Die Schalen des Zorns
of Fury (SOF) has to be one of the strangest subsims released in quite a
while. It takes on a neglected era (WWI), looks very retro, and appears to
have been almost dumped on the market with no real ambition or pretensions.
Having said all of that I believe itís a little gem thatíll pay back its
rather modest price with a lot of replay value and in a very fresh setting.
I actually find it quite easy to love this little title. Imagine a rather
bedraggled, slightly lame puppy with big soulful eyes arriving on your
doorstep, and you get the idea.
In gaming terms WWI is a bit of a black hole (with perhaps the exception
of flight sims) It has very limited street cred, being overshadowed by its
bigger more mainstream brother, World War 2. For most of todayís gaming
generation, the WWI era has about as much relevance as the Crimean War and
has the charisma of televised Chess Ė which is a shame because there is
plenty of untapped interest value to be had. Itís something of an unwritten
law that the gaming world goes for settings which have been well served by
films (Hollywood in particular). What SOF lacks is a "Das Boot" to fire up
the interest, or a "Private Ryan" to get the role playing blood boiling. I
could write reams on that topic - but maybe somewhere else. What is wanted
here is a review of Shells of Fury.
Background, Origins and Support.
Although there has never been any official word on this that I could
find, I have a general feeling that the project started with a fairly
ambitious brief, but for some reason was axed leaving a slightly untidy
scramble to cobble together a marketable product. It succeeds in being that
- marketable, but you can all too often see where its legs got cut off. You
are left dreaming of what might have been. Its pedigree is a little
unfamiliar. (no EA or Ubisoft here). It was produced in Germany by H2F Informationssystem GmbH and published by Rondomedia. For a while,
aficionados of the era had to buy into this German only version by ordering
from such places as Amazon. Oh what fun it was for us chronically
monolingual English speakers having to play and mod in German. However, to
its everlasting credit, Strategy First decided to publish an English version
as boxed retail for North America, and also as an online download through
Subsim: 1914 Shells of Fury [Download].
There have been early reports of some problems such as crashes, sticky
FPS and an option set that doesnít seem to respond to changes, but my
downloaded version from Strategy First has run smoothly without any
glitches. Iíve never experienced the problems others have reported. My
feeling is there is nothing fundamentally unsound with the way the game runs
but it might have a few gremlins on some specs. All machines are different
and maybe Iíve been lucky.
Thereís not a great deal of support on the net. The official (Rondomedia)
website is quite well put together but there doesnít seem to be anything in
the way of a users forum or ongoing news. My impression is that this is it.
No patch, no nothing. Take it or leave it. The good news is that itís highly
moddable, so for those who would have liked to see further development itís
a case of do it yourself. Now I know there will be bleats of "took my money,
not really finished off etc" but personally Iíve never been very big on this
type of entitlement culture. To me itís a budget product thatís fairly sound
in the way it plays. It just hasnít been able to put in every feature a
gamer would wish. However, it does leave the product very open to all sorts
of possibilities that can be built on.. Some companies actually run
officially on this type of philosophy and with the willing compliance
of a fan base - the Third Wire flight sims spring to mind - although in the
case of SOF nothing was ever officially said. On the other hand we have
Strategy First who boast a support section but I donít know how extensive
this is as Iíve never needed to try it. All the logic suggests they will be
a more fruitful source than Rhondomedia and of course, it will be in
Gamers scream for realism, but sales are driven by graphics. In that
respect SOF will disappoint. Itís no SH3/4. In fact itís so reminiscent of
their predecessor SH2, that there were some (unfounded) suggestions that it
had used the same game engine. On first sight the sea looks awful,
but like a lot of these things you soon get used to its own peculiar
atmosphere and I have to say I found myself feeling this really was the
North Sea or the Atlantic. The dark dank misty atmosphere is well done, and
there is a good representation of fog banks and bow spray (albeit done
fairly crudely). Personally I donít believe that raw graphic power always
equates to better atmosphere. Sometimes graphic representation can be too
literal and can simply serve to remind you that it is a computer
simulation Ė something I feel with SH3/4 from time to time. With SOF you
feel you are crashing about in a lot of unfriendly wetness even if it
sometimes has a comic book feel to it.
