Reviewed by John Bonnett

                   Computer          Graphics       Memory      Disk Space
Minimum:           386/33 DX         512k SVGA      4mb         14mb
Recommended:       486/33 DX         1mb SVGA

Control:           Keyboard, Mouse (required) 
Sound:             Adlib, SoundBlaster, SB Pro, ProAudio Spectrum, Roland
                   general MIDI

Notes:             Requires CDROM drive w/ 150kb data transfer rate

Reviewed version 1.0 on: 486/33 DX, 8mb RAM, ProAudio Spectrum, NEC double
                         speed CDROM

Reviewer recommends: 486/33 or faster, digital sound card capability

I've always been a fan of naval warfare simulations, and used to badger my friends endlessly to play Avalon Hill's 'JUTLAND' or 'MIDWAY'. Even after a quarter of a century of duty with the U.S. Navy gaming naval engagements is still a thrill. When GREAT NAVAL BATTLES II (GNB2) came out I was eager to add it to my collection. With this release SSI builds on the previous success of GREAT NAVAL BATTLES I:NORTH ATLANTIC. Now the focus shifts to the Pacific Ocean, recreating the conflict associated with the American campaign to take the island of Guadalcanal in 1942. GNB2 starts with the initial American landings on 7 August 1942 and runs thru the final withdrawal of Japanese forces on 31 January 1943. Also this release mirrors the era of TASK FORCE 1942 by Microprose, inviting comparisons. Running GNBII gave me a series of contrasts, both good and bad.

GNBII installed on my machine smoothly, even though I tempt fate by using both STACKER to add disk space and 386MAX as a memory manager. The game requires at least 587k of lower RAM free with an additional 3mb of XMS. The painless install program I've come to expect from SSI sucessfully detected my system configuration, and loaded the proper ProAudio Spectrum sound driver automatically. By choosing to play sounds from the CDROM I was treated to two different melodies, one representing the American side and the other playing when you choose to be the Japanese commander. Other than these two short pieces there is no music. The digital sounds are done nicely, particularly the gunfire and explosions when you are hit. Sadly, although it is distributed on CDROM the game installs itself on your hard drive, and requires 14mb of free space. For reasons that are beyond me, SSI used some of the 660mb on the ROM to include demo versions of RAVENLOFT and DARK LEGIONS. Even so this total of 19mb leaves the over 70% of the disk empty. This is, IMHO, a _Bad Thing_ to do. On the bright side copy protection is evidently satisfied by having the CDROM in your drive which relieves you of the odious task of having to identify an ambigious ship outline or looking up page X line Y and entering the first word of line N. This is a _Good Thing_ that goes a long way towards eliminating software piracy, without being a burden on a legitimate owner.

Once up and running, what do you get? There are five tutorials, seven historical engagements and two different campaigns, one running the full span of 7 August 1942 to 31 January 1943 and the other, truncated to allow for forces to build up, from 1 October '42 thru 31 January '43.

Suprisingly, there are no provisions to allow you to build scenarios, and modem play is not supported. If history repeats itself I expect SSI to release expansion disks that add other historical WWII Pacific battles like Midway or the Coral Sea. The lack of a scenario builder in what is otherwise an excellent game is a serious omission, considering the norm we have come to expect from computer games. After running through the tutorials I played each of the historical engagements, alternating from the American to the Japanese side. The interface runs flawlessly, with the screen split evenly with a highly scalable map sharing the available space with information and command menus. As the commander you are always provided with both an overview of your forces and the ability to command their individual actions in _great_ detail. You can let the AI control your weapons or drop down and aim each gun yourself.

Like any simulation the preference of the designers and playtesters don't always exactly match mine. Some of the 'features' caught me by suprise. For example, if you transfer your dive bombers from a carrier to a shore base, there is no way to return them later. In a full campaign game I wound up with a useless task force because the air wing had been sent to Guadalcanal for use in air strikes against the Japanese ground forces. After the enemy was devastated, there was no way to get the aircraft back to the carriers for further use. Additionally, something about the efficiency of the damage control teams on the ships is not quite right. In one of my fights seven heavy cruisers emptied their magazines on one light cruiser and it never sank. It took a repeated series of torpedo attacks from my destroyer screen to finish her off. Checking the with the detailed damage control menu, it became apparent that the repair parties are never subjected to casualties, remaining at full efficiency as the ship sinks under them even though by that time they should have been busy abandoning ship. Seeing a target ship that had pounded apart, dead in the water and burning suddenly get underway at 20 knots to avoid a torpedo is hard to accept. Also in the 'hard to accept' column is the sudden report that one of your ships has been torpedoed by a submarine. Apparently introduced in an effort to balance play I found these attacks extremely frustrating. Your forces never detect or prosecute them either before or after they strike. As a result one of your key units may be crippled or sunk and you are denied the satisfaction of sinking their attacker. Some of the features are done quite well. If you tackle a scenario that has you playing Admiral Crutchley patrolling the waters of Iron Bottom Sound you either come to respect the power of the Long Lance torpedos used by the Japanese or you lose your entire task force. Playing either side, the ability of a combined strike by dive bombers and torpedo planes to wreak havoc will quickly command your full attention.

How does GNB2 stack up against its near clone, TASK FORCE 1942 by Microprose ? The two year age difference shows, particularly in the quality of the display. GNB2 has SVGA graphics that are used from fixed control stations like a gun or torpedo director. The views avaible are brethtaking as you see salvos straddle the target in your sights. Both games revert to VGA resolution if you go to a lookout or bridge position and watch an engagement in real time. Although GNB2 includes the ability to capture 'video' tapes from the lookout or bridge position I've never made use of that particular utility, preferring to remain in map view to maintain control of my forces. All in all, it comes down to a matter of your personal preferences. I give TASK FORCE 1942 the edge for ship to ship slugging matches, while GNB2 makes much better use of aircraft, both in a search role and for air strikes. Is it really worth buying ? Yes, especially since I am counting on expansion disks to include some other important campaigns in the Pacific theater of WWII. I think SSI has the ability to capture the market for naval simulations with this engine, particularly if they redo the damage control code and add a few more menu choices relating to employment of aircraft. They would do well to spend a few hours as I did, playing 'MIDWAY' on a table top. If they can model that emulation correctly then they will have a benchmark simulation other software houses will be hard put to equal.

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