The North Atlantic has seen a lot of combat over the years, here alternate history turns the last years of the Cold War into a hot war. With a submarine at your command, you’ve been given the chance to stop the great Soviet Navy and to bring the war to a close in the favour of NATO. From attacking convoys to hunting submarines and defending your own formations, you will have a tough question to ask every time you sink a ship. Do I stay here and continue to sink the enemy? Can I afford to spend the torpedoes, missiles?
The simple goal of this game is to sink the enemy. It’s very simple to say and actually quite hard in practise. With a submarine at your command, you set out with clear orders, delaying, degrading, denying enemy operations. From hunting their resupply vessels, merchantmen, and tenders, through to attacking formations of the enemy, both surface and submarine. While they can be simple, you first need to locate the right group. The North Atlantic is a very large place and knowing where to place your boat to get the best chance of intercept is only the first skill you will develop.
After that, once you’ve got your first contact, you will need to steer, plot torpedo paths and more. The act of firing a torpedo is not simple matter, nor even is planning your attack. With often only four torpedo tubes at your disposal, it becomes difficult to work out who your target first. That’s when your SONAR comes in, allowing you to recognise the contacts, to assess the threat they pose to you.
When you finally have all your contacts recognised, which you can get wrong quite easily, that’s only the start of planning a torpedo attack. Once you’ve launched your torpedo, you still have plenty of options if you still have the wire. The Mk 48 can be controlled on the approach to your target. Like your boat, you can change the depth and direction of the torpedo, allowing you to attack distant targets first. Or the opposite, whatever you think is best for the situation at hand. If you’re attacking surface targets and have TASM’s, Harpoons, are you willing to use them? They would give your position away, but have a much better chance of becoming tonnage you’ve sunk, not a contact that has escaped.
This is perhaps the first game I can think of that goes into the detail of the many complex aspects of SONAR. In one mission to hunt some Soviet fleet tenders, I placed my boat in the shadow zone. I was able to attack a number of vessels and leave without a single torpedo or ping coming in my direction. I managed to do this again, while hunting an Alfa SSN and Charlie SSGN. Again, not a single ping or torpedo coming in my direction. Yet, while hunting tenders on another occasion, I misplaced my boat and spent the next ten minutes avoiding torpedoes. Not only that, the contact I thought was only fifteen thousand yards was closer to forty thousand yards away.
Two campaigns await those who are interested, one set in 1984 and the other far more difficult. With the technology of 1968, dumbfire torpedoes and far less sensitive SONAR, it makes encounters much more difficult and closer. What you could have once done at over ten thousand yards, turns into knife fights at under two and a half thousand yards. The campaign map you’re on is quite large and is also very easy to control. You can sprint and drift with your mouse buttons, looking for your objective, evading submarine groups or the opposite, depending on what you’re currently seeking. This map is wonderfully detailed with icons, from aircraft, to satellites, surface, and submarine groups.
Audio and Visuals
When I was first playing this, I was first struck by the visuals. Which is not exactly what you’re after in a submarine game. The ocean can be quite different just between two different combat areas. One can be calm and blue, clear weather overhead. Others can be grey, cloudy, with high swells that make the periscope hard to use. Not only that, ships are wonderfully detailed. It could have been easy to leave out some hatches, badges, coats of arms on ships, yet they didn’t. Gun barrels, RADAR, SONAR, all can be picked out on ships quite easily. Your own submarine has plenty of detail too, you can see markings on the hull, the different panels, plates if you look closely enough.
What could have easily killed this game is the way it handled sound. SONAR is how you see under the water. It’s not as simple as just listening out for a few steady tonals, you would need to compare them to the library of tonals, to determine the type of vessel, boat you’re facing. Not just that, the more you listen, the better the contact comes become. This helps you determine the range, the heading of the contact. Not only that, if you’re willing to sacrifice music in combat, you can listen to the SONAR. There you can tell a lot about what’s going on, implosions of sunk ships and submarines, torpedoes, and SONAR. Should you have the ears for it, the difference between a SONAR in the passive search and active homing. Even how close it is to your boat.
No multiplayer features here, which is both good and bad. Games as complex as this need to focus on what they do well, which this does.
If there’s something that I have to fault Cold Waters and Killerfish Games is that this very much still feels indie. It doesn’t have the finer polish that I would want to see in a title like this. I’m also glad that I only bought this recently, with the latest patch, they introduced things I would have expected to be in from the get go. However, that is the only real complaint I have here. The rest of the game is very well made and has an atmosphere that you will only find here. Knowing what ships, boats are capable of is only one part of the process to master this game. There’s a depth, literal, littoral and figurative are here and will work to challenge you.