The models are rather good, although perhaps a slightly below the poly
count excellence of SH3/4. Itís so refreshing to see battleships that are
not the Bismarck for a change. In this respect itís a shame that the
in-game external camera views are very restricted. There is only one of
them. Itís a side on view and it doesnít have a zoom. It doesnít even start
by looking in the right direction. Iíve never been able to find an
underwater view. Anyway, for hard core gamers the external cameras are an
irrelevance, but the option would have been nice. I suspect this was a
feature that suffered when its development was abruptly shortened.
The textures are rather interesting. For the most part they are quite
detailed and rather well done. However, for my personal taste they are too
colourful giving a rather comic book effect which I find out of keeping with
WWI. This also applies generally to the artwork of the whole game, but this
may have been a design decision taken at an early stage when considering the
"look" of the game. Either way they are moddable, and if we ever get to the
happy stage of several modders working on them, we will soon have choice
There are no ports to speak of, although there is the odd lighthouse and
also a model of a castle buried in its files. Terra firma is very crudely
done and I always feel the game is working better when you donít have to
look at it. Even dear old SH2 had some simple ports and the land looked
quite acceptable when seen from a misty distance. I suspect this is a case
of cut off legs again. Over to the modders again.
Some of the physics looks a bit rudimentary. There are nice bow waves and
the surface ships look convincing (except when hit by shells and torpedoes
when they seem to bobble strangely like corks ), but the U-boats donít look
very compelling when seen from the external camera. It looks as if the
particle effects were some way down the list of priorities before the axe
fell on the project. They donít exude any real sense of attention.
One incredible feature which suggests this was meant to be a much more
impressive product is the presence of genuine Morse code. Those that know
about these things tell me that the flashing lamps are not just random for
effect, but are genuinely belting out a message. Buried in one of the files
are the codes ready to be used. I wonder if this was going to be one method
of intelligent communication with other vessels?
By and large the sounds are very effectively done. The crack of the deck
gun is particularly enjoyable. Itís such a shame that there is no voice set
for the crew men. Modders can, and Iím sure will, add voices into the FX
files but there are some limitations to this and it is never as flexible as
a separate set.
If youíre expecting SH3 but with quaint old fashioned U-boats flying the
Imperial German Flag then youíre missing the point with SOF. Your mindset
has to be different. SOF is not just about tonnage counts and stealth
attacks with torpedoes.
Initially in WWI, the U-boat was primarily a weapon of war against
warships and in SOF you are just as likely to be harassing warships as
trying to dispatch merchant ships. When they did take on the merchants they
were, at the beginning of the war, attacked mainly from the surface using a
naval deck gun, so SOF makes rather more of this type of attack. The
principles employed by SOF of hitting your target with these guns would be
familiar to any naval gunnery officer, except you donít have the rather
sophisticated mechanical aids to maximize your chances. Here you take
ranging shots and they are plotted onto a simple chart. Thereís a lot of
trial and error and you have to allow for deflections and other ship
movements. Not an easy task. You can ask the game to do this automatically
for you, but you are warned that this will be wasteful of your limited
This whole process becomes a lot harder when later the merchants start
mounting their own guns. There are even warships disguised to look like
merchants (the infamous Q-Ships), so you are left with decisions about mode
of attack Ė approach and use deck gun , or go underwater and mount the
familiar stealth attack with torpedo. Playing at higher realism you will,
however, have very few torpedoes so all of these issues have to be balanced.
This brings us to one of the aspects of SOF gameplay that makes it very
different from SH3/4. Iím not sure if this is an attempt at interesting game
play or a design fault; the game has made it very easy for both warships and
merchants to spot your periscope. Once spotted you will be mercilessly
shelled into oblivion. Common sense dictates that the shipís spotters should
not have been as proficient as the game suggests, and I am sure gamers will
endlessly debate this one. In fact, death by
shell fire is your prime concern rather than the depth charge attack (which
were later war events anyway and largely unsophisticated in their
application). Add to that the absence of hydrophones (historically accurate)
and your approach work in SOF is a new experience. So assuming this is a
deliberate feature how do you approach things?
Well, this is where I feel the hardcore realists will not be too happy.
Inside the control room with your periscope is a chart that plots the
positions of your own boat and the enemy ships. Itís activated when you dare
to pop up your periscope and persists for a while after youíve hastily
withdrawn it. You also have a "stealth meter" that tells you of your chances
of being spotted, so the trick is to raise periscope (experience tells you
how far to do this without too much chance of detection) , and then quickly
withdraw it. Use the information to plot a course taking you to your
preferred position and hope the enemy havenít done anything unexpected. By
the way, the AI is very good. If the enemy does spot you theyíre off. They
scatter, zig-zag, dodge and weave; anything to get away from you. Thereís
none of this lambs to the slaughter stuff. They want to live.
