AEGIS: GUARDIAN OF THE FLEET from Software Sorcery

Published by Time Warner Interactive Group
Reviewed by Lynn Sims
          Computer     Graphics      Memory    Disk Space   CD-ROM 
Minimum   386DX-25    320x200x256     4 MB       20 MB      150 KBS 
Max/Rec.    486       640x480x256     4 MB       20 MB      300 KBS

Control:  Mouse required. 
Sound:  Sound Blaster and 100% compatibles. 
Copy Protection:  None. 
Reviewed on:  386DX-25, 4mb RAM, Sony double-speed CD-ROM drive, 
              Sound Blaster 2.0, Gravis Ultrasound.

Notes: Uses DOS4GW extender; Ultramid, Mega-Em, and SBOS would not work. Install program needs 20 MB of free disk space, once installed the VGA version takes about 10 MB and the SVGA version about 14 MB.

The USS Vincennes is on patrol in the Persian Gulf. Tensions are high, especially in an area where most of the world's oil comes from. Suddenly, a blip appears on the radar screens. According to the ship's computer, there is no traffic scheduled for that sector. The target is classified as hostile. Radio contact with the target is attempted on standard military frequencies, but there is no reply. A decision is made, a button is pressed, and 30 seconds later an Iranian airliner is blown out of the sky, taking hundreds of civilian lives with it. This was an unfortunate incident, but it highlights the deadly accuracy of the Navy's premier air defense platform: the Ticonderoga/Aegis.

AEGIS: GUARDIAN OF THE FLEET is a simulation of the U.S. Navy's Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser. Over 100 missions are available in 7 battlesets and a training area. AEGIS could be called a "system simulator" since it individually models many of the offensive, defensive, and sensor systems present on the Tico class.

Installation of the high-res SVGA version took nearly an hour on my ageing 386, but would probably take around 30 minutes on a newer 486. Most of the files needed to run the game are copied to the hard drive, so the only time the CD is accessed during game play is when "James' Warbook" (an online equipment reference) is opened. CD music can be toggled to play during the options screen and when the Warbook is open, but it requires that your CD- ROM drive be XA compatible, otherwise the program may crash. This is mentioned nowhere on the box or in the documentation, but I have heard that a patch is available for non-XA drives.

Once the program is installed and run, you are presented with the options screen. Here sounds and music can be toggled, games saved and loaded, difficulty level selected, and missions begun. There are 3 difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. At beginner level the player can see all enemy forces whether or not they are detected by sensors, as well as control the enemy forces. Intermediate level enemies have to be detected and are completely computer controlled. However, they will not use countermeasures when fired upon. At advanced level the enemy forces will use countermeasures.

The player has the option of playing a single mission, all the missions in a single battle, or a campaign, which is every mission in each battleset. The 7 available battle areas are: the Falklands War, Libya/Tripoli, Persian gulf, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Black Sea, Adriatic Sea. The Tico class was undergoing sea trials during the Falklands War, so this scenario is a "what if". The Black Sea and Adriatic scenarios are also fictional.

Once a mission is selected the player's first stop is the bridge. All the other screens can be accessed from here, however, hot keys can do the same more quickly from anywhere, so this screen is redundant and of no use whatsoever during the game. This is a prime example of the awkwardness of the game's interface. There are 3 screens (the bridge, handset, and CIC screens) that all have the same basic function of allowing you to switch to the various other screens available (like radar, sonar, and fire control). These 3 screens present you with no information about the battle in progress, and the hot key commands eliminate the need for these screens.

A player will spend most of his or her time at the Tactical Plot screen. A 3-D display of your ship and the area surrounding it is presented along with icons allowing access to all functions of your ship, as well as all other friendly assets. Here is more redundancy in the interface. The entire game can be played from the tactical plot, making none of the other screens in the game necessary. In most missions your Tico alone does not have the firepower necessary to accomplish the objective and you must use the friendly forces at your command to engage the enemy. The tactical plot is the only place where you can control them.

A mission ends when either all enemy forces present are destroyed or you voluntarily end the mission. A success/failure screen follows and the mission is summarized. Games can not be saved during missions, but only between them.

I really wanted to like AEGIS. I have always been fascinated by modern naval warfare and have a lot of experience with the original miniatures version of Harpoon and the later computer version. I was initially impressed with the attention to detail put into AEGIS. The numerous sonar, radar, and weapon control screens were very realistic. The online Warbook presents information about every piece of hardware in the simulation and reads like "Janes' All The World's Ships." The designers really put a lot of time into researching the database. The missions are firmly based on history (especially the Falkland War missions) and all seem very plausible.

The documentation is clear and easy to read, but shares the redundancy of the game as it spends page after page describing screens that perform essentially the same function. It does have one glaring omission, though. Most of the screens have many icons on them (the tactical plot has over 40 icons) but the manual does not have a single picture or drawing of any of the icons in the game. It will say something like "there are 14 icons in the upper left corner of the screen, from top to bottom they are..." As a result, learning what the icons do is needlessly complicated.

After playing the first few scenarios, I began to get the feeling that all the research and planning that went into the game had missed one very crucial area: playtesting by experienced gamers. The interface for controlling friendly assets via the tactical plot screen is awkward and clumsy. You may have upwards of 30 friendly ships and aircraft under your control at a time, but you have to issue orders to them one at a time. There desperately needs to be some kind of group order procedure. An example is if you have a flight of aircraft in formation and wish them to take a new heading. You have to select each aircraft individually and change its heading (a slow process because of the inefficient interface). While you change the heading of the first aircraft, the others are continuing on course. By the time you get all the headings changed the aircraft are spread out over a large area and reforming them into a tight formation is next to impossible.

There is only one type of group order you can issue, and that is a weapons free clearance: all friendly units will automatically fire at any enemy unit within their weapon range. When attacking enemy ships this presents a problem because your friendly ships, when firing missiles at enemy targets, will only fire one missile at a time. Often the only way to sink an enemy ship is to overwhelm its defenses with a large number of missiles, but your ships will only fire one missile, wait until it hits or is shot down, and then fire another. This makes it extremely difficult to destroy a well defended enemy ship.

With the amount of detail the designers put into the game, it is hard to believe some of the things that are present in AEGIS. Aircraft never run out of fuel and can never land at a base or aircraft carrier, nor can they be launched. Ships can not run aground, and can even cross the shoreline and sail through the land. Damage does not affect a ship or aircraft until it is destroyed. If anything breaks the "suspension of disbelief", this is it. Even the smallest missile will cause damage to the sensitive electronic systems on modern warships. Two of the major concepts of ASW (anti- submarine warfare) are completely ignored: thermal layers and the baffles. Sensor operation is simplified to the point that once a detection is made, you instantly know exactly where the enemy unit is; no partial detections giving only the bearing to an enemy are possible.

The music and sound effects in AEGIS are few and far between. CD music is played during the title screen and options screen, and when the Warbook is opened. Animations of weapons fire can be seen on the Fire Control screen, and explosions are heard on the tactical plot whenever something is hit.

Overall, I feel that AEGIS is a good attempt. Someone who knew very little about modern naval warfare would probably enjoy it without noticing the problems I have outlined. The awkward interface and unrealistic details greatly lessened my enjoyment. I can't help but wonder if the designers ever played computer Harpoon and saw how an effective interface could make controlling large numbers of units easy.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Lynn Sims for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.