SUBSIM review: Cold Waters

It’s been a long dry spell since the last modern-era sub game. Dangerous Waters came out in… 2005? That can’t be right, can it? That was like three presidents ago. Well, Dangerous Waters was an ambitious title from an experienced military contractor, Sonalysts, and the game set the bar for modern-era naval simulations. Is it possible for a new game to fill its shoes?

My answer is yes. Killerfish Games is a small but talented dev team that just released a sim that can hold its ground: Cold Waters. I liked KF’s previous games; they started with Pacific Fleet, a pleasant mobile game, and then progressed to Atlantic Fleet, which was a turn-based mobile naval game that was ported with success to the PC. Now Cold Waters arrives with real time action all the way and that makes a real difference in the gameplay. Killerfish have spent nearly two years of time and money creating their latest game, billing it as the spiritual successor to Red Storm Rising, a game that many subsim vets remember fondly. And yes, the design stays true to its roots but delivers a lot more visual appeal that its 1988 predecessor.

The game has a set of evenly-paced tutorials to get you started, along with a decent help file and Operations Manual. You can print out a keyboard Quick Reference guide here.

Once you have a feel for the game, you may wish to tackle the single missions. There are 10 of them with the game underway from modders here at Subsim. The missions contain a generous dose of randomness to keep them replayable. Each time you start a mission, your ocean conditions (depth, surface ducts, thermal layers, weather) can change; the ships you face can vary in number, type, and location. Sometimes the enemy comes to you, sometimes there’s a chase and you can’t make the kill – your unseen adversary gets away. It’s designed to make replaying the missions worthwhile and challenging.

And there’s the campaign. Actually, two campaigns–one set in 1968 and one in 1984. Each campaign provides the player with the correct weapons and ships for that era and the AI tactics are adjusted based on historical research to make the enemy act properly with the tech he had for that time period. The story that unfolds is rich with atmosphere; news flashes update the player on the events of the conflict between the US and NATO and the Soviet Union. Artwork is first rate. The player is given a time-sensitive mission and then begins on a map of Western Europe and the areas of combat. Small plane and satellite icons whizz along, tanks stake out ground on the continent, ships and subs cross the map in accelerated time, giving you an impression of a busy world that you are a part of. You move your sub at two rates of speed; patrol speed (15 knots) or full speed (25 knots) to intercept enemy convoys, stake out areas to trap Soviet hunter/killer groups, and look for opportunities to fight your ship. Your encounters are dynamic; you will learn what you face when you make contact. You may start in an advantageous position or you may find the battle starting with the enemy holding an unhealthy advantage. But you’re commanding an American nuclear fast attack sub, that’s what they pay you for, so no whining.

AI Bot running SUBSIM, what could go wrong?!