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Crash Dive
Dust off your Kriegsmarine cap, it's time to go back on patrol.
Sept. 5, 2014 by Neal Stevens

It seems like submarine games come in waves. First, there was Silent Service, which spawned an update and was praised by naval game enthusiasts as the first polished computer subsim. Next came Aces of the Deep and Silent Hunter, which pushed the genre forward in a big way with better graphics, AI, and other features. Then came the breakthrough Silent Hunter III. Never since has a single subsim exploded the market like SH3 and its two sequels, SH4 and SH5. And now we have the wave of mobile and tablet sub games. Apps, really, but they are getter closer to becoming a true simulation follow-up to the older subsims in every way. And we have just about come full circle. Made for Android, Mac iOS, and Amazon Kindle Fire, [UPDATE: Now available for PC through Steam!] Crash Dive is a U-boat sim that features gameplay like Aces of the Deep and Grey Wolf, with much better graphics and portable like no DOS or Windows-based game ever thought of being.

In fact, Crash Dive so consistently brought back memories of Aces of the Deep, that I could not help but compare and refer to the older classic throughout this review. Crash Dive is the first title from Panic Ensues, a new development house from an experienced programmer, Scott Goffman. The game starts with a distinctly moody theme evocative of Grey Wolf (veteran subsimmers will know what I mean). It's short, but gets you started in the right frame of mind. Crash Dive is very intuitive--I handed the Kindle to my daughter and without any introduction, she determined how to play, navigate, and change depth. You can use the touch screen or the controls in the interface, whichever you fancy. Even though the design is so clear, the game comes with some of the best tutorials I've seen. Each aspect of the game is spelled out, in game, with plenty of prompts and details. After 20 minutes, you know everything you need to enjoy the game and be successful.

You begin with a Type VII U-boat playing Single Missions or a career with a War Patrol. Both start you at the Easy level of difficulty, and when you complete the mission, you can advance to Medium, Hard, and Sim. With Sim, you also have a few options if you choose to tailor the difficulty level to your taste: Dud torpedoes, search timer, and visible sonar for example. As far as I can determine, the difference in difficulty levels determine the number of escorts in each convoy, and the quickness of the information your lookouts provide. At Hard, you will see a lot of convoys with five or six escorts, and the range, speed, and bearing of targets will take longer to be determined. The enemy AI also seems more capable at the higher difficulty levels.

Single missions are instant encounters with an unknown convoy or task force. You may be in a prime position to intercept, or you may start the mission out of position with the undertaking of making it work. Often I would start with only one ship visible and then work out a course to get into firing position. Once you are clear, you can disengage and assess your results. War patrols are basically single missions strung together as patrols in the Atlantic. Crash Dive is touted as "Tactical Submarine Combat", but the inclusion of the strategic map where you conduct your war patrols adds greatly to the feeling that you have a career as a U-boat captain. Similar to the Career in Aces, you direct your boat across a map of the Atlantic, where periodic code intercepts will alert you to a possible convoy. As you transit, you may run into a convoy that was not detected by Abwehr. Each encounter will be spelled out by the game in a banner message, "Convoy spotted! Lookouts report 2 escorts, four transports." Your patrol zones span the North Atlantic and North Sea;  Operation Drumbeat or Asian patrols are outside the scope of this game. The sequence of engagements are dynamic and random--you never know what you'll run into out there. It was not unusual to find myself out of position and I was required to do an end-around. Factor in the random zig-zags the ships make and it adds up to a realistic convoy intercept that delightfully exceeds simple tactical combat.

