Review 08/5/03 by Neal Stevens
Developer: Prof. Fog’s Workshop
Serious naval game players and websites such as Subsim Review clamor for realism in their games. The lengths that players will go to prod developers into capturing realistic speeds, battery capacities, turning radiuses, shell trajectories, and other aspects of a simulation are often extreme. During the early development of Ubi-Soft’s Silent Hunter II, one player posted his must-have list and it concluded with “swinging sausages” in the engine room! Yeah, we want it all and we want it right, and right now! And it better be like Onkel Günter lived it. Which makes it pretty tough on the developer who aims to make a submarine game that makes no pretensions toward realism. Steel Tide is such a game. Yes, it has submarines, cargo ships, torpedoes, and even an ocean but for the most part the game ignores credible physics and historical substance in favor of action, mostly of the shoot-em-up variety.
The setting in Steel Tide is largely a set of expansive lagoons and bays bordered by walls and locks. The ultimate harbor attack scenario. The game is moderately scripted–you progress through each of five levels by solving nautical puzzles, sinking ships, fighting off swarming planes, and sending your frogman out to demolish underwater gates. Steel Tide has most of the gameplay features of other subsims–time compression, in-game saves, access to deck and AA guns, but mostly external views. There is no sort of control room view at all–closest thing is the periscope view. When submerged, you view your sub from the outside, much the same as Tom Clancy’s SSN. The graphics are notable. Ships and ocean textures look pretty good if somewhat imbued with animated-quality hues. Steel Tide is a fun game to look at. There is something to be said for watching a sub glide through the depths while ash cans sink down around it.
You will be engaged by a host of enemy vessels, from destroyers to PT boats, slashing criss-cross through the seas, dropping depth charges and blasting with guns. I found Steel Tide to be mostly a surface action game–dive to evade the enemy and you lose the practical ability to fight back. Torpedoes can be selected to home in on the enemy but I opted for straight running fish. There’s no skill involved in the former. On the surface, your sub is armored against attack and can sustain a lot of hits. A damage meter keeps you in touch with your sub’s damage status (why not say it: health). You can return fire with a wickedly powerful and accurate deck gun. A dual barrel machine gun dispatches enemy planes and troops. There’s even a sniper rifle to take out enemy troops and keep them from sounding the alarm.
The enemy AI is adequate but since nothing in this game requires tactics, it matters little. Simply cruise into the next arena, drive around at high speed and work that deck gun. The only nod toward realism (is that underwater range is limited by battery capacity, highly accelerated to suit the fast-paced gameplay. Launch torpedoes into near-motionless cargo ships and you are rewarded with instant salvage benefits (okay, power-ups). There really isn’t any hunting or ocean cruising, looking for targets. At the highest level of difficulty, the furor and accuracy of the enemy can overwhelm you, providing some good old-fashioned arcade game action. That’s what Steel Tide is.
The interface is direct and simple. The mouse and keyboard handle the routine chores well. All the sub’s system info is displayed in a robustly lighted panel. The game has a neat feature that slows the game time to a crawl while the crew messages appear, supplying you with useful info and tips. Steel Tide’s story has a decidedly science fiction slant even though the enemy Saruvians seem to be modeled after the Nazis in all but name. With the folky crew conversing around you (in text only), you do get a sense of having a crew included on your sub, unlike most other subsims (SH2, Sub Command, Fighting Steel). I found this element very enjoyable and commend the developer for giving the player the sensation of having a crew.
The in-game campaign is rather short but Steel Tide does provide multiplay for up to four players. There are a variety of options and maps in which to stage an MP game. The multiplayer action is pretty limited to chase and get into position for a spread of 3-D torpedo shots. Fittingly, Steel Tide comes with a very thin manual (all right, calling it a “manual” is overgenerous: CD sleeve).
Steel Tide will not win over many from the Sub Command/Silent Hunter crowd. The game is a fast-paced shooter set in a naval backdrop. No tactics, no strategy, and no combat planning is required. It will appeal to some players–those new to computers and those who don’t have time to learn everything there is to know about submarine warfare; those who like to cruise and shoot stuff (which can be fun, to be flat-out honest). For a budget title with no simulation pretensions, that can be enough.
|BONUS: +3: Good graphics; +2: Budget title