Sub Command is geared toward gamers who want a realistic simulation of nearly every aspect of driving a submarine, not the casual player looking for a thrill ride. The learning curve is very steep, gameplay is extremely complex and long, and most of the game is spent waiting and watching control panels, while searching or guessing for enemy locations.
You can select either the U.S. 688(I) Los Angeles class Seawolf, or the Russian Akula or Akula II. Campaigns are very linear and the missions interrelated, thus every decision you make impacts the overall setup. Sonar and weapons, radar, navigation, steering and periscope are but a few of the control stations you track. Each vessel's controls are basically the same, but the developers made each sub's panels distinct and very exact.
Menus and keyboard shortcuts help manage the many onboard stations, so learning the layout for quick access is mandatory. The tutorial helps with the complex learning curve, but isn't deep enough to make gameplay easy. The biggest help is the capability to change difficulty settings, which allows you to pick various crewmen to take over the really intensive tasks.
The sim is mostly about patience and stealth (water-based hide and seek) and only the most careful and sneakiest commander will win. A few missions require you to deploy SEALs or meet up with a rescue team, but the missions are not action packed. While the ultimate excitement might be firing your torpedoes at a target, getting to that point is like trying to solve an Agatha Christie novel. For example, to target a specific enemy sub, you need to first find it, then match its signature against the database to determine if it's friend or foe, discern the number of propeller blades to ascertain speed (again using the database), plot a course, and hopefully intercept.
The very labor-intensive activity will be far too tedious and uninteresting for many gamers, as the emphasis is on simulation, not warfare. Combat is slow, methodical and intense if you have the patience to wade through all the referencing and cross-referencing required every time you stumble on a potential target. But, when you finally do launch torpedoes and sink a ship or sub, the feeling of accomplishment is well earned, as you have to work hard for every moment of satisfaction.
The AI is extremely good with enemy subs trying to out-maneuver and out-flank you at every turn, as well as running for cover and deploying decoys against your torpedoes. Crewmen are extremely adept at their assignments, and provide an invaluable resource considering that most gamers have no clue as to how a real submarine works or should be maintained.
Though they don't appreciably ruin the game, a few minor flaws are noteworthy, such as the occasional inaccuracy of weapons. While this may add to the realism, it's frustrating to see your torpedo inexplicably miss the target after spending a good hour tracking the enemy. Another problem is inability to fix the submarine's damage, which is tracked by a health meter similar to those in fighting games. If you're looking for a way to raise a sinking sub, you won't find it in Sub Command.
Extra features make up for the minor flaws, as the mission editor lets you create you own quests and not just adjust the seascape. Combined with the multiplayer option and voice command feature, the simulation has more depth and feeling compared to others in the genre. After playing for an extended period, gamers will walk away on sea legs knowing more than they ever thought possible about maintaining a submarine. With the level of detail, though, only dedicated simmers need apply.
Graphics: Graphics are clear and 2D panels are easy to read. 3D representations of the external environment offers a nice break from incessantly watching the panels, though don't ultimately serve any purpose.
Sound: Fortunately, the sound is well done since its use in tracking the enemy and pinpointing ships is essential to success. Radar pings, propellers, and sounds of torpedoes firing are but some of the realistic sounds in the game.
Enjoyment: Diehard gamers will love the lavish detail and attention given to the control panels, though the learning curve may be too intensive and complex for casual gamers looking for a more action oriented game.
Replay Value: Most scenarios can be played from either the American or Russian side. A comprehensive scenario editor lets you design your own missions, and multiplayer action is available to extend game life.
People who downloaded Sub Command: Akula Seawolf 688(I) have also downloaded:
Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer, SSN-21 Seawolf, Silent Hunter: Commander's Edition, Tom Clancy's SSN, Jane's USAF, Panzer Commander, Dangerous Waters, Jane's Fleet Command
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