Dangerous Waters Review
25/2/05 by Beta1
Each vessel revolves around a series of "stations" - screens of instruments representing the main systems of the craft. The number of stations varies from seven on the simplest platform (the MH60-R) to a mind boggling twelve on the frigate. Many of these then have several screens full of readouts and controls. A nice touch is that all of these screens are unique on every platform: although the basic functionalilty is the same the broadband sonar screen on a 688i looks totally different than the equivalent station on the Akula or the Kilo. Thankfully the experience gained on one platform is easily to transfer to another so once you have learned the basics of sonar operation you will be able to drive any of the subs with a little practice (although the circular sonar displays take some getting used to). Apart from the comprehensive sonar stations other screens allow you control over radar systems, optical systems such as sub periscopes or the P-3's infrared surveillance telescopic camera, weapon targeting and control and electronic surveillance (allowing you to use other ships radar systems to locate them). On the aircraft you even have the option to use magnetic anomaly detection to locate submerged subs. If this sounds overly complicated then Sonalysts have provided the solution in the form of the auto-crew. At most stations you have the option of letting the crew get on with it and most of the time they do a fine job. In fact the autocrew on the sonar is possibly too good. It frequently flags quiet submerged sonar contacts at ranges where the player would be extremely hard pressed to see the signal over the general background noise. This seems to remove the only advantage the Kilo has over its bigger nuclear opposition and removes the main reason for taking the diesel option. Without autocrew on the sonar the Kilo is very hard to detect. In one game I was flying a MH-60R literally 200 feet above one and while I could see it on my MAD sensor the dipping sonar could not detect it at all (even with autocrew).
One station that is common to every platform is the main tactical map. This will be immediately familiar to players of Fleet Command or Sub Command and provides a overview of the area around you showing the location of everything your sensors have detected. Its worth noting that this map only shows the best guess based on your (or the autocrew's) analysis. As result unless you are prepared to do the work to classify the contacts the autocrew give you then this map will mostly look like a mess of possible contacts and random sensor bearing lines. If your doing well on the other hand you will be able to play this game almost entirely from this screen as from here it is possible to indirectly control most of the systems of the ship, albeit with less finess than is possible from the individual system stations. So if you see yourself more as captain Ramius than a sonar analyst this is where you will be sitting. On the other hand if sonar operator is your dream job then this is the sim for you. The variety of sonar options available is at first quite bewildering - many of the platforms have active sonar, broad- and narrow-band passive sonar, systems to intercept enemy active sonar and systems to identify targets from telltale frequencies or propeller types. The frigate and the aircraft also have sonobouys that can be deployed and then used to monitor passing vessels from a distance. Subs even have remote sonar sensors that can be fired from the torpedo tubes to check the area ahead before risking your ship.
As almost every platform has the ability to kill or disable and other platform with a single strike the emphasis of this game is predominantly on the sensor/intelligence war. If you can locate and engage your opponent before he can do the same to you then generally you get to sail home while he goes to Davy Jones's locker. As a result of this most of the game is not spent actually driving/flying the vessels - that is best left to the crew. Instead you will be glued to your passive sensor screens, trying to coax the signature of your enemy out of the background of water noises, merchant shipping and the occasional passing whale. The fact that the active sensors such as radar or active sonar have much shorter effective ranges than the intercept systems means that using one of these sensors prematurely often results in simply giving away your position. There are times that these are the correct tools but you have to be very sure that the information you will get outweighs the info you will concede. At every point in the game this balance has to guide your thinking. Do I attack that surface group now at long range with cruise missiles from my vertical launch tubes from a safe distance but risk missing due to inaccurate targeting information due to the long range or do I close and use torpedoes but risk detection and retaliation from any ship that survives.