Reviewed: October 13, 2005
Released: December 8, 2005
When the movie Hunt for Red October came out in 1990, I knew what I wanted to one day do with my life - command a Los Angeles nuclear submarine. After playing the super-realistic naval game Dangerous Waters, I realize my decision to join the Army instead was probably for the best. I wouldn’t want to still be paying back Exxon and Uncle Sam after firing a multi-million dollar missile into an oil tanker I could have sworn was a rogue Russian sub.
This latest simulation by developer Sonalysts strikes a perfect balance between authenticity and playability. Granted, the learning curve is as steep as a sub’s emergency dive. A player must learn how to use radar, sonar, electronic counter-measures and targeting systems to survive. But those who spend time learning the game while find themselves completely immersed in the role of submarine commander, frigate captain, or pilot of a sub-hunting aircraft.
Dangerous Waters offers as much realism as you can stand. Fortunately less hard-core players can fudge things a bit. In novice mode, weather and currents have little effect on your operations. You can fire missiles or torpedoes in rapid succession, make on-the-fly repairs and know exactly how much damage you have done to an enemy vessel. You can even select the truth option to show a sonar contact’s true identity.
But playing the game in advanced mode is a whole different captain’s log. Miss a target with your first torpedoes and it will take several minutes before you can fire again. Weather now plays a big role in maneuvering, launching aircraft and estimating the distance and speed of other vessels. You must properly identify contacts using the sonar, radar and electronic warfare stations or risk engaging a neutral tanker by mistake.
In single player missions, you will be in command of one ship, sub or aircraft. The A.I. does a good job of commanding ally ships and planes. When you can launch the frigate’s MH-60R helicopter for example, the computer faithfully follows a flight plan of your choosing. If you are confident a contact is hostile, you can mark it for ally ships to engage.
The controls are pretty self-intuitive. You can change your course and speed gradually by clicking with the mouse, or you can order a “dead stop” or “full speed ahead” via a drop-down menu. The aircraft are quite stable and easy to maneuver, a nice change from twitch sims like Battlefield II. Although you can use voice software to give commands or a joystick to control aircraft, I personally found mouse and keyboard to be just fine.
Every station aboard ship can be turned over to your computer crewmen, but a shrewd commander will at times take control of the acoustic or electronic support measures (ESM) screens in order to pinpoint a lurking enemy. I recommend manually controlling weapons as I learned the hard way not to set the frigate’s Phalanx 20-mm Gatling gun on auto-fire. In my attempt to defend my ship from missile attack, I shot down my own chopper coming in for a refuel.
In multiplayer mode, each player can take control of a station and work together to find and engage the enemy. I unfortunately couldn’t find other players online, but I imagine this will change once Dangerous Waters is available in stores.
You can even fire the machine gun on the frigate deck, but the name of this game is not blasting away at bad guys. The thrill is in the cat-and-mouse hunt between the technologically superior U.S. fleet and the older but stealthy Russian and Chinese subs. Do you wait to uncover that hidden Akula using sonobuoys and the submerged anomaly detector - SAD - which picks up big metal objects underwater? Or do you risk giving away your position by pinging with active sonar?
The missions in Dangerous Waters vary in complexity from escorting a U.N. research team to trying to stop a Chinese nuclear missile attack on Taiwan. For a real challenge, try commanding a Russian sub with orders to sink the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz.
Missions are a good way to ease into the campaign, which features a revolt by the Pacific Russian fleet over bad treatment and no pay. The U.S. wants to keep the peace, the Russian government wants to punish the rebels, and the Chinese want to use this situation to seize Taiwan.
My only complaint that keeps this game play from getting a higher score is the steep learning curve. Dangerous Waters badly needs a hands-on tutorial, although the 600-page manual and training videos do an adequate job of explaining everything.
There are two graphic modes in Dangerous Waters – the 3-dimension “real world” screen where you can see your ship and watch combat take place and “station” screens that show a variety of instruments.
Not surprisingly for this kind of sim, the radar and sonar panels look more realistic than the 3-D images. While studying radar or the sonobuoy stations, I truly felt a sense of being aboard a real Navy ship. The navigation map is very well-done, with its vibrant colors marking coastlines and ocean depth.
I’m not saying the 3-D models are badly done; you can still easily tell a Russian from a U.S. sub. The ships and aircraft simply lack the same eye-catching detail of the latest combat sims on the market. Explosions, fire and smoke do not look terribly realistic. This game’s saving visual grace comes from the water and weather effects, which look terrific whether you are sailing in the South Pacific or the stormy waters off Alaska.
I liked the sound effects and voice acting in Dangerous Waters, especially the droning of an aircraft’s engines or the dead silence of a waiting sub. The music is your typical “techno thriller” fare but it adds a nice background ambience. Crewmembers sound believable as they call out sonar contacts and respond to your commands.
I was glad the voice actors never gave in to melodrama, spouting lines like “the missile’s coming right for us skipper!” What really kept the excitement and tension going for me was the whoosh of a Harpoon being launched and the screech of the sonar tracking an approaching torpedo.
I rarely give a 10 in this category, but this is the most comprehensive and well-researched naval sim I have ever played. Real-life weapons and systems seem to be very accurately portrayed, and I appreciated such realistic touches as submarines being able to hide in the Thermocline layer.
The wide variety of missions ensures this game will offer many hours of replay value. The mission editor allows you to create detailed scenarios around the world, from laying minefields to shuttling around special forces.
Sonalysts caters to a niche audience and Dangerous Waters is no exception. This game will appeal to players who already have a strong appreciation for naval simulations. It’s too technical to appeal to an average audience but is a must buy for genre fans. Navy buffs will find this game worth picking up just for the electronic USNI guide, which gives stats on almost every major ship in the world.
Dangerous Waters has done a great job of expanding the whole “sub-hunting” game to include aircraft and the latest technology. This title is detailed enough to be used as a training tool for Navy cadets but is still accessible to the persistent player.
Navy fans will be pleased the game should be in stores in time for the holidays. If you are looking for the perfect gift to give that Tom Clancy lover or armchair admiral, Dangerous Waters is a direct hit.