PC Jutland

Scott Tortorice

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Sir John Jellicoe, admiral of the British Grand Fleet, had two specters at his elbow on May 31, 1916. One was the responsibility that he was “the only man who could lose the war in a single afternoon” as Winston Churchill said in an unusual mix of rhetoric and fact. The other was the ghost of Horatio Nelson, personified by the British public’s desire for a decisive battle won by rapid fire at close range. His counterpart, Franz von Hipper of the German High Seas fleet, had similar pressure. He was to use his expensive fleet, beloved by the Kaiser, to weaken the Royal Navy enough to break the blockade. How each man handled their challenges is the subject of Storm Eagle Studio’s Jutland. How well does this product handle both tactical and strategic aspects of the problem and still be a playable game?

A Sea of Pixels

Jutland is only available via down load. Gamers get the demo, play some scenarios and then choose to buy from a demo prompt either the Standard edition, that has all the scenarios and a short campaign, or the Professional edition containing all campaigns and editors. Purchase brings an activation key that unlocks the rest of the game. The activation system is the wedge issue for this game in public forums. The copy protection is a DRM that “calls home” when the game is booted and checks for updates. Storm Eagle’s earlier game, Distant Guns: The Russo-Japanese War, used a similar system but the latest version has a quirk: if the game is not booted within any seven-day period, another activation is required. The seven day stricture is always prefaced by “currently”, leaving the hint that Storm Eagle may loosen the restriction. Players who reject DRM have fair warning.

The game is well documented with a 79-page PDF manual, a battle tutorial on play and a tutorial on the scenario editor. The battle tutorial is not an actual scenario walk-through but further explanations of game mechanics. The editor tutorial is a step-by-step creation of a new scenario. More information can be found in the official forum hosted on Gamesquad,com..

Jutland’s naval graphics are great. The 3D vessel models can be zoomed in to literally see the deck planks and crews manning exposed positions. Hovering the mouse over a ship brings up a synopsis of its status. An interactive 2D ship information screen shows not only details of the ship’s original specs but also its present situation. Bow waves and wakes change with speed and turns; weather impacts visibility and speed. Stack and fire smoke persists, although generated smoke screens could not be instituted because of PC limitations. Binocular and spyglass views are available. Dawn is beautiful while a foggy night is like a sheath of black, lit by stars shells and searchlights. Natural light and weather progress with time to show different visual effects. Battle damage shows lists, wrecked superstructures and weapon mounts, flames pour through holes in hulls. Ships sink either with slow capsizing or on an even keel; breaking in half or exploding. Following a shell cam provides views of water spouts caused by misses or flying debris indicating hits. All this richness can be seen with the over 900 vessels included.

Land areas such as coasts and islands are not done in any great detail. Shore batteries are depicted a little crudely. However, little action involves land except when vessels enter shore battery range.

Zoom, tilt and pan views come from a unique system. Players’ view comes from a specific point on the map, not the entire 200 km X 200 km map. Moving the mouse tilts and swivels while arrow keys or right clicks control vertical; and horizontal movement of the point of view. The mouse scroll wheel or hot keys zoom in and out. Various hotkeys allow quick selection and view of friendly and enemy ships. The view can be easily seen in a small 2D map in the lower right. Views and ships are discernable there. This map has taken on a life of its own with Jutland. Not only can movement of fleets be tracked on it but all orders can be given there as well as the 3D battle map. A keystroke can expand it to cover most of the screen with five different zoom levels. Players new to the series can use the 2D map to become comfortable with the 3D view system.

Action This Day

The Distant Gun interface has been both expanded and streamlined. Unless specified otherwise, a command given to any ship in a division works for that division. Other options are a single ship or every friendly ship. Ships can be grouped by click and drag on the 3D map but not the 2D one. A button on the fly-out menu has been added to give players the same control over torpedoes as they do of guns. A “change course” button has been included so that, instead of “snagging” a line to change course, the button brings up yellow course lines that can be moved with a mouse and set with a click. The sequence then allows a choice of “turn by succession”, “turn immediately”, and “turn then reform on leader”. Another button brings up the speed slider. A selected ship or ships can be formed into a new division. Handling multiple divisions in a large battle is made easier by a “guide on” command that can daisy chain divisions to one leader. Guns and torpedoes can be ordered on an enemy leader or freed for the best shot. A hotkey/mouse combination allows specific ships to be targeted. Another feature that makes handling large number of ships easier is waypoints. Waypoints mark turns in a course. Up to three way points can be placed per path.

Jutland has nineteen scenarios: three dealing with the clash of the dreadnoughts, two dealing with the opening battle cruiser engagements, one dealing with an incident during the battle, eight hypotheticals, thee unrelated actions, and two templates for the editor. A listing of these scenarios, collated by the scenario designer, ranked by difficulty can be found on the Net and serves as a way to ease new players into the system. The first five scenarios are small actions that teach the skills necessary to handle the large fleets found in the rest of the actions.

