Dangerous Waters
Review by Frank “OptimusX” Reynolds

March 5, 2005

Publisher:; Developer: Sonalysts Combat Simulations

There seems to be a pattern here. Four years ago Sonalysts released Sub Command, a submarine simulation that was an entire leap in advancement over their previous title, Jane’s 688(I).  Now Sonalysts Combat Simulations (in conjunction with presents the next iteration in their acclaimed series:  SCS-Dangerous Waters. Once again, Sonalysts has managed to pack unheard-of levels of detail and realism in a simulation that also possess scalability--dev-speak for realism and gameplay options that offer accessibility to casual warriors who don't like manuals.

This game boasts seven playable platforms that include air, surface, and subsurface units!  The familiar units from Sub Command return: the SSN-21 Seawolf class, the 688i Los Angeles class, and the Russian Akula class.  The new platforms include the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, the P-3 maritime air patrol craft, and the MH-60 multi-mission helicopter.

I know what many people will think when they discover that they can control seven platforms:  “Hmm…attack from the air, the surface, and below…sounds like some kind of survey sim.”  Calling this game a survey sim implies that realism and detail is sacrificed in order to include the different types of platforms.  No, this is a true command study sim…the player will find a high degree of fidelity of systems modeling for every unit.  Each unit utilizes an array of tactical stations, and as in Sonalysts’ previous outings, a competent auto-crew can be assigned to each station in order to allow the player to focus on other tasks.  I have to say that getting all of these highly detailed platforms in the same box is a great deal for the potential buyer!

Learning the Game

One of the greatest obstacles to players of Sub Command was the intense learning curve.  It seems that Sonalysts have listened and provided a hefty 562-page manual to make sure your questions are answered.  Many people complained that the 200+ page Sub Command manual was ambiguous and the training missions puzzling. I will have to say I agreed with them but this isn’t true with the manual for Dangerous Waters. 

I get the impression that Sonalysts have done everything possible to make sure that players who are new to the genre get every question answered.  As long as a new player attempts to learn one platform at a time they will find the manual a very useful resource.  The manual even includes useful tables that summarize the various sensors and characteristics of each platform.  To round everything out, the second CD even includes around 40 minutes of video tutorials to introduce players to the basics aspects of the game, such as TMA (Target Motion Analysis) and sonar. 


The Campaign

The campaign structure found here builds upon what was found in Sub Command.  Missions are interconnected by a common storyline with consequences from previous missions affecting the next.  At first, the campaign list looks short, but this is deceptive.  There are eleven missions listed but the player has three or fours choices of platforms to choose from when undertaking the scenario.  After taking this into account, the campaign has a total of 35 unique missions.  The player can choose the platform and allegiance for every mission in the campaign.  Personally, I found it a lot of fun to alter the course of the war by playing for all sides.  This gives the campaign good replay value since I can choose to play the entire campaign over again with any combination of faction perspectives.

The campaign also features “shifting alliances,” meaning that the intentions of a faction may change as a result of your actions.  When playing the game, I loved the dynamic alliances aspect, as it gave the campaign a strong sense of story.  It felt more than just a hypothetical political scenario, since I knew that my decisions would affect my personal stakes later in the game.  By the middle of the campaign, all of your previous decisions come full circle as the U.S. and two Russian factions bring their forces together for battle.  The question of who sides with whom is decided by the player’s previous actions. 

Previous games about modern warfare typically involved a concocted hypothetical scenario to give an excuse for the U.S. and Russia to go to war.  Units declared as enemies were nothing more than hostile AI for me to destroy.  This simplicity is gone with Dangerous Waters…player decisions now have political consequences!  There were times I did not return fire against a hostile target because it was a political decision I was not ready to make. How's that for a realistic simulation.


Graphics and Sound

The graphics have really improved since Sub Command.  The sub models have been upgraded and the hull curves are dramatically smoother. The most obvious improvement is the water.  Shadows and reflections of your ship can be seen in the water, and being able to see your frigate’s reflection under the moonlight at 0200 hours is a nice touch.  Another noticeable improvement over previous Sonalysts titles are wakes; now a well-defined bow wake is generated by ships. Weather looks great, with cloud levels varying in altitude depending on conditions.  Ships, aircraft, sun, and moon reflect into the water beautifully. Sonalysts have put a lot of work into modeling the look of the water, even allowing an “insane” option in the graphics settings for those who are picky about the way their water looks.  Of course, graphics settings are customizable for those who need to smooth their frame rates. Though the Sonalysts graphics engine is beginning to showing a little age, it still gets the job done.

Dangerous Waters now allows submariners to go out on the sail, so the “bubbleheads” aren’t left out if they really need to get a good look outside. Explosions have improved -- everything that gets hit produces a nice shockwave.  Surface ships will produce an expanding ring of water, followed by numerous secondary explosions.  Submarines blow up nicely as well, producing underwater spherical explosions. Blowing up a shallow submarine will throw up a plume of water onto the surface; a rewarding bit of eye candy for helo pilots who drop a Mark 50 on that pesky Kilo. Another welcome enhancement is the use of animated weapons doors: VLS launch hatches and torpedo tubes all open!

Music has received an update too, which is now created dynamically.  The music will change tone to match the action, with the pace and tension increased once weapons are fired.  This provides better cinematic quality when compared to a looping soundtrack

The crew voices have improved since Sub Command as well. Reports from stations located outside of the Conn sound like they are coming over the intercom, as opposed to sounding like everyone is standing next to you. 

Next: Gameplay

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Also see:

Dangerous Waters forum

SUBSIM Review's Dangerous Waters Dev Team interview
Sub Command Review




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