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Great Naval Battles of the North Atlantic (GNB-NA) is set during World War II and covers the convoy engagements between the surface fleets of the British Royal Navy and the German Kreigsmarine. You control one of the fleets in all its facets, from the grand strategy down to the aiming and firing of the guns. Luckily for us most of the most mundane tasks in GNB-NA can be left to the computer (like the aiming of those guns). GNB-NA focuses solely on the big surface ships in the war. The German U-boats are uncontrollable in the game and that is pity. Not that submarines do not have a role to play but they are handled by the computer and you are notified only of the results. Not even all surface ships have been included for either the British or the Germans. The Germans especially have gotten the short end of the stick. Many of their cruisers are nowhere in sight. The ships the Germans captured in their conquest of Europe are also never added to your total. This was not done out of spite however. The computers of that time had only very limited memory capacity and tough decisions had to be made.
What you are left with as the Germans is a very small amount of heavy ships and a handful of destroyers. With those limited resources you need to take on the mighty Royal Navy and sink as many ships as you can. As you attempt to do so you will see just what kind of a precarious mission that was. Sailing out of Kiel the Germans had slip past the British main naval base at Scapa Flow (on the North tip of Scotland) and past their patrols around Iceland. Only then they would reach the open waters of the Atlantic.
Once your ships have reached the Atlantic their job is just beginning. During the course of the game you get reports of convoy locations and you can then send your task forces in pursuit of those convoys. Your ships can travel much faster then the British convoys so you can catch them fairly easily (convoys have to travel at the speed of their slowest ship).
Battle takes place on a separate level. A dull top down view shows your ships and the enemy ships that are visible to you. No fancy graphics here just the bare minimum you need to control your ships. This leaves a lot processing power to calculate all the variables that are in the simulation. Winds, light level, distance and rain are just a few of the many variables you have to content with while fighting. Damage can be repaired by damage controls teams. When a ship on fire or taking water these teams race to the scene and start combating the fire and plugging the hole. If left uncontrolled fires will spread and (obviously) take on to much water and your ship will sink or capsize. Ships guns have accurate range and ships take damage to specific sections so damage will begin to diminish the ships fighting capability even though it is not about to sink. As I said earlier many of the functions onboard a ship can be manually controlled or left to the computer. It is best to leave everything but the plotting of the course and the choosing of your targets up to the computer since it can handle that very well and it leaves you free to direct the course of the battle.
I am not a naval strategist and I cannot comment on how well the battles represent the niceties of actual naval combat during the Second World War. My strategy was simple but effective. Always have more big ships then your opponent. Even with such a bland strategy combat is fun. Manoeuvring to get your broadsides onto your opponent and steering your ships that are taking a beating out of harms way keeps you occupied and entertained. There is an option that allows for battles to run in real time to add that final level of realism. It takes over an hour at least to complete a single battle like that.
What I do miss in this game is custom scenario builder. All you get is the handful of scenarios within the game and the campaign. This is enough to keep anyone entertained for days but there is no option to put the entire German navy against a few of the British biggest ships or to take on one of those German heavy cruisers with some British destroyers. In short I missed a scenario builder. But that is not the only flaw in the game unfortunately. As you might have gathered from my review to this point I am taking the game from the German side of things. This is not because I am an avid NAZI bend on reliving the glories of old (far from it in fact). Playing as the British is just too dammed easy. The Germans have too few ships to be a real threat and most of those ships are inferior to the biggest British ships. Unlike in real life the British only fight one war in this game and that is against the Germans in the North Atlantic (in WW2 there was also the Mediterranean against the Italians and the Far East against Japan) so you are fighting all of their ships with an inferior fleet. It makes for far more interesting gameplay.
Despite its shortcomings GNB-NA remains a classic of its age. WWII ship combat simulators are in no short supply but few if any posses the playability of GNB-NA. Not even its sequels (four in total) matched that, being rather poor even when not compared to its big brother. GNB-NA will not have you on the point of your chair for hours on end but it will have you up until the wee hours by wanting to destroy that last convoy before bedtime.
About the archive, I have supplied you with an un-patched but cracked version of the game since that is the only one I got running in DOSBox. It is possible to get a patched version but it didn’t run in DOSBox and outside it runs far too quickly to be playable. The patch is not vital but it does fix some gameplay issues (like air strikes being carried out beyond the range allowed for those planes). If we ever get the patched version to run in DOSBox we will put that one up.