As the Iron Curtain finally comes down on the Cold War, out from the deeps of mid-Eighties Reaganesque jingoism sails Red Storm Rising. Based on the techno-thriller by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond, this simulation pits the best of the Russian and US navies against each other in a fight to the finish.
In a game based over four different time zones, commanders can fight battles beneath the sea any time from 1984 to a factitious future where new developments in weapons technology make death-dealing easy. As an American nuclear submarine commander, your job is to sink Ruskie freighters, carriers, destroyers and subs who, not surprisingly, want to do the same to you.
Commanders have a selection of screens to watch as they prey beneath the seas, with cursory shots of sinking ships thrown in for good measure. The skill comes not only from being in the right place to strike, but also from accessing the correct charts and weapons to be effective. The main game's viewed on a tactical map and so subs and ships are only seen as blips on a radar screen.
There's masses of other information a budding Captain Nemo must take into account while sailing. Many things make the art of detecting enemy shipping without being detected yourself difficult. Thermal ducts in the water can mask or distort sonar, while certain bits of nautical kit function better at different depths and speeds. Acoustic signatures can be compared to identify a ship class, while the detection levels can be watched, letting you know just how sly you've been.
These toys for the boys would be incomplete without weaponry. It's here that RSR metamorphosises from a diverting undersea drive into a true game. Torpedoes have manifold abilities, and can be fired undetectably and unjammably on wire, or can hunt ships on their own with sonar in preset left or right search patterns. Missiles can be launched at shallower depths, but make you rather obvious. You need to know which defence systems which ships pack, because it's stupid to give away the element of surprise with a weapon that will not sink the opposition. Once they realise you're about it's kill or be killed.
The action is largely key controlled, so the MicroProse standard 'punch out chart' is essential. As the hunt takes shape decisions have to be instantaneous and correct. It's the thrill of the chase, the sudden strike from the deep followed by a charge for the welcoming anonymity of the ocean. In the middle of a battle the quick reference chart can save your life, when a reload's needed and you can't remember the key stroke sequence. This speed of action contrasts with the authentic, but terrifying, slowness of the 7,000-ton beast you control.
Simultaneous reading and playing is never a totally enjoyable experience, but it's vital if you're to weather the storm. The list of variables is truly immense, but there are a few manoeuvres that must be learnt - skills which the practice options are designed to build. Once armed with experience it's time to start out on single raids and eventually go for the big one, the Red Storm campaign -the Russian hordes en masse.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
RSR is an odd simulation, because there's no 'cockpit view' - only maps, charts and the virtually useless periscope. This lack of the 'being there' sensation doesn't detract from the excitement. When the torps start scraping the paint from your ship, palms perspire and tempers fray. Zooming in and out of the tactical map, commanders must make the right call at the right moment. Lives - your crew's and your nation's - depend on success.
As with any game where there's a 'run silent' option, the sounds of RSR are no great shakos. The prop chugs away in the background, but little else. Even when a direct hit's scored and you watch mighty warships sink beneath the waves, there's no fury from graphics or sound. Explicit violence is not the reason you persevere with RSR.
Controlling a nuclear sub takes skill and practice. Add this to the challenge of a full-blown war, the outcome of which your actions actually affect (the game doesn't slavishly follow the book - the scenario starts with the same premise but changes as you sink more shipping) and RSR has massive potential in the staying-power stakes. The lack of stunning graphics will inhibit the short-term player who wants to sec large vessels flying through undersea trenches, but not the long-term strategist or war techie. They'll relish the test of continual battle with a diminishing supply of weapons, attacking more dangerous targets with an increasingly damaged boat.
In RSR valour is banished to the brig: cold-headed actions and cool nerves see you through. It brings the complexities of modern sub war to the small screen with polish and finesse, if not graphic greatness. RSR is complex enough to challenge, yet structured to allow the player greater freedom as skill develops. Get too cocky, by jumping in at the deep end on ultimate difficulty level, and your next port of call is Locker 3F, Jones D. Develop your sub skills, though, and you could blast the pride of the Russian navy into scrap, unseen and safe.
It's a nuclear submarine simulation program. You can choose your side to fight on the side of the USSR of the NATO. The game is based on the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising.
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