Are you a boat nerd? Does the idea of building and fighting modern military craft make your fuzzy bits feel all fuzzy? Do you remember which one of port and starboard means left or right? Well, in that case, I have some good news: Waves of Steel might be the perfect game for you.
Waves of Steel is a free-form ship builder combined with a naval combat simulator. You’re given a ship, you customise it, and you fight some bads. As an elevator pitch, it makes basic promises and then absolutely delivers on them. The ship customisation is simple enough to get your head around but complex enough to build some unique and specialised ships. The combat simulation is more along the lines of Forza Horizon’s simulation rather than Forza Motorsport’s simulation. It’s a little arcade-y and casual, not a hardcore simulator where you’d be micromanaging the bilge pumps and bow thrusters to get as many knots out of the sails as possible (as you can probably tell, I know nothing about boats).
The ship builder screen is a top-down view of your ship with rectangles representing all of your equipment, weapons, smokestacks and the like. There is also a second layer of this that shows what’s happening below decks, with the rectangles representing engines, reactors and everything that makes the ship go. There’s a really nice system here where you need to balance everything you take with you. If you want to load up your ship with weapons and become some kind of torpedo based Poseidon you can. But, there is a maximum mass your ship can take and still float, so you’ll need to sacrifice some armour and engines to make that happen, leaving you slower and more vulnerable to counterattacks. Equally, you can upgrade your engines to make you The Flash of the sea. But, engines produce fumes that you’ll need to vent to the surface, reducing the space on deck for weapons. It’s a nicely balanced system where you can focus your build towards the sort of player you are. You’re constantly unlocking new upgrades and parts that will draw your attention back to the builder to reoptimise your ship.
Once you’ve got your ship just the way you like it – teabags near the kettle, socks in the sock drawer, doormat shaken off and set by the front door (again, I know nothing about boats) – it’s time to take it for a spin and attack some other rubbish boats. This part plays exactly as you’d expect it to. It isn’t too complex – forward and backward increase and decrease your speed with left and right turning you around. You also have a boost mode to get you to fights faster and a dodge mode to make you more manouverable. Once you’re at a fight you will automatically lock on to the nearest enemy, with buttons to scroll between other enemies in range. Then you can fire your equipped weapon, with the ability to swap between your other weapons when needed, with some weapons needing specific arrangements of enemies to fire. For example, the torpedoes will only fire when enemies are to the side of your ship. As a last-ditch attack, there is also a button to ram the enemy in front of you which was undoubtedly my most used button in the game.
An important thing to mention is accessibility. The game has a real focus on being as accessible as possible which is always nice to see. It lands on the correct, non-gatekeeping side of the difficulty-in-video-games debate and actively encourages playing on whatever difficulty you want, with a loading screen message of ‘Play on the difficulty that’s the most fun for you – there’s no bonus to increasing the difficulty’. You can also set all of your weapons to autofire so you can just focus on the sailing of the ship if controlling the weapons simultaneously is a bit of an overload. You can also customise the hell out of everything, rebinding controls or changing the UI to whatever works best for you.
In conclusion, Waves of Steel is a nicely put together game for a pretty specific audience. If you’re a boat nerd then Waves of Steel is probably already on your radar (sonar?) and you’ll likely have a great time with it. Personally, boats aren’t really my jam but I still objectively enjoyed having a play around with the builder and blowing up some bad guys. I’m also always behind a development process that puts accessibility first, so I have some very positive feelings for Waves of Steel and TMA Games.