Tuesday, October 23, 2007

1914 Shells of Fury Review

1914 Shells of Fury, developed by H2F Informationssysteme and published by Rondomedia and Strategy First.
The Good: Seemingly realistic and uniquely different from contemporary submarines, pleasant interface, quick mission generator, time acceleration
The Not So Good: Uninformative tutorials, outdated graphics, no multiplayer, static campaign missions, quick mission builder is very limited
What say you? It’s not the best game in the genre, but there is still some World War I U-boat fun to be had: 6/8

Submarine games have a storied tradition on the PC. From the Silent Hunter series to the classic Jane’s titles, you don’t have to go far to find a quality simulation of action under the surface. Most of these games are set in the present day or (surprise!) World War II, where most of the hunting and/or killing focuses on technology. But what about the olden times, before fancy gadgets turned metal behemoths into blips on a screen? 1914 Shells of Fury simulates old school World War I submarine action: no sonar, just periscopes and torpedoes. Most of the subs during this time period operated above the surface until they spotted an enemy ship, and then submerged for the kill. This makes the gameplay of 1914 Shells of Fury potentially different from more current sub games.

1914 Shells of Fury is one of the worst contemporary naval games in terms of graphics. It’s not terribly complicated to make a nice looking ocean, believable ship models, awesome explosions, and decent underwater scenes, but 1914 Shells of Fury fails in pretty much every one of those areas. The waves stink: they are completely angular triangles that rise and fall in the ocean. The ships are equally straight and lack detail, and the explosions are unimpressive. Even underwater scenes look unrealistically murky and green. When you compare 1914 Shells of Fury to games like Ship Simulator, Virtual Sailor, and even Days of Sail (not known for its graphical prowess), it’s clear that this game needs a lot of work in the graphics department. The sound effects in 1914 Shells of Fury are a slight bit better with some OK effects, although there isn’t any voice (German or otherwise) in the game. 1914 Shells of Fury also has some subdued music that fits the stealthy atmosphere of the game well. Thankfully, simulations focus more on gameplay than graphics and sound, but it would still be nice for the world of 1914 Shells of Fury to look pretty.

1914 Shells of Fury features play from the German side of World War I. You can play single missions, the campaign, or a quick mission builder. The single missions include limited tutorials that cover only one thing at a time, and they don’t really teach you anything (just “do this”). There are a handful (around five) stand-alone missions that are a lot like the campaign missions: search and destroy. Although you can play from the start to the end of the war, the campaign is very linear and features the same missions each time. This is disappointing, since it would be seemingly easy to randomize the locations and enemy ships at least a little bit. The mission generator does this to some extent, as you can choose your sub, the region, year, enemy, weather, time of day, and season. However, you always spawn right next to the enemy and this removes all of the scouting involves in submarine attacks. 1914 Shells of Fury also lacks multiplayer. Obviously, there could have been a lot more done to round out the features in 1914 Shells of Fury.

Fortunately, the actual gameplay is pretty good. You can adjust the realism in the game, including the availability of batteries, fuel, oxygen, torpedo faults, convoy movement, and torpedoes. 1914 Shells of Fury follows the World War I submarine method of movement: operating mostly on the surface because there was no sonar (and battery power was limited), spotting enemy ships, and then submerging to attack using the periscope. All of this plays out in real time, so thankfully 1914 Shells of Fury includes time acceleration: up to 16X when engaging enemy ships, and 1024X if you are using the map view with no spotted enemies. The game will also automatically switch to real time speed if an enemy is spotted. This makes three day missions take about half an hour to complete, depending on how many ships you encounter. Most of the missions have you patrolling a specified area and engaging any enemy ships you see; they will follow realistic paths and zigzag to avoid torpedoes. 1914 Shells of Fury features a decent interface that allows you to do basic actions from any station, although most of the time you’ll want to switch positions on the ship.

There are ten rooms to visit on the ship. The first is a sailing view that allows you to feel the wind in your hair, virtually speaking of course. The control room features straightforward speed, depth, and compass settings, as you use the mouse to set them. The torpedo room allows you to load the four tubes, set the depth the torpedo will follow, and its speed. You can go above deck and fire the deck (for ships) or machine (for planes) guns, or have the computer do it for you. You can also equip the binoculars to spot enemy goings-on, listen to the radio, or check the mission objectives and extensive damage report (with a multitude of systems that can be destroyed) in the captain’s room. Most of your time, however, will be spend in either the map room or with the periscope. You can plot up to five waypoints on the map and set autopilot to follow them (then accelerate to ludicrous speed) or just keep an eye on enemy contacts. The periscope can be raised and scrolled to spot enemy ships. The scrolling is a bit too touchy and it takes a couple of tries to lock it on an enemy ship. Once it is centered correctly, you can have the game calculate the firing angle and follow it automatically, or choose to do these things yourself. Overall, I prefer the more basic submarine mechanics of 1914 Shells of Fury over the more modern simulations with tons of electronic equipment you must learn. I certainly think that 1914 Shells of Fury is more appropriate for beginners as it’s pretty easy to figure out what to do and you still get to blow stuff up. I can’t find anything wrong with the gameplay or any glaring features missing, so 1914 Shells of Fury is as realistic as a World War I submarine simulation can be.

Despite lacking some extra features, 1914 Shells of Fury is an entertaining and realistic submarine simulation. I actually like this simplified approach to submarines better than the technology-dependent modern subs: there’s no listening to soundings or any of that techno mumbo jumbo to worry about. It’s find the enemy, submerge, and fire. 1914 Shells of Fury would feel like a more complete product if a better mission generator and more varied missions were included, but all you are going to do is hunt and kill, so there’s not much variety inherent in that anyway. The budget price of $20 makes 1914 Shells of Fury a reasonable addition to a naval simulation library. It’s not as advanced as some other games, but neither were the subs of World War I. I feel that I got $20 worth of fun out of 1914 Shells of Fury, and the more simplified approach is sure to be welcomed by a segment of the gaming population.