SubWar 2050. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
They say the sky's the limit, but when it comes to combat simulations, it's getting mighty crowded up there. For a refreshing change of pace, dive into SubWar 2050, a superb blend of the speculative simulation and arcade action genres. Set in the year 2050, the story line speculates--and rightly so--that the earth's oceans will be recognized as our greatest natural resource. Technology once used to reach for the stars now casts its gaze to the oceans, mining their rich bounty of food, energy, and minerals. As expected, where there's money to be made, you'll find greed and covert competition. That's where you come in: As a mercenary sub pilot, you're employed by huge corporations to defend their underwater interests against militaryindustrial sabotage. Unlike land and air, the deep-sea arena opens a whole new world of fantastic, dangerous stealth activity.
The game is divided into four multimission campaigns of increasing difficulty, based in the Antarctic, North Atlantic, South China Sea, and Sea of Japan. Thousands of square miles of 3-D--rendered seascapes unfold beneath the murky depths--breathtaking vistas of jagged mountains, narrow canyons, and sloping valleys. A running story line links individual missions in each campaign scenario, with various medals, awards, and promotions available to top combat pilots. There's also a valuable training campaign, set in the relative calm of the North Pacific, where you'll learn the finer points of navigation, active and passive sonar reading, evasive maneuvers, and weapons deployment.
Depending on your mission, you'll pilot a vessel specially designed for either exploration, reconnaissance, or combat. Cockpit controls are virtually identical to their flight sim counterparts, including familiar HUD indicators for horizon line, bearing, speed, depth, sonar range, weapons targeting, and way points. There are also full-screen displays for damage control, wingman orders, and 3-D object viewing. Multiple cockpit and outside views include flyby, chase, tactical, inverse tactical, and weapons perspective. Unfortunately, there's no mission recorder. Available ordnance--depending on mission and sub type--includes torpedoes, antitorpedo torpedoes, cluster rocket torpedoes, cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and particle-beam rockets. More than 15 types of friendly and enemy vessels include transports, tankers, missile subs, sub carriers, deep-sea recon units, and light fighters. Watch closely, and you'll see a variety of sea creatures.
You can choose enemy skill level (high, medium, or low), control mode (joystick, mouse, or keyboard), collision damage (on or off), and terrain/object shading (textured, plain, or wireframe). The game runs well even on a 386, so you'll want to keep the graphics detail on high to enjoy the excellent 3-D terrain contours and Gouraud-shaded objects. The game's cornerstone feature is its incredible ambiance, without doubt among the most compelling ever put to disk. The sensation of depth and the ocean's tremendous inner space is utterly believable, accomplished through object scaling, lighting effects, and stereo surround sound. Few sights are more breathtaking--or downright creepy--than your sub's spotlights probing the blackness of the ocean floor, or the shadow of a monstrous vehicle on the edge of darkness. Another key to both graphics and game-play is the onscreen representation of the ocean's thermal layers (boundaries between warm and cold water) seen as a series of contoured grid lines. These thermals add to the illusion of depth and serve as a natural sonar cloaking defense.
Overall, the missions offer moderate-to-difficult challenges, while the underwater battles rival the intensity of classic arcade-style space- and air-combat games like Wing Commander and Comanche. Hard-core sim fans will be intrigued but ultimately disappointed. All others will find SubWar 2050 to be an imaginative strategy and action game absolutely dripping with atmosphere.
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