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Posted on Jun 9, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Dangerous Waters – Game Review (PC)

By Herman Hum

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Dangerous Waters (published by Black Bean in Europe) is a simulation designed to show the player all the intricacies of Submarine and Anti-Submarine Warfare [ASW]. Players command a number of platforms such as the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, FFG-7 Frigate, P-3C Orion, and several submarines like the SSK Kilo, SSN’s Los Angeles, Seawolf, or Akula. Each platform can be operated from any number of stations like the pilot’s seat, the Tactical Officer’s station, or the weapons’ bay / torpedo room. In multiplayer situations, different players can occupy the different stations or each can have his own platform.

The player(s) are required to detect, analyze, and classify new contacts in the water, above it, or below it. Sensors include towed sonar arrays, radar, binoculars, and sonobuoys. If the contacts are deemed hostile, the player then attacks with a wide variety of weapons ranging from the ubiquitous machine guns to torpedoes and missiles. Sound easy? Boy, are you in for a surprise!

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Gameplay

The level of detail and sophisticated modeling is the reason why Dangerous Waters (DW) can honestly call itself a simulation and not just a wargame. The player is in control of nearly every aspect of warfare. Almost every command available in real life is available in the game. In fact, the game is so realistic and unforgiving that it will respond to most any command regardless of how bone-headed it is.

View from the pilot’s station aboard a MH-60R Seahawk. Tactical map plot.

For example, on more than one occasion, I was dipping the sonar from the helicopter to look for a sub. I forgot to reel it back in and tried to fly off. Low and behold, I promptly tore the system right off my helo! ASW aficionados will recognize that this is as, “pulling a John Wayne Bobbitt on yourself.”

DW is highly realistic in its modeling of sensors, data links, and the all important Fog of War. The player must make all the vital decisions. Is that contact a merchant ship minding her own business or a Libyan missile boat up to no good? The AI [Autocrew] is available to help, but control falls squarely on the shoulders of the player.

The most difficult thing to do is run the TMA [Target Motion Analysis]. This is how real life naval units detect, track, analyze, and calculate attacks against one another. Reports are received from the various sensor stations and the player must put these pieces of the puzzle together in order to develop a solution as to where the contact is heading and how it can be attacked. I’ve never seen a game show this level of detail. Some of the reports are false and erroneous, too. It is up to the player to separate the wheat from the chaff. Many other games allow the AI to handle this process. In DW, it is a fundamental requirement, but can still be assigned to the AI.

All of this detail comes at a price, though. The number of commands available is huge. One of the superb features of DW is the ability to issue many commands through the use of hotkeys which greatly reduces the ‘clickology.’ A personal favorite is the ability for the player to re-map the hotkeys! However, this is a double-edged sword. There are so many possible commands that it is impractical to remember them all and there is no way to easily see what commands are available for the current window.

Also, the number of hotkey commands could be increased dramatically. There are still quite a few simple functions that are cumbersome and require extensive numbers of mouse clicks and screen changes in order to accomplish the most basic orders. One major example is the sonar dipping process. The ability for the game to be put on pause to allow for this does not mitigate the fact that this basic process is very awkward to conduct.

TMA Plotting room aboard SSK Kilo. Weapons Station aboard FFG Perry.

Another limitation of DW is the lack of a Platform editor. The developer has stated unequivocally that there won’t be one. Although there are already a respectable number of platforms available to the player and a mission editor so that he can create his own situations, the absence of a PE means that you can only drive platforms provided by Sonalysts. Here’s to hoping that they offer a steady stream of new units to drive.

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