In these scenarios, the accuracy of the sailing and gunnery models is depicted clearly. Small, nimble craft like torpedo boats and destroyers can kick into high gear at almost a moment’s notice and apparently turn on a dime. The lumbering behemoths have slower acceleration and need “forty acres to turn this rig around”. Captains will try to avoid collisions when given rash maneuver orders. Action can be sped to several levels and order can be given while paused, making control of the game accessible for all level of players.

Surface gunnery during fleet engagements is an exercise in maneuvering ships so that broadsides are brought to bear against opponents’ bow or stern turrets. Optimal maneuvers can include divisions turning immediately to close range and the reforming into line on their leaders. Timing and distance are essential components as the AI is either trying the same thing or fleeing. In the latter case, a lucky shot from a forward turret may be needed to slow the foe. Ships’ major batteries are controlled by a central position. Although this system was better than sighting along a gun barrel, speed and course changes, along with sea and weather, still made hits take awhile to register, especially with ill-trained crews. A scrolling list of misses, hits and damage comes in a white font feature in the upper left, hard to read against a clear sky but useful in clouds, night and when tilted against the sea. Secondary batteries and torpedo mounts are under local control. Options for poor ammunition handling that can lead to explosions and poor marksmanship can be toggled on and off. Low ammunition may call for a cease fire until better hit chances are possible. Damage control is automatic

Torpedoes are the wild card in surface combat. Small vessels can make mad dashes toward the enemy fleet to launch floods of deadly “fish”. The commander of their targets can choose to “comb” toward or away from the spread; Jellicoe’s decision to turn away from the German torpedoes at Jutland helped save the German fleet. In a mixed, close engagement, torpedoes are a two-edged sword. If one misses, it could very well continue its run and hit a friendly ship. Victories in scenarios are decided by points awarded for destroying high value targets or exiting the map. Thus, a weak force can humiliate a stronger one by taking a valuable enemy down with it. Victories would be much harder to come by if the AI wasn’t so suicidally aggressive at times.

If players want more than these scenarios, they have two options. The first is the computer-generated battles. A slider determines the size of the clashes with force compositions created randomly. The second is the powerful battle editor. Through this, the players can choose location, date, time, sea state and weather. A complete order of battle for the British and German fleets is available from dreadnaughts to auxiliaries. Also included are some French ships, merchants and American blockade runners. Ships can be formed into divisions and placed anywhere with any variation of course and speed. Match ups can be varied and fascinating. Creating a large battle may be difficult at first but easier when designers get the hang of things.

“…in an Afternoon”

Another layer of play occurs with the campaign games. Four campaigns are included: all of 1916 or just May 1916 with each given the option of using British information from the Room 40 wizards. The campaign map includes all of the British Isles and the opposite coast from Cherbourg to Norway. Naval and German zeppelin bases are shown with their divisions or squadrons. An overlay shows trade lanes. Task forces and be formed or recombined at the bases.

Orders for groups leaving base reflect the new play dimension. First, the force should be ordered to ready a day before sailing to make sure everything is ship-shape. Groups can be ordered to bombard, mine an area, patrol a specific point or patrol an area. Since long stays at sea take their toll on ships and crews, forces should be ordered back to port and given “rest” orders. Game time still clicks away in seconds but game speed can be sped up even more in campaign games. Reports on ship positions, intelligence and weather appear on screen.

The May campaign is simply a set-up for a major fleet engagement. Both sides send out scouts with the Germans using zeppelins. Small fast forces try to entice the enemy into traps. When opposing forces collide, action drops to tactical. Players who like cat-and-mouse tension will enjoy this experience.

The 1916 campaign is entirely different. While each side would like to destroy the other’s main fleet, other concerns must be considered. The Germans had launched their Verdun offensive at this time. The Allies were busy with cross-Channel traffic to support the French, making interdiction of this effort a major goal for German U-boats and fast squadrons. The Germans themselves need supplies to maintain their effort so the British must continue to enforce the blockade. Each side must protect its merchantmen so escort duty becomes routine. Laying minefields is a crucial factor. Players must, therefore, attend to several mission types and make sure their fleets are adequately maintained. Some relief comes for both sides through reinforcements. Victory in this campaign is measured by the progress of land operations.

Closing Comments:

Jutland is aimed with precise accuracy at naval enthusiasts. That audience can be hard to please but should embrace this product with joy. Version 1.006 still raises questions about the game’s AI and gunnery accuracy. Storm Eagle Studios will address these issues as they have with their earlier product. Given its graphics, scale and accuracy, Jutland is the pinnacle of real-time tactical naval gaming.

9.0 out of 10
 
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