SUBSIM review: Iron Wolves

Iron Wolves is a step toward the online multi-player battlefield that everyone wants.

Requirements: 32 bit Winsock

       Most subsims pit you, the player, against the computer. You have the illusion you’re confronted by aggresive destroyers and hapless merchants; lethal, unseen enemy attack subs and guided missile frigates. But, of course, it is an illusion, a manifestation of a clever team of programmers. Iron Wolves pits you against real flesh and blood opponents, in real time.

Iron Wolves is an online sim only. You download the program from their home page onto your hard drive and start the program while logged on. There are two sides in this Atlantic War, the Northerners (blue) and Westerners (red). You are given a choice of numerous warships to take into battle:

  • Submarine – We’re talking U-boats. Two varieties here, standard and “heavy” sub. The heavy has stern tubes. Both have deck guns. Pretty speedy on the surface; depth changes take forever.
  • Corvette – You hunt the U-boats, with forward-firing hedgehogs and depth charges. Guns included.
  • Destroyer – Faster and bigger than corvettes, you bring torpedo tubes to the party. These destroyers are obviously better suited for action as merchant raiders than ASW. It’s tough and can take a lot more damage than the others.
  • Tanker – This is what you get if you don’t subscribe to Iron Wolves. You’re given an assignment, usually to make it to some coordinates in one piece. Fulfill your assignment and you’re awarded a warship free. A tanker has no armament and they are slow targets. Keep your life jacket at hand, sailor.
  • Computer-generated ships – or drones, can be either destroyers, corvettes, or tankers.
Click here for a full size screen shot
Submarine control panel
Click here for full size screen shots.

The interface consists of one window or screen. All commands are available from the various controls in this screen. All commands are carried out using the mouse, which is a poor alternative to keyboard control. To turn the scope view, one must center the mouse pointer on a diminutive button and press. Really hard to do when you’re under pressure. It would be much better if you could use the keyboard arrows for this. The compass allows you to set the course and views with one click, but this method lacks the precision needed for fast action. The torpedoes reload in seconds, a full reload can take as long as 90 seconds. Not very realistic, but handy when you’re beset by ten corvettes.

Upon surfacing you can post an observer topside, which gives you a better field of view. To select a target for gun action, right click on the enemy and press the “Commence firing” button. Enemy subs at periscope depth can be discerned as small, white twinkles in the water. When they fire a salvo of torpedoes at you, you can see the tracks coming. Evasive maneuvering helps but doesn’t guarantee safety. Firing torpedoes in Iron Wolves is sloppy business. You have to lead your target judiciously to ensure a hit. The escorts use sonar to track subs. Crawl over a contact and drop the charges. A map view allows you to see the field of battle and keep track of your allies and opponents. Graphics are good, though the ocean texture never varies, and the sky is perpetually overcast. Sounds are adequate for this kind of program; the explosions are really good. Program reliability varies, depending on the performance of your server and the Iron Wolves’ server. Losing the connection is not uncommon.

One of Iron Wolves’ neatest features is the chat box. Players trade taunts and b.s. in a rapid, merry flow. I played this sim when it was beta in the spring of 1996. Many of the old vets are still at large –Captain Nemo, 1baddude, Deogee, Shad. These Iron Cross holders will make your Iron Wolf experience a short and wet one.

War is a costly business but Iron Wolves has managed not to go overboard with their pricing structure. Fourteen consecutive days runs $10; $19 by the month; or $20 for 10 single day tickets. You can play as a target, er, that is, a tanker, and if you finish your mission you can earn a warship free. Unlike a store bought subsim, you never stop paying for Iron Wolves, but on the other side, you are always part of a dynamic battlefield.

Keep in mind, Iron Wolves is not a pure simulation. It has simplified the strategy of undersea warfare greatly. The theater of battle isn’t a vast stalking ground, it’s one big melee, with improbable numbers of escorts roaming the seas and no weather variations. Convoys consist of three ships at most, and the players manning the destroyers and corvettes have no guidelines or orders to protect them. Tankers and merchants are merely targets for surface ships and subs alike. The structure of subsim gameplay typical of most other sims is notably absent. So if you’re after an authentic, historically accurate U-boat simulation, Command Aces of the Deep remains your only option.

If judged solely by its simulation performance, Iron Wolves would come up short. 688(I) has multi-player capability and pure sim character in one cohesive package. That said, Iron Wolves is a step toward the online multi-player battlefield that everyone wants. You can command a sub or a surface raider. Your opponents are human and offer witty wisecracks. It’s fun and entertaining, so if you don’t mind a simplified sailing model and limited tactics, get in there and shoot!

