you first receive your briefing. Mission one for example has you retaking control of Wake Island. Mission two has you escorting a cargo fleet to the island to reinforce it after its capture, and so on. Next you spend credits and upgrade points on all aspects of your fleet (crew, escorts, number of aircraft in the hangar etc). Then you begin, and it's up to you to plot the course of your fleet and start air ops to secure whatever objectives the mission has given you.

Most of the time you are looking at the deck. You can queue up to five (I think) deck ops at a time: bringing out aircraft, sending them below, launching or recovering missions, switching deck states and so on. A couple of mouse clicks is all you need to get an element on the deck. At the bottom of the screen is the all-important missions ribbon which simultaneously displays which missions are active, which are available to be activated, and which need recovery. Generally when you select a mission you're taken to the map to choose the target and recovery area, then it's up to you to get the required mix of aircraft on the deck ready to begin. One more click and the aircraft depart.

It makes for some nailbiting moments. You might have a squadron of enemy aircraft on the way to bomb you so you desperately need to get a CAP launched, but maybe all your fighters are in the hangar and you only have 30 minutes left to recover a recon mission before they run out of fuel. Happily, many carrier functions have been gameified to help you. For example you have a certain number of officers who are capable of issuing special, timed orders. The admiral, for instance, can temporarily provide bonus damage control crews. Similarly, the composition of your escorts (which you choose yourself) play a role not only in fleet defense but also in bonuses they provide, like a free extra CAP without the need to use your own fighters. Even the rooms in the island in which you station your officers play a role, with each room providing better weather reports, or additional missions and so on.

It's a strange mix, then, of abstracted gamey elements and fairly realistic ones. It really works. It sounds silly that at the same time you need to worry about the day/night cycle and where your carrier will be by the time a unit is ready for recovery, you also get to order one additional recon mission just because you stationed an officer in the appropriate room in the island, or a damage control crew assigned to pumping water will literally stand right next to a burning sick bay and not lift a finger until they're reassigned.

But it really does work. It's a game that rewards careful planning and deck administration skill, and does make you feel like the admiral of a carrier group. The presentation, especially for a small indie game, is excellent, with every crew member and every aircraft nicely animated both above and below deck, and an unremarkable but appropriate soundtrack and sound effects. I've been really enjoying it so far. Normally when I fail a mission in a game like this I get annoyed, but with Aircraft Carrier Survival I immediately restart and think about what to do differently. It's also cheap: usual price is £15.49 but the current launch price is £13.94. I'm definitely going to get my money's worth out of it.