Unlike Fine Wine
Quite possibly the most popular subsim at the time of this writing is Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer. It's no coincidence that 688(I) is also the most recent subsim as well. And many critics, including myself, pegged 688(I) as one of the most realistic submarine combat simulations ever made. Aside from the lackluster 3D viewer, the Electronic Arts/Jane's/Sonalysts team can be pretty proud of their handiwork. But like an auto with six digit mileage, 688(I)'s charms have been marred by a host of unseemly shortcomings and outright defects.
Once a player learned to use the various stations and systems and master the tactics required for successful gameplay, he probably began to notice 688(I) does have its rough spots. In its original form, it was discovered that the player's sub had turning characteristics more suited to a Corvette than a 7000 ton submarine. And the torpedo reload times were way off; you could reload torpedoes in the original 688(I) faster than the cook could crank out French toast. Electronic Arts quickly remedied this with the "Realism Patch", released mere weeks after the program. Pleased, everyone settled down to the business of sinking Grishas and Deltas.
Before 688(I) was released, virtual fleets were formed to anticipate 688(I)'s unique Internet multi-play capabilities. Players indulged in eight sub melees nightly. This play and the competitiveness it evoked exposed a number of existing problems with the game. Chief among these are:
- The Realism Patch. There is no way to know if your opponent has it, or if he/she is executing turns that leaves your ADCAPs gasping.
- The mission log. Normally a good record of events in a single mission, in multi-play it is gaping with holes, rarely records the activity of your opponents, and can't be saved as a log file.
- Undocumented cheat codes. Abundant flaws and cheat codes that don't register on the other player's message screen. These include methods of quick-loading torpedoes (you could fire off 8 in 3 minutes), a method of marking every player's position at the beginning of the game, hotkeys that give you control over your weapons and sonar even after you're dead, and a suspected technique of making your boat invisible to ADCAPs.
- The 3D viewer. The standard agreement between players forbids the use of the 3D window. On the honor system. Could someone explain how so many passive torpedoes can find their mark when the target sub is creeping at 4 knots 10 nm away? The 3D window should be a cheat option only, just as "show all entity" view is.
- Enemy AI Whew! AI is hardly the term for it. Ships in 688(I) single missions never appear to be fighting for their lives. The AI isn't aggressive enough. In an encounter with enemy frigates, the player can boldly move up and thrust ADCAPs in their faces. The most intelligent thing the enemy AI does is run.
- The Mission Editor The editor doesn't allow many of the features that good gameplay demands; SEAL team missions, multiple goals, additional INTEL messages, time/logistical orientation. There should be more if/then programming options available. Trying to position a dock on the waterfront results in a submerged dock or a mountain dock--positioning is fruitless. And above all, the missions can't be "locked" with a password to ensure their sanctity. Silent Hunter and even Wolfpack allow missions to be protected from pilfering or previewing.
- Canned Missions 688(I) has no dynamic mission generator. Every mission that comes with the program replays exactly the same. Creating custom missions doesn't suffice, due to the asthmatic editor described above, as well as the fact the creator can't be surprised by a mission he devised. After playing the campaign and single missions several times, what's left? Aces of the Deep and Silent Hunter thrived on random mission generation. 688(I) certainly should too.
Am I trying to bury 688(I)? No, emphatically no! I support Jane's and Electronic Arts and their efforts, which include such terrific, ground-breaking works as Seawolf SSN-21, NATO Fighters, ATF, Longbow II, and F-15. 688(I) continues to be a valid subsim, especially for the first few months of ownership. It offers so much. But I contend there is more for Electronic Arts to do with 688(I) to ensure its status as a world-class subsim and viability as a program with a long life. The long-awaited "Under the Ice" campaign disk with enhancements and bug/cheat fixes failed to materialize as promised. Has 688(I) been abandoned, left to die a premature death? I hope not. I fail to see why it should.
I stand by my original impression and review ("a masterpiece of simulation"). But masterpiece or no, 688(I) needs a tune-up.
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©1998 SUBSIM Review
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