Preview - USS Ticonderoga: Life and Death on the High Seas (DOS, 1995)

Is it bad when you can put a computer game in any one of six different categories?

Now, I know this sounds like the title for a boring panel discussion at a trade show, but it's a valid question in these days of blurred genres. Here at IE, one of the more aggravating tasks we face every month is trying to limit the number of times a game is mentioned in our table of contents to two or three categories.

Mixing game styles also makes assigning articles a bit of an adventure. After all, if the new game that just arrived in the building is "a strategy game with arcade elements," who writes about it – your resource management boy, or the kid who just really LOVES killing things?

I'm coming down firmly on the side of diversity – at least for the purposes of this article. Few things in life are purely black or purely white, and there's no reason why game designers shouldn't spend some time dabbling in that gray area.

Mindscape's Ticonderoga, an upcoming naval simulation that's being designed by the British company Intelligent Games, adds a new element to your basic ship command. While there's no question that you're purchasing a naval sim – you're on a boat, you're surrounded by other boats, there are subs and aircraft at your disposal, and you get to use radar, among other clues – there's a lot more to this game than just blowing other ships out of the water.

There's a role-playing element in Ticonderoga that actually makes this game more accurate. After all, there's a lot more to running a U.S. Navy ship than standing on the bridge and letting the sea breeze blow through your hair. You have to manage the officers that work for you, and your interaction with them has a lot to do with how smoothly your ship runs.

In addition, there are the locals to deal with. Anyone with a military background is familiar with the problems that can crop up with a ship docks at a local port after a lengthy stay at sea. This is a case where the natives aren't restless – the sailors are, and the commanding officer is responsible for making sure that shore leave doesn't lead to an international incident.

If a crisis pops up, the final decision on how to deal with it is the CO's. In the absence of a direct order from above, he has to come up with the best way to defuse a potential problem on the spot.

That sort of role-playing is all going to be a part of Ticonderoga. As the CO, you'll interact with your officers as you move about the ship. You'll talk with local leaders as you move from port to port. One of the missions that will come with the game includes a showdown with a terrorist who's threatening to blow up a ship.

There's even a soundtrack to this game – something relatively unusual for a naval sim. The mood of the music will change, depending on what's occurring in the game itself.

Sim fans shouldn't fret – there's plenty for them to do in Ticonderoga. When it comes to actual gameplay, the interface that you use to deploy your ships and weapons is very much in the Aegis/Harpoon 2 style. As the commander of a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, you'll be able to exert direct command over the other ships in your group, in addition to the subs and aircraft that are attached to your command. Your ship will travel between three different theaters of operation – each of which will include a separate set of missions.

Adding role-playing to a sim could be a gamble, but I don't think Mindscape is making a mistake with Ticonderoga. At heart, this is a strong naval simulation that asks the player to do more than just point his ship in the right direction. Done properly, this sort of category-crossing should expand the market for what looks to be a very interesting game.

Download the demo for USS Ticonderoga: Life and Death on the High Seas