FAST ATTACK
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COMPANY: Sierra/Dynamix
System Requirements:486, (Pentium recommended)
PLATFORM: DOS (WIN95 compatible)   CD-ROM
 

       Fast Attack was released in the beginning of 1996 as a Los Angeles class attack sub simulation. There have been a few notable nuke subsims before Fast Attack--688 Attack Sub, Red Storm Rising, and Seawolf SSN-21. None holds a candle to the tense action and rigorous pacing of Fast Attack. However, Sierra's latest submarine sim is a troubled genius. You can get closer to a realistic modern undersea combat than ever before; if it will run through a complete mission without breaching back into the operating system. 

       

 The game has a good set of tutorial missions and the gameplay manual steps you through three of them to allow you to develop a feel for the interface. You have quite a few mission theaters to choose from, including the Sea of Japan, Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf. The program offers three levels of difficulty, so you can play for fun or for real. The missions have a two hour time limit, which some players don't like, including yours truly. Time limits force a player to conduct his operations in a hurried manner--unbecoming of a platform that depends on stealth.  You can use time compression to move things along (see program crash notes below about the effect time compression seems to have on the program) or just enjoy the great music and plot in real time. The different screens you access to control the game are well-detailed and playable with one notable exception--the fire control station. Here you must use your mouse to get a series of green dots, representing sonar contacts, to align vertically, in order to obtain an accurate shooting solution. On slow ships this is do-able, but the enemy submarines and especially the high speed patrol boats you'll encounter will put your index finger and mouse through a stringent clicking test. I seriously feared getting cramps from all the clicking it took to keep the green dots aligned. Everything else you control, loading torpedoes or working other station controls, takes a few clicks. But trying to get a shooting solution had me wishing for a torpedo officer to assign the tedious task to. [Hint: Use the right mouse button for large changes.] Otherwise, the interface is pretty handy.

 

       The games I played in Fast Attack were very enjoyable. You get a sense of authenticity playing this sim. There is no real time "map view" to allow you to cheat and locate targets. The only map view available is generated from the satellite intelligence and your sonar bearings, which could be accurate or not, depending on your skill in tracking contacts. This is a plus for realism. Your torpedoes are wire-guided and will acquire when they come in sonar contact with a vessel. You better be sure the vessel you target is the enemy, because your ADCAPs have no qualms about taking out friendlies and oil rigs. When you are assigned a long range strike, you access the satellite bearings and launch Tomahawk cruise missiles from your vertical launch tubes. When one of your torpedoes or Harpoons does successfully reach a target, you are given a video cutaway of the action. You wouldn’t be able to witness the demolition of a light cruiser in a real sub, but it’s still pretty neat to see your handiwork. And the quality of the animation; from your torps leaving your boat, to the seconds before they kill a target, even an airport hangar with guys standing around smoking as your Tomahawks come barging in; the scenes are excellent. Unlike Jane's 688(I), you cannot ever see your own sub from the outside, nor enemy vessels. And you cannot fasten a camera to your torpedo and guide it to the target by sight. You see only what a real fast attack sub captain can see, nothing more. Sierra hits the mark in this department: no cheats. You see the 3D views only when your weapons are destined to strike.

 

      Managing the Target Motion Analysis and fire control is a good mixture of hands-on realism and AI assistance. The broadband display is directly tied in with your sub's speed and position to the layer--the faster you go, the less you can hear, and if you are on the other side of the thermal layer from your target, it will properly shield the acoustics. Enemy AI varies: if you are not disciplined, enemy subs and ships will attack you and can be quite lethal. On the other hand, when your torpedo acquires a target, frequently the targets do not seem to go to great lengths to evade--no wild course or speed changes.

 

       When you become the target of enemy subs and homing torpedoes, you rely on a directional scope to evade. This scope gives you the direction the threat is coming from, and a digital counter informs you approximately the range, but since you have no graphic depiction of the danger it seems pretty vague. Another plus for realism. The sonar tech will orally keep you informed and when a torpedo acquires, he gets kind of excited. You'll get excited when he reports "1000 yards and closing!" You can release noisemakers but if you count on decoy measures you’re likely to be disappointed. A good attack sub skipper relies on evading detection, not counter measures.

 

       Multi-play is not included among the features of this sim. Which is too bad, because a sim this complete and realistic would perform well among real players. The ship's log featured at the conclusion of each mission is long and detailed, with important events such as hits and kills highlighted in red. It's much better than the chaotic and incomplete log you are offered in Jane's 688(I). If Fast Attack was Internet multi-play capable and the log savable as a file, this program would reign supreme over all other subsims.