In this game, the enemy AI is pretty robust. Enemy ships will detect your periscope if you use it too closely, for too long, and at higher speeds. You will lower your scope, or you will die. You can prowl on the surface at night on the edge of a convoy, at the risk of being spotted and fired on. Exactly how close you can get is part of the fun. Likewise with torpedoes--launch them at a corvette or destroyer and they will see them and try to evade. The enemy will react to you when they see you or your scope, or your torpedo wakes, or when one of their number simply explodes. As a rule, escorts will correctly determine the source of the torpedoes and race to your vicinity. A smart tactic is to fire your torpedoes and not stick around to watch the fireworks--dive and release a decoy Bold and put some distance between you and the end of your torpedo wakes. This is essential on the higher difficulty levels.

If the enemy catches you on the surface, they will open fire with their guns. It's pretty impressive to see 4" shells howling across the a sea in an arc meant for you. Do not try to duke it out on the surface with a corvette or destroyer, you cannot possibly win. Take your U-boat deep, and use the ahead slow or standard and enjoy the evasion segment of Crash Dive. How successful you are will depend on your speed, depth, and luck, just as it was in Aces. The challenge when evading multiple escorts is managing your batteries.

When you are driven under and you manage to survive a depth charging, you may lose visual contact with all but a single escort hurrying to catch up with the convoy. This is when the real hunt begins. Using the sonar bearing lines and the last visual contact, I would surface and race off at 18 knots, cramming some much-needed volts into the cans, and try to re-establish contact with the convoy. Sometimes I would be successful and execute a second attack on the remnants of the convoy. Other times I would tail a lonely escort for an hour and never see his merchants. And then there were times when the sea was empty....

By Severn shore we learn

Scott only started Panic Ensues Software in early 2014, but has been working full-time as a professional game developer for over 20 years, working on AAA titles for PC, Console, and coin-op Arcade. Some of the titles he has worked on: Return to Zork, Mechwarrior 2, Hydro Thunder, Metal Arms, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft 2.

"Over the last couple of years, I've been watching the rapid growth of the mobile gaming market with great interest. At first, it looked like it was developing along a similar path as arcade games: delivering inexpensive, pure-gameplay experiences that could be enjoyed in short bursts, leaving you satisfied but wanting to play again."

"But recently, the explosive growth of free downloads financed by in-app purchases has been eating the soul out of the market, turning what could have been great games into little more than extortion machines...

Continue here

Crash Dive combat is fought with torpedoes and deck gun. Torpedoes are aimed with the help of your AI crew, there is no manual TDC to work. For your crew to provide a good solution, you need to keep your scope or UZO trained on the target, they will solve the speed, course, range and bearing, as well as the ship class and name. It's a simplified version of the typical subsim, though effective and probably the most reasonable method for a mobile game. Of course, the closer the range, the better your odds of getting those eels in. Always try for overlapping targets.

The deck gun works the same way; aim and shoot. Game mechanics are also similarly simplified. Your U-boat will turn, change depth, deplete batteries, and reload torpedoes much quicker than real life. The game is designed to run at a quicker pace because, well, it's not a PC-based game, it is for people on the go. There is some arcade in Crash Dive, but there is enough simulation in its pedigree that you won't mind. Overall, the developer struck a good balance where the game is engaging, enjoyable, and not overly long. Time compression allows you to jack up the rate to 16x, and also to cut the rate to 1/2 or 1/4 if so desired.

The convoys you will face consist mainly of cargo ships, corvettes, destroyers, and tankers, with the occasional battleship, carrier and troop transport thrown in to keep things interesting. Destroyers can easily outstrip you on the surface, and corvettes are nimble if not speedy.

