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Image via TMA Games

Review: Waves of Steel

All aboard the D.S. Flexington

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I have a soft spot for naval warfare. I attribute this to either the hours I pumped into Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2 or that time my appendix decided it was time to come out while I had P.T.O.: Pacific Theatre of Operations rented on SNES. Pleasant memories.

I don’t, however, find myself drawn to naval simulators. I need some time to reflect on this thought, but in the meantime, Waves of Steel figured out a way to ramp over that barrier and into my heart. It just needed a way to make naval warfare more radical.

Waves of Steel Surfboard
Screenshot by Destructoid

Waves of Steel (PC)
Developer: TMA Games
Publisher: TMA Games
Released: February 6, 2023
MSRP: $19.99

While Waves of Steel sells itself on the promise of kickflipping warships, its buildup to ridiculousness is much more gradual than it lets on. Things start off without you even having the ability to customize your ship. You’re simply sent into battle with a pre-built ship, and things seem pretty loose but normal. Don’t worry, that won’t last long.

Waves of Steel is a game that gets by on its customization element, and it knows exactly what players are going to do with that. You pick up additional parts as they’re dropped by enemies, but if you’re truly intrepid, you’ll plumb the environments for secrets. Typically, the strangest weapons are found in these secret treasures. Stuff like a drill for the front of your ship or even the mighty kickflip are found in these secret caches.

You won’t be able to go completely bananas, however. Waves of Steel is pretty careful about what it will let you get away with. The parts that are dropped aren’t entirely random; each mission has specific ones that it will drop. This means, you can’t just grind earlier levels to play the RNG for the best parts. You won’t get them until later.

Likewise, the amount you can plug onto your ship is limited to how much weight its hull can carry. If you want the biggest armaments, you might need to sacrifice luxuries in other places. While a general-purpose ship will get you furthest, if you’re really stuck on a mission, dropping into the ship maker and creating something that is tailor-made for whatever obstacle you’re rubbing up against might be your best bet for success.

Send them to Davey Jones’ locker

Rather than set itself as alternate history, Waves of Steel tells the story of a strange organization, Jormungandr, slowly overtaking the world’s militaries. Appropriately, Jormungandr’s winning strategy is “more ships,” and there’s actually an explanation both for how they crew such a massive fleet and produce so many warships.

There’s a strangely heavy focus on narrative, and against all reason, it’s not bad. While it largely serves as a framework for the action, the narrative sets up some enjoyable characters and sets most of them up with worthwhile development.

It’s light fare, however. The cast is set up to be as diverse as possible, and the plot deliberately avoids mentioning any possible atrocities that might arise from a fascist faction gradually gaining control of the globe. It’s a blatantly principled story, which struck me as rather refreshing. While I don’t regularly turn my nose up at stories rife with martyrdom and darkness, I appreciate when a narrative proves that those things aren’t necessary to tell something compelling. Nessa Cannon is proving to be a worthwhile writer to watch, having also lent her pen to Endoparasitic.

Waves of Steel Taking Flight
Screenshot by Destructoid

All hands better find something to hold onto

As enjoyable as the story can be, it’s definitely not the focus here. No, it’s massive naval battles. Despite the endless masses of enemies, you’re normally alone for much of the campaign. Many of the missions have you bombarding bases and sinking swarms of bad boats. The campaign is lengthy at around 15 hours if you’re taking your time, but there’s a lot of variety on display. Most of the truly outrageous stuff happens in the final stretch, but rest assured, you’ll be taking down a hover carrier within the first couple of hours.

The customization does get really good. Beyond simply slapping better engines and more guns onto your ships, you can choose their colors, flags, and even import your own designs. The ship editor can get a little finicky, but it’s easy enough to use that I never had much issue delving back in to make an entirely new ship from scratch.

However, this leads somewhat to my biggest issue with Waves of Steel; it’s as ugly as a deep-sea fish. Both the graphics and presentation are sinful. A lot of the models are just covered in flat textures, and the lighting effects don’t play well with it. The water looks okay, which is good since you’ll be looking at it a lot. However, the UI is horrible. I’m not the type to fixate on this sort of thing, but I couldn’t get over the choice of font. Usually, when I’m thinking of ways a game could improve the final product, UI isn’t high on the list, but here, it’s the top entry.

It’s functional, but that’s as far as I’d go with praise. The drab graphics at least mean that there is a metric gigaton of parts and features to play around with, but the visual eccentricities can certainly be distracting.

Naval Warfare
Screenshot by Destructoid

You’re good. You’re good. You’re good.

Waves of Steel delivered wonderfully on what it promised. I came here for a ludicrous naval warfare game where I could strap a wall of guns to a tub, and I got exactly what I wanted. It’s a lightweight, straight-to-the-point title that simply wants to entertain. Despite that, it manages to be thoughtful and well-measured. It’s layers upon layers of entertainment.

I’m hoping that TMA Games continues with the concept, whether expanding Waves of Steel with additional content and quality-of-life additions or if it moves onto a sequel that further explores the concepts they have put together here. In the meantime, I think it’s time I gave a closer look at the naval warfare subgenre. It seems like something I could sink my fleet into.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.