 

 

       One feature Sierra/Software Sorcery omitted to include is the Save Game option. When you begin a mission in Fast Attack, be prepared to struggle through in one sitting. If you are torpedoed mid-mission, or if you take out a pleasure boat by mistake, there's no reverting back to a previous saved game to fine tune your performance. While that can be considered acceptable from the perspective of realistic gameplay, it's tough when a neighbor drops by for a visit or you need to run an errand. If the phone rings, you can pause gameplay, but you cannot save. And it goes without saying: no save, no auto-save. So if you make it through most of the mission with resounding success and the program crashes, you are SOL, buddy. And with a sim that crashes frequently, that's not a good thing.

 

       The measure of realism in Fast Attack is unmatched. Radio messages are formatted authentically, the missions are challenging, there's even a static display of the control room with crewmembers at their stations. The sub's handling characteristics feel right--depth changes at 4 knots take a while, but when you're conducting evasive maneuvers at 32 knots she turns and burns. One exception: the 7000-ton nuke sub does change speeds too quickly, going from 5 knots to 20 in a few seconds, and slows equally fast. Manning all the stations under combat conditions is a real handful. Casual players may feel it would be nice if there were more optional crew assistance, but serious subsim skippers will relish the often frantic activity. Fast Attack will make you or break you, and you'll relish every minute of it.

Original Summary, 1996:

       Fast Attack was a very satisfying simulation and would have received an enthusiastic endorsement here if not for one fatal flaw. The program crashed on me one out of every three games. I consulted the manual and it hinted that this problem was known and might be caused by memory conflicts. The solution the company suggests is to use a boot disk. I did and this didn’t help. A call to the usually helpful Sierra support system got me a faxed trouble shooting guide with the same remedy. I tried several changes to the boot disk but could not get Fast Attack to run reliably. Consulting Sierra’s web site, I found a forum and learned that this defect was evident in other players' experience. Forty dollars is too much to pay for a simulation that won’t work reliably, even if the concept and execution is superb. If Sierra would release a patch or at least some sort of fix, it would help considerably.

       

      Reevaluated Summary, 1998: There was just too much to like about Fast Attack to relegate it to the ash heap of subsims. I've e-mailed Sierra and posted queries on their forums, all asking why such a potentially fantastic program did not receive better support and patches. I never received a satisfactory answer, which leaves me to my own conclusions. I think after the development team turned the program over to Sierra, they were relieved of their contractual obligations, and/or Sierra would not allocate any additional money toward refinement. No one I've ever spoken with has any idea why Fast Attack didn't get a patch. Perhaps there is a fundamental flaw with the program and it can't be patched.... who knows (see below--it now has a patch!).

 

As the update below mentions, I have reevaluated what appears to be a second release of Fast Attack, taking special care not to engage the time compression, which could be a source of the crashes. The game is simply great. So much realism, so well made, and so much fun. So I'm posting a new dual rating* for Fast Attack, one for the game as it is, crashing and all, and one rating for the patched game with people who play it and have no crashing episodes. My experience with the patched version running in DOS, with the sound configured correctly, is no more than one crash/lockup every 10 games. From reports other players have given, the new version or the patched version run pretty well. If you've played it, let me know which version you have, your failure experiences, and any work-arounds you may have devised.

   
 
Rating:  79 (87 patched)
 
Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Music
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play
19/20 10/10 8/10 9/10 18/20 7/10 10/15 0/5
BONUS: -2 No Save Game option;  +4: No easy cheats;  -3 Age


 

*UPDATE 6/98: Upgrade patch is now available. Go to the "PATCHES & MISSIONS" section for details.

Update 2-98: The latest  copy of Fast Attack displays the text "FAST ATTACK GOLD09" during the program boot. And on the CD-ROM, a text file titled "Version" contains the following:

Fast Attack   Version 1.01

Dynamix Inc.
Software Sorcery
Sierra On-Line

Version changes:

1. AI fix that corrects the problem with hostile
 ships being not being resuplied between missions.
 This also fixes a reported crash.

2. Soundset utility is now capable of selecting
 "No Device"

3. TLAM ripple launch does not cause infinite loop
 while voices are turned on.

4. Better Windows 95 (tm) stability.

5. Resupply added to Sea of Japan battleset.



Note the Version 1.01 number. Perhaps Sierra did tweak the original FA release? If you have a copy of FA purchased in the early part of 1996, let me know if you version differs from mine.

Be sure to see the TACTICS & TIPS section on Fast Attack.

 
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