There are some concessions to gameplay that nibble into realism. As soon as the enemy has detected you, a game message will inform you, and when a ship is critically damaged you will be rewarded with an immediate "ship sunk" message. When you are underwater, with your scope down, you get bearing lines on the chart that should orient you with the bearing of the surface ships. However, as a ship approaches within 750 meters or so, you get a real-time ship icon complete with a gorgeous wake that tells you exactly where the enemy is. Same with depth charges; you can see where they are being dropped, and you can see the radius of sonar pings and the return ping off your U-boat. Now, to be fair, this was also part of the gameplay of many subsims, most notably Aces of the Deep, though there were options you could select that would remove the cheats and make the game more challenging and realistic. In the easier levels of the game, there is an alert light by the time compression clock that will tell you when you are being hunted, complete with a timer that will tell you precisely when the enemy will give up. It's really helpful for new sub gamers. Thankfully, this can be turned off as an option in Sim mode. You can also opt not to see the visible sonar pings, even though there is no option to do the same with the ship icons and the range tag. Casual gamers and newcomers to undersea warfare will appreciate the cheats, while old salts like yours truly would prefer the option. Even so, as old time Subsim member Laufen zum Ziel puts it, "I consider it more of a sim than arcade."

The game interface is clustered with finely detailed controls to manage your U-boat. During a battle there are three main screens: the navigation chart, periscope view, and bridge view. While on the bridge you can use binoculars/UZO to target ships. The controls are well thought-out. Changing depth is done in 50m increments, you can shift the boat to view with a click, er... touch. Torpedoes can be fired individually or in a spread of three. When your U-boat takes damage, small report banners pop up, showing you a summary of the equipment or compartment, how long the repairs will take, if they can be done at all. Flooding is the one you want to watch out for--severe flooding will cause you to lose depth, and we all know how dangerous that can be. Damage to the sub will inhibit its capabilities: a damaged rudder will prevent you from turning, damaged motors will limit your speed, and you've never seen a damaged scope quite as impressive as the one on Crash Dive!

Crash Dive is a good-looking game. The ships are gems, each one crafted with decks, ladders, guns and smoke that screenshots do not do the game justice. The ocean and sky settings are on par with the last gen subsims, they look fine and do serve the game well. Your patrols will take place in day and night, clear and stormy, but no rain or towering whitecaps. Sound effects also earn mention. Crash Dive has a good array of ambient sounds, from gurgling water effects, to waves, ship's sirens, hull creaking, and metallic torpedo reloading sounds. One odd choice is the klaxon that erupts with diving orders. It sounds like a US sub, not the alarm bell of the U-boat. When the enemy is alerted, you can hear a distant sailor calling over the ship's loudspeaker that they are under attack. The engine sound increases proportionally with the speed of the motor or engines. It would be perfect if the depth charge sounds were more forceful. And of course, if the gramophone were included to play a few old U-boat tunes.

There is no multiplayer but there is a global leaderboard where you can post your tonnage. There are an impressive number of small touches and fine features that make this game shine. Ships have explosions that are reminiscent of Silent Hunter 4, with arcs of flaming debris, and flotsam and barrels bobbing in the wake of a sunken ship. Ships have working propellers, torpedoes throw off little wakes, ships firing off starshells. Panic Ensues did not cut any corners making this game, they built in a lot of care and time and it clearly shows, in the visuals and in the gameplay.

 

Summary

Crash Dive does not have crewmen, a captain's bunk, or planes, but then again, it costs a mere $6. If you ever played Aces, or if you read about the simple fun of the early subsims, how can you pass on Crash Dive? This is an excellent game that offers engaging U-boat gameplay built on a visually appealing base with solid AI and first-rate controls. Since the wave of mobile and iPad platform games, I've played more than a few naval titles, some of them quite good. Panic Ensues has crafted a game that satisfies the yearning for a good subsim and reestablishes the allure of North Atlantic convoy combat in a way that does Aces of the Deep, Silent Service, and Grey Wolf proud. Viewed within its scope, Crash Dive is only a few realism options and a gramophone short of perfection.

Crash Dive by Panic Ensues
 

Here's how to get your hands on a copy of Crash Dive!
Now available for PC through Steam!


SUBSIM forumsCare to add something or discuss Crash Dive? Los!

 

See also:

Subsim Aces of the Deep review
Subsim Silent Service II review
The 2013 Best of Subsim Awards
What kind of subsim skipper are you? Sub skipper Quiz


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