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Posted on Aug 21, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Carriers at War

By Mike Tomlin

Passed Inspection: Easy to use interface. Enjoyable quick games. Challenging to win.

Failed Basic: Battle graphics very basic with no land-based graphics. Replayability could be limited. Little user control over many aspects

In December 1941 at Pearl Harbor, naval warfare underwent a massive evolution signaling the end of the reign of the big gun and the advent of the supremacy of naval air power. For the next three and a half years, aircraft carriers, combined into powerful fast carrier task forces, would roam across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean engaging in long distance battles and land base bombardments. New tactical systems and doctrines had to be developed and implemented in the midst of battle and for some time the issue was very much in the balance. It is against this background that the Matrix Games reissue of the SSG classic, Carriers at War (CAW) is set, offering an exciting but accessible game for the naval enthusiast.

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This new version of the 1992 classic is Windows-based and offers a very effective and easy-to-use interface that makes for an easy playing experience. A simple training system is provided that allows for quick and easy access to the game, although the sessions provided are very short-sometimes only one action/key press long-which can feel irritating. It does allow for easy reference later, if required, and is supported by a reasonably detailed screen-based manual. But all in all, CAW is one which can be learned and mastered in very short order.

Like most wargames, the central core of the game is a simple and colorful map that features two levels of zoom, although with task forces and other units in close proximity it can sometimes be difficult to view. Side and bottom panels provide data and controls for display, unit information, orders etc. Movement around the map is controlled by either drag and drop or simple scrolling. The main map covers the entire western and southern Pacific from Hawaii to South-East Asia and from Australia to the southern Aleutians, but many of the scenarios take place in a limited cut down version of the map.

The focus of CAW is the carrier task force, but naval support groups, transport ships/fleets, supply vessels, submarines, land bases, and search planes are also modeled. The essence of the game is simple in that each player must seek to preserve his or her fleet while inflicting maximum damage on the enemy, and most of this will be achieved by aerial bombardment. Some scenarios offer additional complications in that passing supplies or invasion troops through to a specific location, such as Guadalcanal, may be the strategic objective and will influence victory provided the player does not lose his or her main fleet in the process. Victory is otherwise assessed by points based on ship and plane losses and damage sustained and inflicted. Each scenario has a time limit, often covering several days, but game play can be advanced by means of a number of buttons, effectively stopping at the next "event" as defined by the player, which makes a game potentially quite quick to play.

The player may choose from seven scenarios each of which has from two to five variants. Land bases are modeled for each side and these represent either ports or airfields with or without squadrons present. Depending on the availability and type of aircraft, these bases may be instructed to launch search, combat air patrol (CAP) or attack missions against ships or enemy bases. Submarines are also present, but are automated on set patrols. They can’t be commanded by players but they will send in contact reports and occasionally attack shipping.

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