Fighting Steel is a simulation / wargame recreating the major surface combat engagements in the early years of World War II. It includes the fleets of Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States together with 12 historical scenarios set in the South Pacific (Gualdalcanal) or the north Atlantic. In addition to these scenarios, the game can create random battles (between all of the navies included) and is delivered with a scenario editor to build your own scenarios. A campaign with dynamically created missions is the final challenge to keep the selected fleet alive over a longer period.
The game play in a real 3D environment. either single ships or entire divisions can be controlled, by setting course and speed, selecting targets for main and secondary guns plus torpedoes. Damage control of the ships is handled by the computer, each ships has a number of damage and floating points (depending on its size) and special equipment (single turrets, machinery, etc.) and be individually damaged. Best thing to compare this system is a tabletop miniature wargame, but this time, the ships will move and react in real time, taking up to 2-4 hours.
Playing the game is fun, especially as the computer AI seems to be quite competent to react with realistic maneuvers. Unlike other naval games, the computer tries to screen its major ships with destroyers, maneuvers into the classical "crossing the T", and even disengages if chances are against him. The game could be described as a mixture between the classical Great Naval Battles of the North Atlantic and Task Force 1942, updated with more decent graphics and a better AI. Ships can sink in many different way, capsizing, bow first, stern first, etc., but it would be nice if a sinking ship would need some more time until it finally goes down. When a ship has reached the critical damage level it sinks within a few seconds - or when the magazine of one of the turrets explodes.
There is no land in the modeled in the game - a very big minus. Especially at Gualdalcanal or in the Norwegian Fjords, land would be necessary to create the right scenario environment. This was much better done in Task Force 1942 several years ago. The 3D action also does not contain aircraft or submarines, they are only handled in the campaign mode in a primitive way, but actually this they aren't nescessary as the game focuses naval surface combat.
Graphics are good, but not superb, the ships could be modeled a bit nicer, especially if they had their masts included. The different ship camouflages are not very good, many of the available camo schemes were not used in this way and what is completely missing are the typical camos used by the German Kriegsmarine (rembmmber the stripes on the Bismarck, even if the ship did not carry them anymore on its final mission).. This is only topped by the sea and sky texture - they can described with one single word: Awful. Although the sea was moving waves, you do not get the impression that the ships move through heavy seas.
The sound is good, except for the ships engines. They sound morel like a small harbor tug than like a battleship. The guns however sound very good, while the sound of damaging the ship is the same that was used in older SSI naval games before.
The campaign combines random created battles (depending on the ships available on each of the size) with some resource handling. You can put ships in active and passive duty, only active ships will be available for the next battle, while passive ships will be decrease their fatigue etc. There is no strategic map as it was in GNBNA, you are assigned to a mission, something like an extended version of the Captains game of GNBNA. After each of the campaign battles, the surviving ships can be damaged by air attack or submarines, this is only calculated by the computer and a message box about this events appear.
To conclude, Fighting Steel is a nice game to play. Although there are some negative aspects (no land, graphics) overall its a good, if not a very good game. The manual gives some good insight about the engine behind the game, something that is not usual in today's manuals anymore. If SSI could take the 3D part of the game and build a real campaign around it - the original GNBNA showed the right idea - we would see a naval game that would be hard to top.
For anybody who is intersting in playing naval games, Fighting Steel is definitily a game to get.