The first couple missions in Naval Assault: The Killing Tide hint at a slow paced but strategic submarine warfare game as you must covertly navigate a thin canal in the North Sea, but after those initial missions, all the glaring flaws of the game become obvious. “Slow-paced” becomes boring, and “strategic” becomes repetitive.
The boredom sinks in quickly, even during those more interesting initial missions. While it may sound fun to sneak up on an enemy frigate and take it out with a single well-timed torpedo, actually maneuvering into position is excruciatingly tedious. The sub that you start out with moves at a snail’s pace. Even at top speed on the surface, smaller ships can run circles around it—literally. To make things worse, this sub can only shoot one torpedo at a time, so even if you maneuver into the perfect spot, you’re not actually going to sink anything, you’re just going to alert the enemy and give away your position.
This early sub is irritating to no end. It’s too slow, too weak, and under equipped, unable to handle itself in any fight. To survive, you must be stealthy, but because it moves so slow, being stealthy turns every level into a plodding, dull experience. Thankfully you can upgrade to a faster, stronger sub by earning stars. The catch is that to earn stars you must sink ships, so in order to get a new sub capable of actually engaging the enemy, you must engage every possible enemy. There are times when the game encourages you to be silent, going so far as to outright command you to “avoid detection,” but completing a mission as the perfect silent vessel earns you no stars and only forces you to spend more time controlling this awful vessel.
If you do stick with the game long enough to unlock the second sub, there will be a brief moment of excitement as you imagine the damage that you could wreak by shooting two torpedoes at once. Then the game suddenly changes direction and stops sending you on stealth missions, instead throwing you into one escort mission after another on an ever increasing scale until you find yourself in a full blown naval war. Unfortunately the control mechanics aren’t suited for this kind of direct combat. Stealth is impossible because of the number of ships, and the enemy always has you outranged. All strategy goes out the window, and you’ll find yourself resorting to stupid tricks that take advantage of the bad AI for every encounter. Or you can just stay submerged and let your fleet take care of it all.
Making these battles even worse are the waves of fighter planes and bombers that can somehow zero in your position when no other enemy is alerted to your presence. Shooting them down is an exercise in frustration because of the poor graphics. During daytime, the draw distance is so bad that it’s almost impossible to see planes before they’re on top of you. At night, it is impossible to make out those black lines against a black sky.
Despite these glaring problems in the basic design, the worst flaw of Naval Assault is also the one with the simplest solution. Too many missions feel artificially stretched out by tasking you with surprise objectives, introducing new fleets of enemy frigates on the opposite end of the map or just attacking you with wave after wave after wave of planes to the point where you find yourself begging for the action to end. And if you die you must restart the entire mission. After spending an hour and a half attempting the same plodding level over and over again, mid-mission checkpoints stop being just a good idea and become necessary. There’s no excuse for a modern game to be missing this basic feature.
Naval Assault: The Killing Tide seems intent on sabotaging itself. A slow sub makes the early stealth boring, and a stronger sub is useless in the frustrating large scale combat. All the missions that follow fall somewhere between those two problems. The only thing worth praising in the game is the score, which is effectively dramatic and catchy. It’s quite clever how the music dulls when you submerge and sweeps in when you break the surface, but this is hardly enough of a reason to play this game. There really isn’t any reason.