Dangerous Waters Review
25/2/05 by Beta1
Its been a slow year for naval warfare on the PC. From a reviewer's perspective this is a good thing - there just aren't enough modern naval cliches to draw upon to get you to 2000 odd words without drying up. Its easy with games like "Pirates", you can make Captain Pugwash jokes for two pages then throw in a few lines about the graphics and everyones happy. Not so with the modern navy; its all torpedoes and sonar buoys and not one of them called Rodger. So it's into these empty seas that Sonalysts have sent their latest hardcore sim. Sonalysts have an impressive record in naval software including the subcommand/destroyer command games as well as the strategy game Fleet command. They also produce software used by several navies so when you see their name on a sim you know that its as close to reality as national security will allow.
Dangerous waters puts you in command of one of a variety of surface, submarine or air platforms. Above the waves fly the MH-60R multi-role helicopter and the P-3 Orion, both capable of anti-submarine and anti-surface operations. Submarines make up the majority of the player options, unsuprising given that this game is the successor to 688i and Sub Command. Two nuclear US classes feature: the workhorse 688i "Los Angeles" class sub with its wireguided torpedos, harpoon anti-shipping missiles and tomahawk cruise missiles; and the more modern and quieter Seawolf class. Russia's answer to the 688i, the titanium hulled Akula class is the only drivable non-US nuclear sub but several varieties of the diesel-electric Kilo are also modelled in the colors of both the chinese and russian navies. The only surface option is the "Oliver Hazard Perry" FFG-7, a fast ASW frigate which as well as a range of anti-surface, anti-air and anti-submarine weapons comes with a pair of MH-60R helos which can be used to track and kill subs at ranges where the submarine cannot retaliate. While this is a sim don't expect a flight sim in the traditional sense. Both aircraft can be controlled directly either from the keyboard or joystick this is not the main point of the game. The idea is to command your chosen craft and to use its sensors and weapon systems to achieve your mission objectives. So while you can fly the plane and helo as a flight sim its not the same level of detail as in a full on flight sim. Anyway its hard enough keeping track of all the sensor information - trying to keep a helo in the air at the same time is just too much for me!
The nuclear subs all play essentially the same - your job is to remain undetected until you are ready to strike and then to hit hard and vanish before anyone has time to react. How you do this is up to you as there is no shortage of weapon options. The US boats have advanced torpedoes as well as long range cruise missiles and shorter range harpoons for use against surface targets. The Russians and Chinese have a variety of torpedoes including a very nasty wake homing torpedo which is almost impossible for surface targets to shake. Other weapons include the long range SS-N-27 missile with versions for attacking both land and sea targets. There are even missiles that drop a homing torpedo allowing you to attack enemy subs way beyond the range at which they can reply. Sonalysts have even modelled the experimental VA-111 Shkval torpedo, a high speed weapon capable of running at 200 knots. Most of the time however good old fashioned torpedoes are the weapon of choice as if your operating alone you cant detect targets at ranges where missiles are a good option. The Kilo plays slightly differently. Relying on battery power when submerged you are very quiet, but also rather slow. While the nuclear subs can pass 30kts you can barely reach 15. However what you can do which the nucs cannot is to stop dead and become a hole in the water, totally silent and all but undetectable. Hidden like this in shallow water where sonar signals become harder to interpret the kilo is a lethal adversary despite its limited speed and battery.
The frigate is a much, much noisier vessel so there is little chance of moving at any speed and remaining undetected by any enemy subs. As a result you can use active sonar much more freely and combined enough speed and maneuverability to dodge torpedo attacks this allows you to actively hunt down submerged enemies. You also have sufficient anti-surface and anti-air firepower to take on most targets. The ability to launch heloes to extend your sensor coverage even further means that the frigate usually has the most accurate picture of the battlespace of all of the platforms. However this comes at a price, your sensors and engine noise often allows your enemies to pick you up at long range and you are vunerable to long range missile attack. he air units are some of the most fun to play as when on ASW missions you are essentially safe from attack unless a surfaced sub takes a shot at you with a SAM. As a result you are free to aggressively use active sonar to hunt down your targets, normally something you have to do before they get in position to launch against your convoy - almost sub-hunting against the clock. Available weapons include torpedoes, mines and missiles. For game play reasons none of the platforms are equiped with nuclear weapons. While it might have been cool to be able to vaporise an entire fleet with a nuclear torpedo it would unbalance the game somewhat.