Waves of Steel PC Review
I remembered next to nothing about Waves of Steel until I was offered a chance to review the game for DarkZero, so I had to look back upon some of its older trailers to refresh myself. I often remember the trailers I post on the website’s daily Trailer Attack, yet I had forgotten all about this game. Waves of Steel had already been in Steam Early Access since July 2021, and the launch trailer was about four months ago to celebrate the upcoming release of version 1.0 at the start of February this year. What made me jolt my memory was the launch trailer had a battleship performing a barrel roll. At that point I was like, I remember this! So, I was excited to see what this little indie title was all about.
Waves of Steel is an arcade naval combat game that has the player controlling a custom battleship to take on the high seas against an invasion. It also has a big focus on creating and customization ships with the game’s Ship Designer feature that is accessible on the main menu. These ships can then be brought into the campaign missions to make personalised. As for the game’s story, Waves of Steel is about a military force, dubbed Jormungandr, that is trying to take over countries around the world. It seems to be going to plan, but of course, you, the player, and the Ratatosk, an important vessel that can create and modify ships out at sea, are going to put a stop to the Jormungandr’s ruthless world-conquering plans.
That is about the gist of it. I never felt invested in the plot or the characters. They are fine and push the story along to the next mission. Its story does not interfere with the gameplay, as cutscenes are brief before each mission. Cutscenes usually pop up at the beginning and end of every mission using 2d art backgrounds and portraits, with comic book speech boxes appearing above the characters. Occasionally, the dialogue might pop up to freeze the gameplay during the mission, but these are usually just for a few sentences. One annoying thing was that I would sometimes be attacking enemies and the game would freeze to bring up the dialogue, but because the mouse left click is also used to move the dialogue to the next page, I would miss the first text box of dialogue. There should be a small delay to stop this from happening. There is no voice acting, this is straight a text-only experience, which is fine. Overall, this was a game offering a generic war story to support its more interesting features.
Missions start easy, letting the player become accustomed to the game and its setup with a standard ship that has a few guns, anti-air and torpedoes. Eventually, the player is given the power to create their own ships. Not everything is available, as each mission contains set unlocks that need to be found, which leads to eventually having so many variables to play with. Waves of Steel makes sure that progression is structured, starting with standard weapons, which gradually become crazy towards the back end of the campaign.
The ship designer is the shining star of Waves of Steel, simply because of the madness the player can create, but it knows to restrain it in the beginning. This way of unlocking is genius because after every mission it feels worthwhile to revisit the ship designer and check out the new unlocks to either mod them to an existing ship or create a new one and incorporate the new unlocks within its design. It gives off a dopamine hit, more so when you make a huge improvement. For example, I changed my main guns from two barrels to four barrels and added ship rockets that bombard the enemy with a screen full of rockets that would make Bangai-O proud. Let us say it helped take down some of the bigger foes in the game. All the ships created are available to use in the campaign, as I could not see anything that stops even the wildest ships from returning to older missions to get a better score or completion time. The missions eventually become the player’s playground to perform destruction on the AI enemies.
Building a ship is easy enough to say there is quite a deep system in place. There are some initial learnings into how placement works and switching between the surface and the underbelly of the ship, as these areas are where elements like engines and propulsion are built, while weapons and vents are built on the top. The ship designer is presented with a blueprint of a top-down and a side view of the vessel to make it easier to see where things are being placed and if they are obstructing anything through height or positioning. There are certain requirements to be able to have a working ship. These are that each ship must have a bridge, engines, propulsion, and weapons.
From there, it is free reign to do whatever to its design. As you might have guessed from this review’s introduction paragraph, Waves of Steel does not follow reality. This means the ship, while starting off with simple things like gun turrets, torpedoes and antiair guns, will eventually turn into huge cannons, auto revolving guns that deal silly rates of fire. Hell, the game even has a melee section which can attach a sawblade or drill to the ship to deal ram damage. The ship can also be equipped with special abilities, such as boosting, dashing, flipping and others. It becomes its own little jigsaw puzzle in trying to get as much on the ship as possible without going over its weight limit, as everything will cause the ship’s mass to increase, which means more power, but more power means more vents to excel all the fumes, which means less space for weapons as the vents take up surface space. Bigger hulls mean more surface space to build on but often results in slower maximum speed compared to smaller vessels.
