Computer Graphics Memory Disk Space Minimum 386 VGA 1 MB 12 MB Control: Keyboard, Mouse (recommended), Joystick (recommended) Sound: Ad Lib, Roland LAPC-1, Sound Blaster Monitor: Color required MS-DOS: 5.0 or higher required. Min req. of 600K conventional memory. Reviewed version 1.2 on: 486/66, 4MB RAM, SB Pro sound card, Thrustmaster joystick
The game takes place in a dark future much like SYNDICATE. You are a mercenary and control subs which act much more like aircraft. Anyway, after being trained through five basic missions you go on to accept contracts blowing up, kidnapping, or exploring things.
The graphics are smooth as glass on my 4 Meg 486 66hz. Underwater sites include very nicely defined thermal layers, wonderful terrain with cliffs and mountains, and man-made things (a sunk U-boat, mines, torpedoes, many really neat subs, buildings, etc). It looks like at some point there will be aircraft to confront as they are also included in the graphics file. One nice touch - the deeper you go, the darker the screen gets. If you dive into a pit, it becomes really dark and you have to fly pretty much using the instruments. The nice thing about pits are that terrain blocks sonar, allowing you to use pop-up tactics like in COMANCHE. Thermal layers also block sonar. However, you can see and fire through them.
Instruments and data are displayed via HUD and a dash board. You can go to full-screen, enemy view, chase sub, fly-by, and weapon views. You can also look right or left. The screen can get very busy, very quickly.
Sound is mainly weird sea creature sounds, explosions, and klaxons. Also, between missions there are some short but very nice movie-like graphics. With major achievements such as finishing a sequence of missions, you are rewarded with some longer, rather amazing, graphics. For instance, you can watch the ship as it embarks from its home port.
Characters can die but be revived...for a price. When you run out of cash, you become terminally dead. Characters can also be taken prisoner and are "sold" back into freedom. As some of the missions can be quite difficult, I advise backing up your saved game files. There is one such file for each character and they are named SWSLOT#, where "#" is a number from 0 to 7. Hacking these files should not be too difficult and I look forward to a badly needed cheat program.
You can also "Shift-Q" out of a mission when you see an inglorious death forthcoming and avoid any bad repercussions. The program drops you back into the command center as if you never went on the mission. Use "Shift-Q" instead of the "Shift-E" eject capsule command as bailing out will frequently make you a POW.
Missions are serial and must be completed to go to the next. There are five campaigns, if you count the training missions. The training missions are easy and good preparation for what is forthcoming. In the Atlantic campaign, the first mission was not too bad while the second, third, and fourth were difficult. By the fifth mission, my mind started blurring. I can vaguely remember the campaign ending with a hellish ninth mission; screens full of enemy subs, torpedoes, and missiles. The other three campaigns are of increasing difficulty.
There is also a "simulation" mode where you can just go and kick some behind without needing to worry about becoming a KIA or POW. The simulation is outside of the plot line and is meant as a place to work on tactics.
As the subs differ in quality and munitions, there is some strategy to this game. You can't just go in and blow things up. Rather, you must plot out how you want to approach each mission, given the subs you have on hand. The default armaments your sub is supplied with are rarely the correct mix of weapons to succeed in a mission. Therefore, you should always plan on editing how your subs are outfitted. Additionally, in a number of missions you are given a wing man, either for combat or to complete a special task (i.e.-plant explosives, kidnap somebody, etc). You are also responsible for arming your wing man's sub.
The software is easy to install and is designed to run with the major brands of memory management software from DOS. So far, the system has crashed on me once and my reaction was "so what...".
Despite my generally being impressed, I have many complaints. First, when switching between the various sub views of the outside world, the targeting receptacle changes position slightly on the screen. This would not be a problem if, when you fired, the shots actually went where the cross hairs were. Unfortunately, too often they don't; the shots aim for where the cross-hairs were before the view change. The bug is unpredictable and costly on some of the missions.
My second complaint is that in order to play a mission, you must always be briefed and setup your sub's weapons as if you had never done it before. This may be fine the first, second, or even third time you play a scenario. It can, however, grow very frustrating the 9th or 10th time you are trying to complete a particular mission. There should be some way to save a mission in progress so that you can immediately repeat the play and correct your mistakes.
My third complaint is that the computer AI can be fairly stupid. One example: If you have a quiet sub you can literally creep up on the enemy at 5 to 10 knots. This is despite the visual data which the enemy should be getting - just like you do. It seems like they operate only on data from sonar.
Additionally, should you take out the sub at point blank range, any enemy companions react to the burst of noise caused by the firing by revving their engines. However, that is it. Once you quickly destroy the enemy and stop firing, all the companion enemy subs become docile again. Thus, all you have to do is systematically creep up on and surprise each sub guarding an objective. As soon as you figure this out, stationary subs are no longer any problem.
It seems the designers also noted this problem and "fixed it" by making large numbers of crazed bandits pop up from nowhere at certain time points in many of the scenarios. With these unhappy folks, there is no creeping around and little opportunity for strategy; it is just brutal all out missile firing and maneuvering. The effect on game play is similar to that seen in X-WING. You rarely win a scenario the first time because you first need to learn where and when the bad guys show up. I dislike this feature. ..a lot.
My fourth complaint is that the game documentation, though generally good, is sometimes lacking. A critical part of the game consists of giving orders your wing man. Two of the four commands you can give your wing man are to "engage" the enemy or to "attack" the enemy. What is the difference? My best guess is that with "engage" the wing man does not fire...but who knows!! The manual doesn't mention either command. Mission briefings can be similarly confusing or vague.
My last complaint is a fairly intrusive copy-protection screen which requires you to look up data on the various ships each time you start the program - a real pain. Someone ought to make a patch to hack this out of existence.
All in all, the game is nice with very impressive graphics. It has the feel of a flight simulator, HUD and all, and should not really be considered a submarine warfare game. It does have quite a lot of strategy which can be appealing. Once you have the AI down, however, the missiles- flying-everywhere arcade elements of the game take over. While initially I loved the game, I have since found the AI borderline and now do not play the program much. Then again, flight simulators are not my cup of tea. I would say that if you like games like STRIKE COMMANDER or FALCON 3.0, you will probably enjoy this one.This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Jerald J. Block for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.