Man of War
DOS - 1997
Also released on: Windows
Description of Man of War
Man of War
Man of War is a new take on sea battles from the golden Age of Sail which aims to actually put you into the shoes of a fleet admiral by providing a unique real-time first-person perspective on the battles of the era. Man of War is not your average "Age of Sail" game in the mold of Wooden Ships and Iron Men (Avalon Hill) or Age of Sail (Talon Sof t). Instead, Man of War attempts to bridge the gap between war games and more glitzy, glamourous first-person shooters. Unfortunately, it does so with very little success.
Quake Meets Wooden Ships and Iron Men
Prior to each battle, you are able to issue general orders (doctrine) to your entire fleet, or to individual ship classes (such as the Ships of the Line) within the fleet. The doctrine consists of specifying the distance to which you want ships to close, the distance you want them to try to maintain, the type of sail under which you want them to run, and the distance at which you want them to open fire. You are also given the opportunity to issue initial orders to the fleet.
Once the battle starts, there are two distinct segments, one in which you issue orders and one in which the results of those orders are played out in a real-time first person perspective. The orders which may be issued are limited and somewhat general: turn to a specific heading, follow the flagship, flee, engage an enemy ship, general pursuit, etc. While not providing ultimate control over every aspect of fleet operations, the limited selection of orders represents the kind of rough control actual fleet commanders had over their fleets. Orders are issued while looking at an overhead view of the battle map and may be issued to individual ships in the fleet, to all ships in a single division, or to all ships in the entire fleet. Game time is stopped while you issue orders.
Once orders are given, the first-person "turn" begins. Four minutes of the battle play themselves out in real time and you watch it happen from the deck of your flagship. You can move around the deck to look at the unfolding battle from any angle. You can use your spyglass to zoom in on a particular ship to assess damage. Time compression controls (1x, 2x, 4x, 8x) are available, enabling you to speed up the turn, if desired. Once the turn finishes, it's back to the orders segment, and so on, until the scenario is over.
The most famous battles of the era are included as scenarios: Trafalgar, Ushant, and Chesapeake Bay to name a few of the 12 battles included in the game. There is also a campaign game, which consists of a series of linked scenarios during which you may rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy.
Man of War may be an interesting idea but it's not an interesting game. Several huge flaws inherent in the game design scuttle this ship before it even leaves harbor. The most glaring being that there is absolutely nothing to do during the real-time turns except walk around your completely deserted ship and look at what's going on around you. That's right, there's nothing to do. You can't issue orders, you can't make changes, you just have to wait for the turn to end so you can look at the overhead map and issue new orders. Sure, you can skip the real-time turns if they get too boring (and they will), thus playing the game from orders phase to orders phase. But once you decide to do that, you might as well trash Man of War and load up Wooden Ships & Iron Men!
Compounding the problem is that the real-time turns aren't even really fun to watch or be involved in. The deck of your flagship is completely empty...you are commanding a ghost ship. Any sort of actiity on deck which would imply that there was, oh, say, a battle going on would have been appreciated. Something to heighten the tension or even suggest that you were actually there! Besides which, your position on the deck of the ship is a truly awful vantage point from which you to view a sea battle. You can barely tell what's happening in your area of the battle, let alone the farthest reaches. I know, I know, that's the idea. Nelson didn't have control over every ship in his fleet and was limited to the perspective from his flagship, so you put the gamer into that same position. But since you can't do anything or really see anything, you'll end up making the only choice mercifully afforded you and crank the time compression all the way to 8x just to get it over with.
If Simulation's Canada (the author's) wanted to go this far and make a first-person real-time naval battlegame, they should have gone all the way and made the action 100% fluid in real-time first-person perspective. Why break the game down into an interactive orders segment and a non-interactive turn? Why not just allow the gamer to pause the game if they wanted to issue orders or view the situation from the overhead map. In fact, you wouldn't even need to pause the game, since the action at 1x speed is about as fast-paced as watching paint dry. Gamers could easily have issued orders on-the-fly, thus completely immersing you in the game's concept. I'm not sure it would have saved the game, but if you are going to try something different, at least have the guts to go all the way!
What About the Details?
There are some things to like about the game. The notion of an overriding doctrine issued to all ship commanders prior to the battle is nice and does impact gameplay. I tried playing a single battle a series of times using different doctrines each time. The results and character of the battle changed noticeably depending on the doctrine. The set of orders available to you are limited (approximately) to the same orders avaialable to actual Age of Sail commanders, which I think is a very nice choice. I also like the fact that you can capture ships by boarding them and then use them for yourself and the fact that some of the battles are huge (with over a hundred ships) presenting an enormous challenge.
But the good points are still too few and far between. Most game details are either puzzling or downright annoying. For example, you are only able to order your ships to move to SIX possible headings. That's right, SIX. Not four, not eight, not sixteen...SIX. Apparently Age of Sail era compasses (or Simulation Canada's compasses) only have points for N, NE, SE, S, SW, and NW; ships cannot sail either east or west. Also, on page 2 of the manual it states that one of the advatages of the ships of this era was that, being made of wood, they rarely sank. Yet, 8 minutes (2 turns) into my first game of Man of War , down went one of the enemy ships, straight to the bottom. By the end of the battle, at least two-thirds of the ships had been sunk! Finally, I'll mention that it's far too easy to get stuck while moving around on the deck of your ship. I once got stuck balancing on the railing at the back of my ship (or so it appeared). I could move side-to-side, but I couldn't get back onto the actual deck of my ship. The game wouldn't even let me mercifully commit suicide off the back deck by plunging into the sea. If it had, the game might almost have been salvaged!
Don't be Different...
While new ideas and fresh takes on subject matter can often lead to brilliant innovation and exiting games, I'm not sure if this new idea was ever a good one, dooming the game from the start. Perhaps if the non-first person aspect of the game were better, or if there were something to do during the first-person segments, the game might be more enjoyable. But as it is, it just can't compete with games such as Wooden Ships and Iron Men. While playing the game, a favorite saying of mine kept running around in my head: "Don't be different, just be good. Good is different enough." Man of War, ultimately is different, but not nearly good enough.
Review By GamesDomain
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