What I did find a nice addition was the developers are all about accessibility in the game. This means if you so desire, you can toggle off the weight limit and reveal all the unlocks (these can be turned back on to return to what is currently available for anyone wanting to return their save file to standard progression) and build the most ridiculous thing going. I crafted some mad ships that had many torpedoes, Gatling guns, 10 x 5 cannons at the front and back, laser beams shooting down planes, a huge shotgun to do mass damage close up, and a radar and sonar system in place too to help with those long-distance enemies or submarines, all while being over the weight limit.
There is even mod support using Steam Workshop, where some nice person has crafted ship surface expansions, such as wings and additional building space to the side to truly go and build something that seems ripped straight from some Japanese anime. Each category of weapon can be assigned to auto fire or not, as normally the player would have to switch between each weapon and manually fire, but the game is open to setting categories. For me, I found auto-firing at planes and submarines with my anti-air and anti-submarine mines helped me concentrate on going for ships and landmass, which was incredibly helpful when the campaign gets to its climax and there is a lot to concentrate on the screen.
Controlling your water machine is simplistic. Movement is done with typical movement control, up and down controls the forward/reverse speed setting while left and right will veer the ship in that direction. Aiming is done with the mouse, but targets can be locked on with the press of a button. This causes the weapons to aim in that rough direction, making it easier to perform long-range shots. The missions do not offer much in terms of diversified objectives. It is often either destroying a lot of stuff, going to specific points on the map or surviving a certain amount of time. That is not to say things do not get ridiculous, as boss battles are here, which can include opposition as flying ships that rain down bullets on top of you or planes that drop off enemy ships to keep the offensive on the player. In some missions, it can feel overwhelming as the screen is littered with bullets as the enemy boats, subs, planes and land offensive, fill the screen and you are this single entity trying to survive against seemingly impossible odds. It promotes good positioning and movement to position out of the enemy’s firing line using power-ups to increase mobility otherwise the bombardment will rip through health.
Thankfully, ammo and health pick-ups can spawn on destroyed enemies to keep the survival rate up. For the less nimble, the game is great with offering accessibility options to slow down the speed of the game, change the enemy rate of fire, enemy accuracy, enemy health and how often crates drop. The developers are clearly wanting this game to be played by anyone, crafting their own difficulty to whatever is the most fun for them, which keeps it in line with its whole ship designing philosophy as well.
Visually, the game has some setbacks. The graphics are basic, like old school levels of basic as they feel like models and environments taken from the early 2000s. This does give it a sort of stylised look, and in all honesty, it does not take away from its arcade gameplay. One thing I cannot help but be the judge of is Waves of Steel’s presentation. The whole user interface is off, with cheap-looking menus and text boxes that feel disjointed from the presentation.
Waves of Steel is a fun little indie game that has a simple, arcade campaign that does not last overall long across its 30+ missions. The best thing the game does is its ability to allow anyone to pick up and play, even if it means adjusting a few of the accessibility options to play it. This does mean that the campaign, while can be fun when it becomes hectic, has been designed in an elementary way with primitive objectives, plus the barebones and disjointed user interface hurt the overall presentation. One thing that shines is the brilliant ship designer, stealing the show with its customisation and how it constantly offers upgrades throughout the campaign, making the next mission that bit more exciting to see how a freshly built ship fairs compared to the previous design. This is a good reason to stick with the otherwise straightforward campaign. The ship designer is what will be remembered when Waves of Steel is done and dusted. There is something remarkably enjoyable about taking a wild war machine and going ham against a stupid amount of enemies – pushing that enemy count up to as much as your PC can handle in free battle mode and watching all hell break lose is something magical. If only the rest of the game was as brilliant as its impressive shipbuilding.