COMPANY: Jane's Combat Simulations/EA
Requirements:Pentium 90+, 16MB, 100MB hard drive swap space
PLATFORM: WIN95 CD-ROM
We are in the Golden Age of military simulations. Each year programs are released that eclipse those that came before them. In the arena of Submarine Simulations, we saw this progress from the early pioneers such as Red Storm Rising and Silent Service, to the fledgling Seawolf SSN-21, on to the polished and capable Aces of the Deep and Silent Hunter. Each new release issued forth a new generation of graphics and realism. Each new release raised the hurdle, yielding more satisfying gameplay. Now in mid-1997, Electronic Arts, in close collaboration with Jane's and Sonalysts (a Navy contractor), offer us a new subsim: 688(I) Hunter/Killer.
688(I), the subsim, takes its name from the 688 (Improved) Los Angeles class of American attack submarines. The first of the class was commissioned in 1975, with 62 vessels built all together. Measuring 362 feet in length, 33 feet across, and displacing 6080 tons (6927 submerged), the 688 submarine is capable of firing wire-guided Mark 48 ADCAP torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and vertically-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles all over the place. The 688 has been America's premier warship, believed by most to be without equal in the world. The subsim 688(I) Hunter/Killer hopes to emulate that superiority in the computer simulation forum.
Included with the CD-ROM is a detailed, informative user's manual. Over 280 pages in length, the manual guides the new player through the complex fire control and target acquisition exercises that are vital to successful gameplay. The various features of the virtual submarine are explained and demonstrated thoroughly. Careful study of the "Academy Training", "Ship's Stations", and "Advanced Tutorial" will result in rapidly mastering combat skills. I've heard of the steep learning curve demanded by the intricacies of this sim, but the manual is more than equal to the task. I was ready for an anchor tattoo after finishing the second tutorial.
Three types of mission formats are featured: Training, Single, and Campaign. Your mission objectives range from simple ASW interdiction, protecting Allied-flagged tankers, SEAL team extractions, running interference for Allied Battle Groups, to opposing enemy battle groups. The type of enemy warships you will encounter are generally described in the pre-mission briefing, so you have an idea what to look out for and how to tailor the load out to best suit the mission. The number of missions is somewhat limited, and they appear to have locked-in variables, that is, the ships and their behavior are the same with each playing (canned). This enables you to replay a failed mission with insights that can help you through. It also kills replayability (did I make that word up? I guess it fits.) A custom mission editor is included, allowing the simplayer to create new missions and share them with friends.
The interface is the best Iíve seen in a sim, bar none. There are no unwieldy tasks required of the player; everything is direct and easy to work. The right side of the display features a vertical tool/icon bar that provides easy access to all of the 688ís control panels and stations. The boat's heading, speed, and depth can be quickly monitored and changed here. The layout is so efficient, there is almost no need to use the keyboard. One can jump from the Target Motion Analysis station after plotting a possible target course, speed, and bearing; to the Fire Control station, where the torpedoes or Harpoons are prepared, to the Helm to make a course change, to Sonar to check back on the contact. . . .
688(I) is rich with details and features. Every aspect of modern submarine warfare the Navy will allow us to know of is represented. Among them:
- An ESM (Electronic Surveillance Measures) mast that detects radio and radar transmissions of surface vessels and aircraft. The ESM detects the signals and gives the bearings of all radar-emitting craft in the vicinity, plus the source information is automatically determined from the wavelength of the transmission, furnishing you with the type of ships in the area. Poke it up for a few seconds and bang! You know who all the surface players are and their true bearing.
- Three passive sonar displays: Broadband (detecting and designating contacts), Narrow Band (identifying contacts), and DEMON (DEMOdulated Noise, for determining a contact's speed). All this information is fed into an elaborate Target Motion Analysis station.
- Target Motion Analysis: works "hand in glove" with the sonar, radar, ESM, and periscope sensors to develop a solution of the target's bearing, range, speed, and course. This is where much more deliberate thought is required of a player than of a player in a sim like Silent Hunter. The ruler and ticks marks used to plot the target's position are much easier to manipulate than those of Fast Attack (click-click-click-CLICK!). Challenging but not frustrating.
Enough about the features, let's talk about gameplay. Gameplay, indeed! This sim is very cerebral, requiring patience and agile tactical thinking. Is that okay with you? If you want visual action, maybe you'll be happier with Tom Clancy's SSN, or maybe a Mario Bros. Nitendo game. But 688(I) is not a game--it's a SIM. 688(I) simulates the real thing, in as much detail as you can get without having the State Department all over your ass. There are no "map views" with real-time symbols laid out to give you godlike powers of destruction. You don't target enemy SSNs with a single mouse click. With this subsim you "build" a firing solution. And you do it with stealth, while maintaining a minimal presence among the enemy.