Rating:  75

Realism Historical Accuracy Graphics Sound/
Game play Repeat Play Program stability Multi- play
12/20 7/10 6/10 5/10 16/20 8/10 9/15 5/5
BONUS: +5: Can play both sides  +2: Originality


Legacy content from the Iron Wolves home page at



The Iron Wolves screen consists of a number of windows, which make up the controls to let you pilot your craft. There will be different controls depending on which ship you have chosen; these are detailed below.


With one or two exceptions, the controls are all operated by a single click of the left mouse button to set a control to a certain level. A single right click will clear what you are doing, i.e. set the control to stop or neutral.


Some of the windows contain buttons that you click on to make something happen; in many cases, clicking on a button changes the button to something else so the effect toggles on or off.

PLAYER INFOSelect View Service Record in the Game menu to see information about your game character: your user ID, nickname, country and scores.

Select Who’s Playing from the Game menu and a list of players currently in the battle will scroll onto your radio room window.


OTHER MENUSThe Stations menu lets you toggle all the separate control windows on or off.

The Feedback menu is not yet implemented.

In the Game menu, the View Hi-score Table and Configuration options are not yet implemented.


TALKING TO USIron Wolves is still in beta-test; and yes, you may find bugs in it. To send us mail asking questions or reporting bugs, you can go to the web page at, or send mail directly to


UPDATESWe are continuing to work on Iron Wolves and are producing new versions of the front-end software all the time. Sometimes the updates are not compulsory and you will be able to continue playing with an older version of the software. However, when we make major changes the updates become mandatory and you will be told when you try to play the game that your software is out of date. To update the software, go the web page and download the latest version.
BRIDGEThe bridge gives you a view of the surrounding sea, using either binoculars or periscope. All ships can use binoculars; only subs have a periscope.

Subs can only use binoculars on the surface, and can use the periscope to a depth of 15m; below that they sail blind. Subs have an orders window to enable them to raise and lower the periscope and switch between periscope and binoculars as required.

Drag the mouse pointer right or left to turn the view; an indicator tells you the angle you are looking at and the angle off bow (i.e., the angle from north, and the angle from the way the ship is facing).

If there is a ship in view, you will be told what it is. Each ship has an identifying letter which determines its type, and a number: T – tanker U – submarine K – corvette DD – destroyer M – merchant. A D after the designation means the ship is a drone, or computer-generated ship. You are also told if the ship is an enemy or friendly vessel. Take care not to fire on ships from your own side!

If more than one ship is in view, rotate the view – you will be given info on the ship closest to the centre of your view.

If you click on the bridge window and then press the Z key, the view zooms in. X zooms the view out.





Currently you can choose to pilot a corvette or a submarine. Later versions will let you choose a destroyer, merchant or tanker. Game-generated ships, or drones, can be all types except submarines.


The different ships have different capabilities:


Submarine – The silent hunter with lethal torpedoes; but subs are fragile and vulnerable and if a ship sees you coming it can out-manoeuvre you and drop depth charges. On the surface, subs are faster than all ships except destroyers, and can turn faster. Underwater they are much slower, so have to surface to catch up with their prey. Weapons: torpedoes plus a small deck-gun with short range and not very good accuracy.


Corvette – The workhorse of convoy escorts, with reasonable hunt and kill capabilities. With sonar to spot subs and depth charges to drop on them, it can flush out and destroy the enemy, but is vulnerable to torpedoes. Corvettes are slower than destroyers and subs on the surface; faster than submerged subs, merchants and tankers. Weapons: larger guns than a submarine with better accuracy and a longer range, but slower firing rate.


Destroyer – The crucial weapon in convoy escort duties, destroyers are currently the most powerful surface ship in Iron Wolves. It is the fastest ship, it’s tough and can take a lot more damage than the others. It has powerful guns with faster firing rate, longer range and greater accuracy.


Tanker and Merchant – Slow ships that often move in convoy protected by corvettes and destroyers. No weapons.


Select your ship, and you will find yourself in the open sea, ready to search for your enemies.


MAP TABLEThe map table is a summary of all the information you have about the position of other ships: eyes, binoculars/periscope, hydrophone, sonar etc. You are depicted on the map as a black blob with a line coming out of it. The line shows which way your ship is facing.


All other ships are shown in different colors:

– Blue for Northland ships – Red for Westland ships – Green for ships that you are aware of by using sonar or hydrophone but have not yet been able to identify further

The map consists of grid squares, depicted by blue lines. The squares are 100 x 100, and you will find most of the action in Iron Wolves takes place in the square 0 to 100.

You can choose the zoom level of the map:

– Visual distance is the range that can be seen using binoculars – Periscope range is the range that can be seen using periscope (this is a little shorter)
– Sonar range is the range that sonar can detect other ships and is much shorter

You can also use the map table to move your vessel. Click on the map to set your target destination, and a little black cross will appear. The engines will start and the helmsman will steer until you reach that destination. Right click and the target destination will be cancelled.



