World War Two-ish
Rise of Fleets: Pearl Harbor awkwardly blends satisfying and surprisingly deep core gameplay with painfully dull grinding and an unengaging single-player story. A naval real-time tactics game developed by I Got Games and published by Skyunon Hong Kong, it’s the perfect example of a game that could have been great.
From the title, you might reasonably assume that Rise of Fleets: Pearl Harbor takes place in the Pacific during World War II. I certainly thought so and was surprised to spend most of the early game fighting French pirates in the Atlantic Ocean. That actually threw me more than when the game cast the entire British admiralty as attractive young women. Characters occasionally reference events like Dunkirk or specific naval battles, but not in any way that remotely reflects reality. Anyone expecting historical accuracy is barking up the wrong tree, in the wrong forest, on the wrong continent.
None of this alternate history would be out of place in a more overtly anime-inspired game. Here however, it is contrasted with realistic and highly detailed 3D models of ships and planes. I might have learned to live with that if the story wasn’t simultaneously convoluted and unengaging. Between an overwritten plot, forgettable characters, and mediocre translation, it didn’t take me long to check out of the narrative altogether.
On the High Seas
None of the above is to say that the game isn’t fun to play. It can be very entertaining, in fact, and each campaign mission felt unique. Some were more enjoyable than others, but they were never unexciting. Despite the lackluster story, the campaign was by far my favorite part of the game. but even here, Rise of Fleets lets itself down. Every time the player reaches a new area, the recommended level for story missions jumps up by about 5 to 10. This is especially annoying the first time it happens as many of the side activities are unavailable to low-level players.
Here is where Rise of Fleets dives headfirst into freemium microtransaction nonsense. Sure, it’s possible to grind your way to the appropriate level and equipment, but don’t expect to enjoy doing so.
In addition to the campaign, the game offers a range of side missions as well as PvP multiplayer. I personally enjoyed the single-player Naval Trials mode, which pits the player against a series of increasingly powerful enemy fleets. It’s the part of the game where it felt like my tactics had the most significant impact, as I attempted to puzzle out how best to defeat each opponent.
Mighty Ships on Deadly Waters
Overall, combat is pleasant and relatively straightforward. Tap a ship to select it, then tap the location you want it to move to or the enemy you want to attack. You can also command individual ships by selecting their icon on the bottom of the screen. doing so centers the camera over the vessel in question. While that can be useful, I found it to be mostly an annoyance. Battles in Rise of Fleets tend to resolve quickly. Every second spent fighting the camera is one less spent countering rapidly approaching threats.
The ships themselves come in four types: destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers. Each type comes with multiple classes, upgrades and customization options for each. It’s all nicely varied and satisfyingly deep. My only complaint about the equipment was how you get it. Instead of spending time and resources to build ships and items, you spend them on what are basically loot crates. In fairness, their contents aren’t entirely random and are pretty much always useful. Still, I’d rather be able to build something directly without having to roll the dice.
All these little annoyances conspired to drag me out of the experience. That’s not even getting into the numerous glitches. Most were just a nuisance, but a few were game-breaking. For example, I encountered one that repeatedly caused the game to fail to register when an objective was complete.
The PvP deserves further mention but not because it’s good. You have the option of raiding another player’s bases for resources, but that never felt necessary, rewarding or particularly fun. There is also the option to challenge other gamers to online battles. In these fights, neither player directly controls any of their ships. Instead, they set their fleets up like normal, but the AI handles combat. Victory usually goes to whoever started the fight with the biggest guns.
Rise of Fleets: Pearl Harbor is difficult to hate but hard to recommend. The battles are enjoyable and ship customization is very engaging. Sadly, the game’s virtues are buried under a mountain of glitches, microtransactions, and repetitive grinding.
Is It Hardcore?
It could have been.
The bones for a solid strategy game are here, but you have to cut through too much grindy padding to reach them.