All Guns on Deck is one of those titles in Early Access that is worth keeping an eye on. This little real-time naval action/simulation has the potential of becoming a very solid title with time. The core system is pretty solid, but it needs adjustments in the right places.
When the game starts, you’re thrown in your first battle with a flying sea monster. This is actually the tutorial of the game—that thankfully has been added in the last patch since it was sorely needed—and will explain the basics of how to manage your ship and fight enemies. You will of course lose that battle, having to start from scratch with a new, pretty small, ship and climb your way up to fancy vessels.
After your ship has sinked, you’ll wake up at the town. There you’ll be able to go around, hire crewmen, and buy chips. Every single item in the game, including ships, weapons, powerups, and even cosmetic skins, come in the form of chips. Only by putting a chip in the correct socket (equipping it), you will be able to use the item.
For example, when you construct your ship, you have to go to the Construction Yard. There you’ll be able to choose the ship you want to use by installing the related chip. Then, depending on the size of the ship, you’ll be able to equip your vessel with up to 5 weapons by dragging the chips you want to use in the correct slots.
Traveling around town is the duller part of the game. The character moves slowly and the pathfinding is not great. You’ll have to move from the shop to the barracks to the ship construction site quite a lot, and it takes quite a bit of time to do so. An improvement would be allowing the players to use WASD. A bigger improvement would be making the town a lot more interesting or dropping it for something different.
When you finished constructing your ship—read: inserting the weapon chips you want to use in the gun slots—you can set sail. Here’s where the world map is presented to you. It’s basically a grid where you select an adjacent node and move there. If the node is red, there will be waves of enemies to fight. The bigger the number on the dot, the more waves are coming.
When you engage an enemy air squadron, the fight starts. During battles, the screen is divided in two parts: The top ¾ is where the actual fighting happens while the bottom part is where you have to manage your ship and crew. Before the fight and between waves, you have 10 seconds to use as you wish. I found that when you have your first fight with a new ship, the 10 seconds the game gives you at the start of the battle is not nearly enough. It’s hard to drag and drop 15+ little men to their places in that little time, even more considering that 3 seconds are wasted by the animations of the doors opening.
There is a lot of stuff you can ask your men to do. Place them in the damage control facility and they’ll start repairing the damage, regenerating the HP of your ship. Put them in the gunnery and they’ll fire the weapons so you don’t have to. Put them in the weapon maintenance room and they’ll keep the weapons loaded, so on and so forth. You can also specialize them in the changing bay.
Specialized crew members will be able to perform particular tasks but will lose the capability to do most of the others. For example, if your hull gets breached and your ship starts taking water, you’ll need a welder to repair it. So you send a crew member in the changing bay to make him a welder. A welder, though, will not be able, for example, to man a weapon. Firemen are an obligated presence in your ship, but they can’t do anything but put out fire. So on and so forth.
While you micromanage your crew—you can’t do it outside of battle—the battle rages on the top part of the screen. Waves upon waves of aircrafts of various types rain bombs and bullets upon you. Your men will do their best to shoot them down, but the automated aiming of the game is very lacking. Most of the time you’ll want to man your guns yourself, leaving the burden of shooting enemies to your crew only when you’re managing the ship. You can also manually use individual or subsets of weapons leaving the rest to the AI.
When you shoot down an aircraft, the pilot will parachute down and, if you don’t manage to hit him with your guns, he will land on your ship and start shooting, chipping the ship’s HP slowly but surely. Left to themselves, these saboteurs will add up quickly and sink you in the bat of an eye. Unfortunately, your crew can’t deal with them so you’ll have to do it yourself punching them with a click of the mouse.
Everything I just described happens in real time. No one will ever say that All Guns on Deck is a game that leaves its players idle. It’s a game where you can’t allow yourself to develop tunnel vision. You focus on the battle and suddenly everything is on fire because you didn’t train firemen. You focus too much in micromanaging the crew and saboteurs add up and your hull is breached. You’ll have to develop a good eye and multitask accordingly.
There are also many sea monsters of the kind that sank your tutorial ship. They’re much harder to kill than the aircraft, so you’ll want to avoid them in the first couple of hours of game. You’ll want to fight enemy troops first to get money to buy better vessels and weapons. Luckily, you just have to avoid traveling during nighttime to avoid them.
In this game you’ll die easily and you’ll die often. Death is not a great problem because it does not bring a huge deal of penalties. You’ll wake up in the town and some time has passed—that means that new enemies appeared. You just have to go back out there and try again.
The game is of course not perfect. After all it’s still on Early Access. It sometimes fails to give a quick and accessible way to get information. If you want to know what one of your chips does, you’ll have to drag it in a slot that will visualize its info and then drag it back in your inventory or in the equipment slot.
It becomes quickly annoying because you can’t tell the exact functioning of a chip by its icon. For example, all the chips that repair your ship have a red cross on them, but you can’t tell which one gives a regen bonus and which one a flat repair. You can equip 4 chips that give your ship special abilities—fix hull breaches instantly, reduce fire spread etc—but during battles you have no way to know what does what if not by the icons. More tooltips would really help.
Another problem is the lack of enemy variety. As of now I noticed only 3 kinds of aircrafts in the game. Of course this is a problem that will most likely be resolved in due time.
Graphically All Guns on Deck is not impressive but pleasant nonetheless. It has a clean and enjoyable 2D artstyle that deals a great job in making you understand all that is happening on screen in a given moment. The music of the game is quite spot on as well and delivers a good feeling of naval environment. The sound effects are great. You can hear and feel every explosion and the fights are really vivid.
All Guns on Deck gives great expectations of what it can become. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s interesting. It needs a fair dose of fixes and adjustments, of course. In due time we’ll see if the developers can manage in making the most of the potential of this title.
You can buy All Guns on Deck on Steam
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