The engine control lets you set the speed of your ship and whether you are going forwards or backwards:


– Full ahead: move forwards fast – Slow ahead: move forwards slowly – Stop: brings the ship to a dead stop – Slow astern: move backwards slowly – Full astern: move backwards fast?

Simply click on one of the settings. Right clicking anywhere in the window sets the lever to Stop.


SONAR AND HYDROPHONES Sonar identifies objects under the water, using pulses of sound which are echoed back if there is anything there. This is used by ships to find submerged submarines. Only corvettes and destroyers have sonar.

Submarines have a hydrophone, which is a sensitive and highly directional underwater microphone which is rotated by the operator in order to detect other ships, explosions, depth charges and so on.

You do not have to control either sonar or hydrophone; they are operated automatically and any vessels they find are displayed on the map table.



There are two ways to make a submarine submerge or surface; one is to use the hydroplanes to slowly sink or rise; the other is to go into a crash drive to submerge as fast as possible.

To use the hydroplanes, you use the depth gauge window. The dial has two pointers; one shows you your current depth, and the other your required depth. Click on the dial to set the required depth to the level you want. The title bar confirms your current and required depth settings.

You must be moving forwards or backwards or the hydroplanes won’t do anything – you can’t go straight up or down.

Right clicking on the dial cancels your order by setting the required depth to the same as the current depth.

To bring the sub to the surface, click in the blank space at the bottom of the dial and the required depth will be set to zero.

To submerge in a hurry, use the Crash Dive button in the orders box. When you press this button, it sets your engines to full ahead, fills the ballast tanks so the sub has negative buoyancy, and sets the required depth to 175m. The sub will start to sink fast while moving in the direction the engines are set.

At this point, you can manually stop the engines. You will stop moving forwards but will continue to sink.

You can click on the Stop Dive button in the orders box, which will stop the engines, blow enough ballast to give you neutral buoyancy, and set the required depth to the same as the current depth.



All vessels have guns they can fire at enemy ships.

To fire your guns you have to point them at a target. Right click in the bridge window on the ship you want to fire at.

The gun status window gives the name of your target and indicates whether it is out of range, in long, short or medium range. It tells you if the guns are loading, ready or firing.

Press the button in the gun status window to commence firing. If the target is out of range the guns will wait until the target comes into range and then will start to fire. Unless you press the button again to cease firing, the guns will continue to fire until you destroy your target – or are killed yourself!

You have an inexhaustible supply of ammo for your guns.


FIRING TORPEDOES (subs and destroyers only)

Submarines have four torpedo tubes, all facing towards the front of the vessel. The torpedoes can only be fired if the binoculars or periscope is facing towards the front of the boat; the angle off bow must be plus or minus 15 degrees.
The dial on the torpedo tube window will show you the angle, and when they can be fired the dial flashes green.

Each torpedo tube has a green and a red light. When the red light is lit, it means the torpedo tube is being reloaded. The green light means it is ready to be fired.

To fire a torpedo, click the left mouse button in the window. If you double-click, you will fire two torpedoes.

You have an infinite number of torpedoes at your disposal. However, torpedoes are not totally reliable; sometimes you get a dud that will not explode.


DROPPING A DEPTH CHARGE (all vessels except submarines)

The depth charge window lets you drop a charge to the depth of your choice – simply move until you are over a submarine then click the button to determine the depth at which you want the charge to explode.



The radio room window displays messages from other players and lets you send messages to them. It also shows you game messages, such as who has entered and left the Iron Wolves battle, and ships that have been sunk.

The window has two parts; a large output box where text is displayed, and underneath that a small input box where you type messages you want to send.

To send a message, click on the input box and type your message. Then hit return, or click on the send button. The other button determines who will get your message:

All – all players in the battle
Us – all players on your side
Them – all players on your opposing side (great for jeering at the enemy)

Click on the button to toggle through the three options.



Each ship type has a base number of points, as follows:

Destroyer 100
Submarine 75
Corvette 50 If you hit another ship, you gain the base points. If the ship is not a dro

ne, that amount is multiplied by 5. If your shot destroys the ship, that amount is multiplied again by 10. So for example, if you hit and kill a player-driven corvette, the score for that shot will be 50 x 5 x 10 = 2500.


The total amount for each shot is added to the mission score. However, if your target turns out to be a friendly ship, the total amount is deducted from your score!

When you exit a battle, the score for the whole mission is totted up. Scores are not cumulative from one mission to another; your mission score is compared to your best ever score, and if it is higher then your best score will be amended.

To see your mission score and your best ever score, select the View Service Record option from the Game menu. This shows you your current mission score, and your best ever for both submarine and corvette.








AI Bot running SUBSIM, what could go wrong?!