It's a few steps beyond a board game, but a couple leagues short of a good sim. 

COMPANY: Interactive Magic
System Requirements: 486

The Cold War is at its peak. The vast naval and air armadas of the Soviet Union and the United States are poised for action. And in Harpoon ’97 Classic, you are the supreme commander. Airfields, recon flights, submarines, battle groups, and more are at your disposal. You devise the strategy that can ensure the survival of the Western World.

Based on an ’80’s military board game by Larry Bond, Harpoon ’97 is a computer strategy naval sim. In most of the subsims reviewed here, you are in charge of a single vessel. In Wolf Pack, you control a group of U-boats. But in Harpoon ’97 you are the theater commander for dozens of ships and hundreds of planes. The interface is relatively easy to use for setting patrol zones and issuing orders. You can direct a pair of fast attack subs to probe a sector and then switch your attention to a cruiser group in another sector. Move to an airfield and send out recon flights. Authorize an air strike on an enemy radar post. Once engagement with the adversary is achieved, the management tasks can mount up fast. Certain aspects can be automated, such as repeating recon patrols. Other aspects must be micromanaged to the extreme, such as engaging enemy fighter groups, intercepting incoming SAMs, ad nausea. Not that this is bad, because this is what many strategy sim fans live for. But it can be very intense for the multiple-task challenged. The game employs an assistant to flash updates in your face. These range from warnings and intel traffic, to communiqués and reminders. Your constantly being told that an enemy flight group has been spotted, do you want to intercept. Sometimes they can interfere with your tactical management and get really annoying. It made me wish there was a “Angry Iron-assed Commander” button which, when pushed, would force the assistants (computer) to take over some of the more mundane decisions for a while, such as instructing a strike force to launch missiles or turn on their radar. No such luck. There are, however, filters available to cut down on the routine stuff.

Graphics are almost static. You employ the large scale strategic map much of the time in the main screen, with a tactical area featured in a smaller window. The enemy vessels are rendered as small symbols from top down views. When you take out a ship, you are rewarded with decent “triumph” music and a still of a burning vessel. Missile strikes are depicted as small, fast blips slamming into/around the target from the top down view. Planes take off with a whoosh, helicopters with a chop-chop, and missiles with a roar, but again, represented graphically only as symbols. There are no cut-away scenes or other real-time animations. Not bad for an old sim but don’t compare it to Fast Attack, Silent Hunter, or Jane’s 688(I). Harpoon ’97 is not in their league. To be fair, you must remember Harpoon ’97 is really a warmed over Harpoon ’90, and seven years is eons in sim program development.

The program includes a huge group of “battlesets,” scenarios that offer various objectives and situations in four different theaters. Nuclear weapons are included in certain situations, but again, no visual thrill or inducement to use them. Without some visual concessions, the player is detached from the action and it’s easy to become indifferent to playing. The political element of world conflict is absent, too. Harpoon ’97 does not include mutli-play or modem play. The pace and nature of Harpoon ’97 as a strategy sim means a mission can last a very long time. This invites you to play, save, and pick up where you left off on a daily basis instead of trying to complete an entire mission in one sitting. Although this may sound like an exercise in tedium to you subsim enthusiasts who are used to mission completion in a couple of hours, actually it’s pretty nice–like reading a good book, you do a little each day. Even so, after investing a decent amount of time in Harpoon ’97, I found the management level better suited for people who demand full control. Time and time again, I was forced to respond to the same type of questions: “Incoming Aphid missiles detected. Intercept?” Haven’t they ever heard of delegation to subordinates?

To get the most out of Harpoon ’97 you need a sustaining imagination and a tolerance for repetition. It’s a few steps beyond a board game, but a couple leagues short of a good sim.

Rating:  65

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play
14/20 9/10 2/10 2/10 12/20 8/10 14/15 0/5
BONUS: +2 Depth and player support; 


AI Bot running SUBSIM, what could go wrong?!