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Posted on Feb 2, 2010 in Electronic Games

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea – PC Game Review

By Jim Cobb

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea.  PC game. Battlefront/Akella. $45.00

Passed Inspection: Great graphics, challenging AI, realistic physics, interesting topic.

Failed Basic: Complex interface, incomplete documentation, locked and scripted missions, no editor, limited multi-play and … no PT boats?

Sinking, damage, tracers and muzzle flashes are dramatic

Americans identify PT boats with the Pacific war: MacArthur’s escape from Corregidor, PT 109, and McHale’s Navy. Therefore, a game titled PT Boats: Knights of the Sea will have Pacific missions, right? Wrong! This game, published by Battlefront and developed by Akella, has no whiff of frangipani, just cold North Sea cod. The small craft of Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union did have exciting times, though, and learning about MTBs and Schnellbooten could be fun. However, this product attempts to do too much and loses itself in its several modes.

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Editor’s Note: PT (Patrol Torpedo) was the American designation for its motor torpedo boats (MTBs).  The American PT, German S-boat, Italian MAS, etc., were all names for MTBs.

Grand Display
The graphics cannot be faulted. Vessels are extremely well shown and the environmental aspects depict waves, wakes, fog, smoke, and shore just fine. Views include third-person, over-arching shots, close-up binocular scenes and various weapon sights. A radar-like screen at lower left in the simulation- and 3D-tactical modes shows friendly and enemy craft. A fan on the screen represents the direction the player is looking toward. A panel with buttons and bars depicts speed and ship status.

The 2D-tactical mode reverses matters, with the main screen revealing symbols of craft, the lower left window yielding a view of the sea, and bars showing ship icons, speed, status, weapons and squadron commands. Sinking, damage, tracers and muzzle flashes are dramatic. All of these graphics are perfect as are the sound effects, which include the drone of aircraft and the bangs that depict weapons’ different rates of fire. Simple mouse moves allow players to find the best position for viewing. Cute, if sometimes unnecessary, views include following hulls and torpedoes underwater and peeks through periscopes. Even the 2D tactical map is pleasing as well as informative. Voice acting is more than acceptable. With such fine graphics, can the interface and gameplay rise to the same standard?

Combat ala Modes
Play is divided into two modes which are themselves subdivided. The simulator mode allows a player to handle an individual small craft. One method uses a third-person, birds-eye view of the scene with mouse movements changing viewing angles. This method allows a quick grasp of the tactical situation. Movement and speed are managed through WASD keys, and repairs can be made by clicking on buttons representing hull, engine and fire damage. Craft speed and maneuverability seem realistic. Combat requires a first-person presence on the boat. Hot keys take players to the bridge or toggling through different deck guns with which to hit ships and aircraft. One button allows a smoke screen to be laid, while another controls depth charges.

The right mouse button brings up the binocular view, with enemy ships marked with a red dot. Pressing another key selects an enemy as a torpedo target, requiring a turn toward the target and pressing yet another key. At this point, flaws in the interface appear. The lack of a "steer to view" function makes navigation a matter of changing course without a firm knowledge of heading and the WASD combination isn’t all that sensitive. Furthermore, remembering which keys are required in what sequence is difficult and is made worse by the fact that the 24-page manual, the key list in the options part of the program, and the tutorial are incomplete and sometimes contradictory. In the heat of battle, complicated sequences of commands are a pain. The situation is only slightly helped by being able to program some keys and by the fact that orders can be given while play is paused. Although old hands can figure matters out, newer players will likely be frustrated.

The second mode is the tactical, also divided into two parts. The 3D is identical to the simulator, except different ships can be selected from a squadron. Clicking on a small craft and hitting "Enter" sends players to tactical mode but doing the same for a larger ship merely provides a bridge binocular view without allowing any control of the vessel, although commands to other ships can be given from here. The 2D tactical screen is accessed with a keystroke, showing a grid with all friendly ships in green and enemy in red. A row of symbols allows selection of ships; groups can be created with ALT-click or a mouse lasso. Groups can be ordered into file, line or custom formations and given forward, zigzag or retreat orders. Right-clicks select destination and targets. Repairs can be made from this screen.

Although entire missions can be fought in 2D, victory is difficult and the essence of the game is lost. Players switch back and forth from 2D to 3D tactical to third-person simulator mode to first-person simulator mode. These mechanics cause role confusion. Are players squadron commanders, boat captains or gunners? Setting up a torpedo run takes time; the squadron as a whole can run into trouble while one craft tries a shot. Players can use F keys in simulator mode to give orders to other ships-a nice feature but it creates yet another interface level. This temptation to play at two different but linked levels has been a bane in computer gaming for years.

The campaign is composed of five themed episodes of five missions each. Each episode must be played in order to unlock the next. After finishing all five, bonus missions become available. The missions cover many areas such as interception, escort, rescue and landing commandos. However, their scripted nature makes the missions predictable with the otherwise crafty AI foe always appearing at the same time and place. Also, some missions have elements not explained in the documents. An amount of replay is afforded by playing both sides of the campaign and the three difficulty levels. Players can play a death match or team by creating their server, although multi-player is LAN-only. A much-needed mission editor is rumored but not confirmed to be in development.

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea has many fine elements and could reward patient naval enthusiasts. The game, unfortunately, is flawed by complex mechanics, scripted missions and blurry focus. The system can be cleaned up; let’s hope Akella does so.

Armchair General score: 75%

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Wargamer, Gamesquad and Gaming Chronicle.

Editor’s Note: Readers interested in Motor Torpedo Boats can click here to see what PT skipper and future president John F. Kennedy had to say about how American Patrol Torpedo Boats compared with German S-boats (often called E-boats).

1 Comment

  1. hi there . I am considering buying the pc game kinghts of the sea and I would like to know if it will play on windows xp or not. can you tell me what the system requirements are . All for now Dennis

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