FIRST LOOK: BETA PREVIEW
Before Sub Command, before Silent Hunter II, even before Jane’s 688(I), there was an online subsim called Iron Wolves. It was the first massively multiplayer subsim and it featured both escorts and subs in a virtual Battle of the Atlantic. Iron Wolves was subscriber based and had a small but dedicated following. Tesseraction Games is hoping to replicate that level of success on a much grander scale with Enigma: Rising Tide, which they describe as a "Massively Multiplayer Online Vehicular Shooter", or MMOVS. Enigma shares some of the same concepts as Iron Wolves—multiple platforms, subscriber based, and online 24/7 battles but that’s about the end of the similarity. Tesseraction has taken those concepts, enlarged the scale, and refined the features and gameplay to a remarkable degree.
Enigma is set in an "alternate history", "one that begins in 1936 but in a world as it might have been had Germany won World War I". The Germans drove the British Empire into alliance with the budding Japanese Empire. Together, the Nippo-Anglo faction faces off against the German monarchy and an expansionist United States joins the war to make a unique three-sided conflict. No Pearl Harbor, no Nazis, no Soviet Union. Frenchmen everywhere sigh with relief.
Kelly "East" Asay, President of Tesseraction Games, sent Subsim Review a copy of the single player build last week. I slapped it into a folder and brought it to life without a hitch. Straight off I felt a twinge of nostalgia from my Iron Wolves days. Enigima’s interface was swathed with the same style elegant function icons and buttons as IWs. The interface is compact and well thought-out, the important controls are close at hand. There is a small compass rose in the upper right portion of the viewing screen. It contains a viewing perspective indicator, enemy position indicators, quick swivel buttons, zoom, helm readouts, and fades when not selected! And yes, you can set course by clicking on the dial.
Ships leave wakes and smoke. Damage is moderately modeled (I assume not finished) but the fire effects are pretty good. Depth charges tumbled slowly though the water emitting a stream of bubbles. Planes smoke when hit and drop bombs visible to the eye (see the screenshot—I got a real close look at one!). Debris and machine gunfire causes splashes in the ocean, which is nice to see. In a battle with four surface ships and several attacking planes, the sky is full of smoke, fire, and fury—air battles are simply great!
Enemy contacts are minded through the radar screen. I considered this the equivalent of the standard chart and radar combined. While historically, many submarines and ships did not receive radar until the middle of the war, Enigma has the "gotcha" of being in an alternate history world. In Enigma’s universe, all ships have good radar and intel. This also serves to help players find the action and lessens the frustration of long, fruitless searches.
Whereas IWs had less than a quarter of the display assigned as the viewing screen, Enigma generously donates over 60% to the player’s view. Using the mouse, the player may look in any direction. Enigma lives up to its cinematic billing. Ships, planes, and subs all have smooth lines and vivid textures that lend a life-like appearance. The vessels have a lot of detail. One ship I spied had a rain slicker folded over a handrail—that’s the kind of small touches a player appreciates. At a distance, the railing and wires appear a little serrated but results may vary depending on your computer and graphics card.
External views give the player a look at the action from around his ship and a chance to appreciate the great graphics. In the build I played, you could actually look on both sides the ocean surface. So, if you happened to be driving a corvette, you could pan down and search the area for submerged U-boats. Let’s hope Tesseraction restricts views to the same side of the waves as the player’s ship.
The build I played had two types of player-controllable ships, corvettes, and submarines.
My build offered a League of Free Nations Flower class corvette, German Sigurd corvette, and a US Navy Temptress class corvette. The corvettes roll and weave with the buoyant ocean waves. Propulsion sounds vary with engine speeds—faster you go the louder the engines. The interface allows you to select the main weapons—depth charges, AA guns, and cannon. You can use the radar screen to select a target and let the ship’s AI control the fire or you can take first-person control of the guns yourself, much like Destroyer Command. One notable difference; in Enigma, the guns slew at a deliberate and realistic rate. You can move them fast enough to track planes but you can’t whip them around with the mouse. One other item worth noting-- being able to go full ahead on one screw and full astern on the other provides super tight turning ability.
The most fun is running down submerged subs (while avoiding their torpedoes) and laying down depth charge patterns. Once you have a sub pinned you can circle and pummel him. I’m not sure how the final build of Enigma will handle sonar abilities and what chance the sub has to evade
The subs exhibited the biggest differences of the two ship types. You can choose a Japanese I-class boat, German Type VII, or US Salmon class. You have two stations as a sub commander, the bridge while surfaced and the control room while submerged. The control room is a thing of beauty, well appointed with gauges, valves, and hardware. And wait until you order a crash dive and the deck tilts noticeably! When your sub is fatally damaged, all control is removed and the interior of your control room slowly fades to black with columns of bubbles hissing from your stricken boat.
The sub has a panel to track the air quality, batteries, hull damage, and fuel. I don’t know what happens when you run out of fuel but if your air or batteries peg out you will need to venture to the surface. Just like in Iron Wolves, you must have your sub pointed to within 10 degrees or so of the target to fire torpedoes. The reload times are enhanced (again, Enigma’s alternate reality) so in about two minutes you are ready to shoot again. While this may offend the purist it will allow for some serious action.
Enigma is primarily an online game. You sign up and begin immediately. If you like what you see (or if you can’t stand to listen to other players extol how much fun it is and don’t want to be left out), you will need to subscribe. Tesseraction claims they can support thousands of players fighting a massive number of battles. That the game must be free of drops and lag is a given. For Enigma to succeed, it will need to work smoothly with players limited to 28.8 connection speeds.
Due to popular demand Tesseraction will be offering a limited release offline version. It will sell for $20.00 plus shipping and will be available for purchase from www.gigex.com. It comes with a batch of quick missions, a surface campaign, a submarine campaign and a month’s free subscription to the online arena.
While some players may balk at the idea of subscribing to a game, Tesseraction Games and Enigma are fizzing with potential. East, Blake "Hexabolic" Hutchins, Nic "Rhyn" Munroe, and many other members of the dev team have been committed to steady and helpful interaction with the subsim community (Enigma Forums). Questions asked are answered, explained, and insights offered. This bodes well for the game and its subscribers. Tesseraction promises that you don’t pay and walk away, you are brought into a crafted, structured playing environment where quarterly updates are dispensed and your personal scores are tracked. I’m guessing if enough players request gameplay adjustments, this would be considered also.
Enigma is not a full simulation yet the detail and gameplay is not arcade variety. It’s more of a cross between a "sim lite" and a naval action game. It certainly has enough detail and similarity with naval ships to keep the player absorbed into the fighting. After playing the two missions repeatedly for this preview, I found myself looking for excuses to fire the program up again and again. Tack on the interaction of other players and friends and Enigma could redefine online naval fun.
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