Friday, August 12, 2005

Dangerous Waters Review

Dangerous Waters PC, developed by Sonalysts Combat Simulations and published by
The Good: Insanely comprehensive, AI can control most ship operations, great manual, several platforms to control
The Not So Good: Steep learning curve, boring to those not interested in technical command and operations
What say you? An ultra-realistic simulation of modern naval warfare: 7/8

I’ve had a long history with military simulations. One of the first games I got was F-15 Strike Eagle III (yeah, baby), and I played the mess out of it. Some of my favorite military games of the past carried the Jane’s name: 688(I) Hunter/Killer, F/A-18, and Fleet Command. So, as you can imagine, I was very pleased to find out that the developers behind Fleet Command were delivering an updated version of the game, Dangerous Waters. Most of the Jane’s series of games were uber-realistic and not for the n00b. Will Dangerous Waters satisfy my need for hardcore, sweaty naval action?

The graphics in Dangerous Waters look eerily reminiscent of Fleet Command (who would have thought?). First, there is a 3-D view of the game world, with ships and waves and such. The system requirements are not very high, as I was able to crank up the settings to the maximum and still hold a respectable 60 FPS (Athlon XP 1500, Radeon 9550). Each of the platforms (that’s what the cool kids call the ships and planes) has realistic (I am assuming) panels for each position on the ship/plane/helicopter. There is also a 2-D map representation of all the contacts you have found. The graphics in Dangerous Waters are satisfying and above most technical military simulations.

Dangerous Waters has 25 single missions and a campaign of 11 missions. In addition, there is a mission editor, and I was able to download 34 more missions. Each of the missions are the same each time (each enemy spawns in the same location), although you may be permitted to play the mission with a different platform. Dangerous Waters features seven different controllable platforms: Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7) class surface ship, MH-60R helicopter, P-3C Orion aircraft, and four submarines: Kilo, Akula, Seawolf, and 688(i). Multiplayer is available, but you need to use a third-party application for matchmaking purposes. Since Dangerous Waters is an involved game, it comes with an involved manual. The manual is one of the highlights of the game, 550 pages of easy-to-read instructions on every platform in the game. After reading through it, I understood almost everything to do with the game. Sometimes, it’s hard to convey easy-to-understand instructions to others (I know, I’m a teacher), so the manual writer(s) need to be commended. I strongly suggest that if you plan on being serious with this game, spend the extra $10 to get the printed manual.

The first step of Dangerous Waters, and what you’ll primarily be doing most of the game, is finding and classifying contacts. This can be done through a variety of methods.
The navigation map shows the locations of ships and other objects, and also houses the 3-D display. If all the other stations are on autocrew, you can run the game from this screen, issuing orders with the click of the mouse. You can do a lot from this screen, such as classifying contacts or ordering attacks.
You can drop sonobuoys into the water, which can detect the presence of water-bound platforms and relay the information back to you. First, you can deploy passive VLAD buoys, then DIFAR to narrow the signals, and finally DICASS set to active mode to pinpoint the location of the enemy. Having a sonobuoy in active mode is a definite advantage, since putting your submarine on active sonar will mean a quick detection. Sonobuoys find enemies through triangulation, just like a GPS receiver.
Your submarine or ship is equipped with several forms of sonar, found in the hull, sides of the ship, or towed a distance behind. When you use sonar, it is strongly suggested that you use passive (receive only) sonar as much as possible, and use only active sonar if you’re in imminent danger of being blown up. Active sonar can easily be traced back to your sub, and your location will quickly be discovered. There are several methods of processing the sonar data. Broadband filtering can be used to detect and track contact, while narrowband filtering is used to identify and classify contacts (as a geophysicist, I painfully know all about bandpass filters). DEMON sonar classifies contacts according to propeller speed and the number of fans. Active sonar is a last resort, active intercept informs you when others are using active sonar, and sound speed profile (SSP) can determine depths of thermal layers, which can be used to evade the enemy.
Radar is used to find air platforms, and is the same as active sonar, meaning bad.
Electronic warfare
Electronic warfare is used to detect and classify contacts when you’re at periscope depth.
And, of course, you could always just look for them.

The next step is determining where the enemy will be in the future, so that you can send a torpedo to greet them. This is done through TMA, which stands for TNA. Essentially, you play connect the dots to find a contact’s bearing and speed. Every two minutes, a line is drawn from your ship to the enemy, indicating the bearing to the other ship. After enough lines are drawn, you can connect the lines with a ruler: the spacing of the lines indicates the speed, and the orientation of the ruler indicates the course. Changing the speed and direction of your ship will help eliminate possible solutions hopefully down to one. Once you have a good solution to the speed and course of the enemy ship, you can send it to the fire control room.

Firing weapons in Dangerous Waters is fairly simple (at least comparatively speaking). Assuming you have a good solution from the TMA guy, you essentially pick the target and click some buttons to fire the torpedo. In most subs, this entails flooding the tube, equalizing the pressure, opening the muzzle door, and firing. You really need to make sure you have a good TMA for the object you intend firing upon, because on realistic settings, reloading a torpedo tube can take anywhere from 6 to 30 minutes, depending on which platform you’re talking about. Since the game can be played in real-time (or accelerated up to 16x), this is a long time. So make it count! Additionally, if surfaced, you can engage foes with a machine gun or surface to air missile, intended for those pesky planes (think they’re so big, flying around like that). Launching SAMs is just like Battlefield 2: find your target, lock on, and launch.

Dangerous Waters has a very realistic, slow, and deliberate pace. Actions in this game are measured in minutes, not seconds. You can spend up to an hour (or real time) following a single contact. This may appeal to some people, but those with itchy trigger fingers should look elsewhere. The game can be frustrating, as being destroyed by a torpedo from a ship you didn’t know existed isn’t fun. But, it can also be rewarding, as finding a contact, tracking it, and destroying it successfully is very gratifying.

Dangerous Waters is not an arcade game. It is a serious simulation for serious people serious about getting serious. If you want to pull the trigger and launch torpedo after torpedo into the sides of opposing ships in an action packed game, Dangerous Waters is not for you. If you want to experience the tension of searching the dark water for hidden enemies, then this is a great experience. Personally, I’ve been looking for a game like this, a really technical game that I can sink my nerdy little teeth into. A complex and rewarding modern naval simulation, Dangerous Waters is worthwhile for those gamers looking for a accurate gaming encounter.