Another important feature is that the chart also shows you the path your
torpedoes would take if fired at their current gyro angle. This angle is
player controlled so you have (for a while) an aiming device. Well, not
quite that simple because, as with the deck gun, you have to manually
estimate deflection etc. Iím not a U-boat expert so Iím not sure how the
hard core gamer takes all this. I do know that itís fun. You can also set
depth and speed on the torpedo, making for a few other decisions. If you
prefer, you can also use a "locked target" option. I suppose this is the
equivalent of auto targeting and for my money spoils the fun. However, itís
not the "cure all point and shoot option" it seems to be. You have to frame
the target exactly in your scope (info on the target becomes visible on
your screen) and in that respect itís unforgiving. You also have to have
your scope well up, so running the considerable risk of detection and the
dreaded "you have been destroyed" when the shells come raining in.
There is no TDC as was the case in WWI. Because of this WWI U-boat
commanders always attacked from a limited number of headings relative to the
target. Thereís some
excellent stuff on the SOF forum on Subsim
outlining how pre-calculated data can be used to set the gyro angles and
allow for deflection. Clearly this is fertile ground for all those who love
Another important aspect of WWI submarine work was mine laying, and its
good to see that the U-boats designed for this are included in SOF. Be
warned. You can blow yourself up with your own mines.
Missions and Campaign
There are five training missions, five stand alone missions and an
extensive campaign. There is also a mission generator, so you can try out
the four different boats in a variety of theatres with a variety of
different conditions. I have to put my hand up here and declare I have not personally had time
to play through the campaign, so my comments here are based on an edited
version of what players have said on the
Subsim SOF forum. In that respect
it seems that SOF has done this well. The campaign occupies 50 missions and
is in effect a "whole war" experience. It is also that priceless item, a
random campaign. In other words if you play through the campaign again, the
missions will play out differently. It writes the missions by randomly
extracting information out of several other files where data is predefined
within limits. You can also choose to play at three different starting
points making for a lot of variety. All the usual stats are there Ė tonnage,
medals, rank, etc.
I did rummage through the campaign text file to see what it was offering
and noticed that it used good background information on what was happening
in the war generally and how it might relate to your mission. This is, of
course, the all important feeling of belonging to a wider conflict. You are
not operating in a vacuum simply to increase your tonnage. I have to say the
mission introductions and the way the missions were laid out were an
excellent potted history of WWI, and it has SOF up there as an educational
tool as well as an interesting game with plenty of replay value. Missions
are not just confined to the familiar Atlantic and North Sea. The Baltic,
Mediterranean and even Gallipoli area all get a mention.
The openness of the campaign structure also seems to be very fertile
ground for script writers to come up with entirely new material. One missing feature which some might regard as a must have is the save
function. Why this is missing is a bit of a puzzle and again has to be put
down to the chopped legs syndrome.
This is actually a very enjoyable and different subsim that should
easily pay back its asking price. If you are of the mindset that games
companies owe you a debt of perfection simply because youíve parted with
some money for one of their products, then youíve plenty to grumble about
here through the long winter nights. The price of Shells of Fury indicates it doesnít
pretend to be anything other than a budget game.
Iíve already had more than $20 worth of entertainment from it.
In fact the absence of hype
is kind of refreshing, so expectations are not going to be disappointed. Shells
has dared to be different, plays quite soundly and has some features which
would grace a more expensive title. Its random campaign guarantees plenty of
replay value. Perhaps most importantly, it is so modder friendly (even
models are relatively easy to introduce) the opportunity is there for all
sorts of improvements and additions. Finally, if you are already interested
in WWI this is one of your few opportunities to indulge that interest.
For ordering info:
- A fresh era
- Makes you feel you are involved in a wider war.
- Good models
- Good Random Campaign of 50 missions.
- Excellent value
- Very moddable
- No save function
- For a naval sim the ocean is very poor
- No apparent intentions to patch
- Only a single ext camera view
- Periscope way too easily spotted
- No voice set for a crew
Comic book appearance
No ports and rather poor depiction of land