It's like Advance Wars mashed up with Battleship. Kind of.
Crimson Tide. The Hunt for Red October. Steel Horizon. The names all seem to merge together, and as they are all ultimately naval epics, they should. While the first two are obviously movies, Steel Horizon stands out as the lone videogame attempting to woo fans with submarines, battleships, and other nautical vessels of choice. Steel Horizon, published by Konami, was originally slated to be released in Winter '06, but as development grew intensive, the game has been delayed until February (or April) of 2007.
Players interested in vast nautical battles, in the same vein as Advance Wars, have a lot to look forward to this spring, as Steel Horizon will be shipping with a comfortable list of features to explore. The game allows the player to completely control a naval fleet, and engage in tactical battles in either turn-based, or real-time gameplay. The turn-based combat works as players move their fleets into position, and as combat with an enemy begins, the game makes the jump to real-time warfare.
The player has the option of choosing one of three experimental (super cool) naval vessels to be the masthead of their fleet, and lead their campaign. This main ship, as well as all other vessels, is shown in full 3D on the top screen during battles, while a sonar screen is visible on the lower screen. While the ships are out of battle, the visuals are more reminiscent of the similar strategy setting in Advance Wars. Unfortunately, the games most recent setup offers no touchscreen functionality for the DS, and unless the feature has been added in the last few months of development time, players shouldn't be expecting any.
In actuality, the combat in Steel Horizon, while compelling, almost takes a backseat to the interesting story that Konami have weaved into this naval exploration. The game unfolds at the height of WWII, and the player is given the role of an American captain, who is fighting the Axis powers, and more interestingly, a shadowy organization that may be pulling the strings behind the war. The player fights in major WWII naval battles, and through their actions, and those of the secret enemy organization, historical moments can be relived, and even altered. Throughout the course of the game players eventually take on the role of discovering the identity of this secret group (Aliens? Illuminati? Mormons?), and how they seem to be influencing the war with technology that is slightly ahead of what it should be.
Steel Horizon supports local wireless play for those interested in bringing the fight to their friends, and while their has been no official statement from Konami on single cart gamesharing, judging by the nature of the combat and the graphical demands of the game, players should probably rely on each having a copy.
Other impressive features of Steel Horizon include dynamic camera angles, damage statistics, and unique 3D effects to highlight the action. Each ships attacks and attributes are unique, and the effects of attacking with a submarine's torpedo can be more effective than attacking with a battleship in certain cases. As players explore the 20 included missions in the core gameplay, and the 10 bonus missions, they'll have to determine which strategy, and which ships, are best suited for certain situations.
Early gameplay tests cited some difficulty in exploring the 3D battle setting, and confusion in character selection and movement. Also, while the graphics for the DS version of Steel Horizon aren't particularly unsettling, the PSP version of the game is almost exactly the same, minus only the secondary sonar screen. Konami has had much time to make improvement though, and there is little at this point to prove that Steel Horizon won't be the next impressive strategy title on the DS. Competing with the bar that Advance Wars set for the genre is never an easy task, but at least Steel Horizon seems to have its head in the right place, and not to mention, the Illuminati on its side.
By the way, if it is the Illuminati pulling the strings in Steel Horizon, don't blame me. I'm totally guessing.