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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004


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by SSI

Ups: Nice graphics, terrific gameplay, lots of ships
Downs:Buggy; interface a little tricky, no airplanes.
System Reqs: 4X CD-ROM, Pentium 200, 64 MB of RAM, 3D accelerator card with 4 MB RAM

screen14ss.jpg (3722 bytes)Picture yourself on the conning tower of one of the seagoing juggernauts of World War II – massive deck-mounted guns blasting shell after shell, pounding the enemy’s hull with every shot; torpedoes propelling from their tubes, speeding their way toward their target; machinegun fire spraying the deck of the enemy ship… SSI’s latest naval combat release, Fighting Steel, eases you into the role of commander of a group of these nautical giants and combines intensity, realism, and historical accuracy into a remarkable RTS simulation.

Fighting Steel’s graphics are, for the most part, very impressive. FS allows you to toggle between a very aesthetically pleasing 3-D mode and a plain-yet-practical 2-D layout. The 3-D perspective provides beautiful, detailed ship models, all the way down to rotating turrets and moving wakes behind each ship. And the battle animations are amazing. Explosions, star shells, searchlights, and cannon fire light up the screen, while weather conditions and smokescreens bring even more realism to the battles. While not as pretty as the 3-D option, the 2-D grid often makes it easy to see what’s happening in the scenario. It can be a little complex, but is often much easier to deal with than its 3-D component.

screen1ss.jpg (3253 bytes)To supplement FS’s striking visuals, developer Divide by Zero, Inc. added an impressive array of sound effects. Thundering shots ring through the room as these iron-sided war machines fire shells from their sixteen-inch guns; engines generate a deep rumble as they propel their mighty ships through the ocean waves; splashes can be heard as shells miss their targets and plunge into the nearby (or not-so-nearby) water. Though there is no background composition to accompany these sound effects, the overall aural feel of the game is realistic and believable.

One nice aspect of Fighting Steel is that there is a lot of variety. FS allows you to play as a commander for one of four different navies: American, British, Japanese, and German. Altogether, over one thousand ships from ninety different classes are yours to choose from. Combine this with a nice variety of campaign, scenario, and multiplayer missions and you’ve got yourself some playing time. Campaigns range in length from very short to very long, with several lengths in between. I didn’t get a chance to try the multiplayer option, but it looks to be very promising.

screen2ss.jpg (3269 bytes)In addition to the amount of diversity that Fighting Steel offers, much combat detail is included. For example, all ships in the game are broken down into several components, such as hull, guns, steering systems, etc., each of these being able to take damage and be disabled. Often jamming an enemy’s turret or lodging a shot in the rudder of an enemy vessel proves more effective than a straight hull shot. FS also allows you to choose from several camouflage paint schemes that can be applied to your fleet. Though these schemes have no impact on the outcome of the battles, they do add a nice bit of personalization to the battles.

But a game with this much realism, playability, variety, and detail can’t be without some flaws, and Fighting Steel is no exception. There are more than a few drawbacks to the overall design of FS. One of the biggest problems I have with the game is that there are no submarines or fighter planes. Also, there is no land to be seen; only miles and miles of ocean. Though SSI gives reasons for both of these omissions in the game manual, I still find it to be a drawback to the overall realism the game provides.

screen3ss.jpg (3866 bytes)I also had some problems learning the game’s interface. Any tactical game of such precision would obviously have a fairly complex menu system, but Fighting Steel’s falls short of being what I consider ‘intuitive’. Not only does FS overwhelm you with its number of menus, but each of these menus seems to have several levels of depth. Remembering where to find the command to line-fire targets or how to fire my secondary weapons became quite annoying at times. Luckily, though, the game allows you to pause at any point, by simply hitting the ‘p’ key, allowing time to search through the depths of the menu systems.

But my biggest complaint about the game, though, was its stability problem. Fresh out of the box, Fighting Steel crashed all the time. It’s really lousy when, in the middle of turning a pair of German destroyers into Swiss cheese, the taskbar appears along with the rest of the Windows layout. Luckily, though, SSI has released 3 patches for the game. Since patching the game, however, it has played much more smoothly.

screen6ss.jpg (4023 bytes)But, despite its flaws, Fighting Steel is a great game overall. The interface is tricky, but needed, and the graphics and gameplay make playing FS a rewarding experience. It’s detailed enough to satisfy the tacticians out there, while fun enough to keep most game-lovers entertained. There are few games out there that combine this level of action and strategy into one. Just remember to patch the game before you play and you’ll be in the action in no time.

--Mike Conover