The playing environment of 688(I) is underwater, where visuals are a nonfactor. All gameplay takes place in the form of monitor and control stations. You very rarely use the periscope and a "bridge" station for surfaced reconnoitering is nonexistent. This presents a challenge. How to make the game realistic and still maintain the level of entertainment that the average computer simwarrior requires. Judging from the swiftly-growing number of "Virtual Fleets" of online players of 688(I) (i.e., Sea Wolves, Sea Devils), I'd say EA and Jane's have hit the mark MOT. You exercise "intense patience" detecting, classifying, and targeting the unknown adversaries of the sea. You should expect no less of a first-rate simulation.
The designers of 688(I) made one notable concession to realism in the name of playability--a "3-D Object Viewer". The 3-D viewer allows a picture of your boat, detached views of your weapons and the ensuing onslaught they deliver to your opponents. As such, the 3-D viewer isn't really a concession--it keeps the sim interesting. You cannot see or detect enemy ships with it, (until one of your weapons hits it) and it doesn't figure into the plotting or fire control situations. You can only see an enemy as your ordnance homes in for the kill, and it sure would be a shame to miss that after all the time you invested plotting the solution. Strangely enough, the graphics in the 3-D viewer are underwhelming; blocky, pixelated, and jerky. This is the sole area where Fast Attack, the other recent attack boat subsim, outshines 688(I). Fast Attack automatically cut away to the target as the weapon closed in, with a fairly decent graphic display. 688(I) gives away too much--you can guide your torpedo to its target visually if you lack scruples, a big minus in multi-play.
Offsetting this deficiency is the multi-player/serial port/modem capabilities. A key element in the staying power of a sim today will soon be recognized by its ability to "take your ship into battle with or against other human players." 688(I) supports network play (up to 8 players), modem play (28,800 baud or faster), and direct serial play (two players). "Virtual Submarine Fleets" are cropping up all over the Internet, where players set up missions and reap glory. In the future, I foresee vast cyberoceanic battles, where subsim players attack surfacesim players commanding armadas of carriers, aircraft, and frigates. Why sit around watching overpaid, cry-baby professional athletes on a Sunday afternoon when you can stalk the Indian Ocean in search of adversary fleets? This is chess of the twenty-first century, boys.
Other notables: the crew reports and responses are audible and sound like real Navy-type guys. Those programmer-types must be taking acting lessons. And bless their hearts, the designers made the crew's voices overlap. You can hear three guys talking at you simultaneously, without the "cut-out" audio sound characteristically heard when three wav files compete for the same CPU space. 688(I) includes terrific sub mood music, typical of Jane's other sims (ATF). It can't be overstated how enjoyable the music is and how much it adds to the ambiance of the sim experience. Especially the closing credits theme music--a wonderfully rousing electric guitar version of "Anchors Aweigh". (My wife wonders what the singing coming from my study is all about.) The graphics are very sharp and detailed. The various stations look real and functional. The buttons, switches, and other widgets "click" authentically when you change their position. Very good touch.
A Helix ruins my day.
The program reliability report card receives an A+. It crashed one time in 26 missions. I can live with that. Paul Grace, executive producer, is no stranger to coding, and his team deserve your time reading the closing credits. Good work here, guys. If there are any deficencies to note, it would be in the enemy AI. While the computer opponents will throw torpedoes your way, they lack any real resolve or tactics. Nevertheless, you can face stiff opposition in some missions.
Final Analysis: If you've read any of my other reviews, you probably noticed that I often disclose my impressions at the outset of the article. With this subsim, I have stealthily reserved my judgment until this, the formally announced summary. And that judgment is a thumbs up. Way up. Strap-it-on-a-Tomahawk,-plot-five-waypoints, and send it waaay up! 688(I) Hunter/Killer is a triumph, a legend in the making, a masterpiece of simulation, a powerful blend of realism and gameplay with enough visual concessions to keep it stimulating. There are so many aspects and features in this sim that this review barely skims the surface. If you want to immerse yourself in a billion-dollar, state-of-the-art nuclear attack submarine, and experience the tension, drama, and exhilaration of relentless world-in-the-balance naval warfare; this subsim is your ticket.
|Game play||Repeat Play||Program stability||Multi- play|
|BONUS: +2: First real Internet subsim; +3 Ongoing support; -3 Age|
The long wait is over!
At last, you can seize the helm of your own nuclear sub with Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer. This subsim is no longer being produced individually but can be purchased for a limited time in the Naval Combat Pack, along with Sub Command and Fleet Command. Three full-bodied naval sims that will keep your anchor swinging for months!
This subsim was out of stock from the manufacturer for 4 years.
They just released this collection so get it now.
Go to the PATCHES & MISSIONS section to DOWNLOAD the latest patches for this sim.
Update 3/99: The long promised "Under the Ice" add-on has not been released and currently there is no work being done on it. Join the FIX MY 688(I) CAMPAIGN!
Update 9/00: In response to the FIX MY 688(I) CAMPAIGN! Sonalysts release the "No 3D patch".
Update 1/01: EA/Sonalysts acknowledge work is nearing completion on sequel to 688(I). Name TBA.
Update 4/01: EA/Sonalysts announce Sub Command with three playable nukes, 688(I), Seawolf, Akula, to be released in Q3 2001.
Update 9/15/01: EA/Sonalysts release Sub Command and it proves a worthy successor to Jane's 688(I)!