In the frigid depths of the North Atlantic, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine glides silently beneath the waves. The Cold War has...

Cold Waters Review Cold Waters Review

Cold Waters Review

Cold Waters Review




In the frigid depths of the North Atlantic, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine glides silently beneath the waves. The Cold War has gone hot, and you are at the helm of a vessel that will make all the difference in how it plays out. That is the scenario presented when you fire up a campaign of Cold Waters, the newest nautical experience from Killerfish Games. The developers of turn-based WW2 naval combat titles Atlantic Fleet and Pacific Fleet, have switched gears by releasing a real-time submarine focused title set during the Cold War. 




Cold Waters occupies a happy medium on the sim-arcade spectrum, with all the appropriate bells and whistles you would expect in submarine simulation, presented in a streamlined and easily controlled manner. If you're like me, and most of your submarine skippering abilities were taught via Tom Clancy novels, you will feel right at home here. After playing through the series of interactive tutorial missions, you will understand all the mechanics of commanding your sub. The controls in Cold Waters are very easy to grasp. The sub is maneuvered using the keyboard (WASD to steer, surrounding keys to control throttle and ballast), and firing weapons is as simple as clicking on the map in the desired direction/range. There is also a solid primer on sub combat tactics in the in-game manual that you will probably want to review. Despite the informative tutorial, if you don't have much experience with post-WW2 submarine tactics, the school of hard knocks will likely dish out a few more lessons in short order. 

After completing the tutorials, your next stop will either be one of the preset scenarios or the dynamic campaign. The scenarios offer some good variety, starting with a simple 1v1 sub engagement, then increasing in complexity and difficulty until you are staring down entire enemy battle fleets. I tried out a couple of these to get started, but the bread and butter of the game is definitely the dynamic campaign.


Cold Waters offers two different time periods for the campaign. You can play in either 1984 or 1968. I mostly have played in the 1984 setting, since you get far more toys to play with and the combat is generally faster paced. For now, you can only play as NATO. In both settings you will have several different sub classes to choose from, all the classics are here. Once the campaign begins, you are presented with a series of news bulletins laying out the circumstances that lead up to war. This style of news bulletin will continue to pop up throughout the course of the campaign, keeping you up to date on the state of the conflict. Your successes and/or failures will directly influence these events over the course of the war. 




The campaign map also shows the state of the war, with icons indicating Soviet progress against NATO forces on the continent. A variety of other icons representing ships, aircraft, subs, and even satellites travel around in real time. Keeping track of all of this is a bit of a mini-game in itself, as you click on the map to have your sub travel at slow or fast speed to your chosen destination. Let an enemy air patrol spot your sub and you can expect an enemy attack sub to make a beeline in your direction.

Your movements on this map will be based on the missions you are assigned throughout the campaign. Most will have you moving to intercept or hunt down various enemy vessels. A more exotic assignment might have you dropping off commandos for a daring raid deep in enemy territory. Friendly reconnaissance units will occasionally reveal enemy positions and movements, and then you must use your judgement, and the intelligence from the mission briefing, to rendezvous your sub with its prey. One drawback with the game was that this screen can leave you feeling a bit like you are fighting the war all alone. Your lonely sub ventures out repeatedly to strike at the enemy, but no other friendlies seem to be in the fight at all. This leaves the conflict feeling a bit less "dynamic" than it might be if you could actually see the battle that is supposedly raging in the North Atlantic.

Once an engagement begins, we get to the meat of the game. Your viewpoint for the game is mostly from a third-person camera orbiting your sub or another object such as a torpedo. The only first-person view you will find here is when gazing through the periscope. If you are looking for the claustrophobic immersion you might remember from Silent Hunter III, you won't find it here. That said, I know I spent most of my time in Silent Hunter using the external camera anyway, but the omission does detract a bit from the immersion factor. Other items you will find on the screen include a tactical map and a multi-tab information panel. The map shows all the various contacts you may be seeing, and some detailed information about your sub and whatever item you have targeted. You can also pull up a full-screen map when needed. Over on the information panel you will find just about everything else you need. A panel for managing weapons, one for damage, one for water conditions, and one for sonar contacts. 




I found that most missions played out in three phases, which I dub the hunt, the attack, and the chase. 

During the hunt you will be stalking silently, listening for contacts and working to get them fully identified. In some missions you are there to destroy everything in sight, but oftentimes you will have a particular target that must be taken out or the mission will fail. Getting a positive ID of your target before engaging is a must, since you may only get one shot at it. During this time it is also smart to plan out your entire attack and exit strategy. Failure to plan ahead will regularly result in a poor performance once the action gets going.




Once you have your target and plan of attack, it's time to pull the trigger. Torpedoes and missiles are fired by simply selecting the weapon tube, configuring a few settings for the weapon, and then clicking on the map where you want it to go. Once that first shot is released, things get a lot more hectic. The enemy will now be actively closing on your position, but you will want to stick around long enough to confirm your target's destruction or let loose another volley if needed. 

Gradually the attack will shift into the chase in most circumstances. At the very least you will usually have enemy ASW aircraft dropping sonar buoys, then torpedoes and depth charges if they get a bead on you. Once you become the hunted, the tension really ramps up. You've succeeded in your mission , but now you have to get your crew out of the area alive. This stage is where I lost my sub 90% of the time.

After the mission, whether it was a success or failure, you will go back to the world map. You will soon get new orders, but may need to retreat back to your home port for repairs. The more success you have, the better the war goes, and vice versa. Eventually one side will emerge victorious, though I have yet to survive long enough to see that. 




Overall, the actual combat always left me satisfied. As you start out playing the game, each battle will usually leave you with some kind of lesson you can apply to future encounters. This is always a good sign in any game where death can come suddenly. Usually that death was your own fault, but it isn't a failure as long as you learn from it.

The graphics of Cold Waters work quite nicely. The various sub and ship models are detailed, and the water in particular looks great. The sound effects are also generally good, but one distinct feature is lacking in the audio department, there are no voiced lines at all. Reports of new contacts or weapon discharges are presented only as a line of text. The developers have promised to rectify this with an update, so I look forward to seeing how that adds to the experience.  The game loads up extremely fast and I did not encounter any major bugs or glitches. There were a couple of UI issues which have already been resolved in a patch.


Cold Waters is a submarine sim that I think will please many gamers interested in the topic. However, I know there is a crowd out there hoping for something a bit more hardcore, and this game may not be for them. Some of the finer points of sub combat are left out, for example, the towed sonar array on your sub is completely abstracted. Cold Waters is all about getting you into the action rapidly and often. Once in the thick of things, even the relatively simple mechanics will keep any player quite busy. Between maneuvering the sub, tracking enemy contacts, dodging torpedoes, and managing repair priorities, you will have white knuckles in no time.




What makes me enjoy and want to recommend Cold Waters is how it gives you a sense of being in The Hunt for Red October or similar fiction. Sometimes a scenario will play out simply, with you firing a weapon, destroying the target at range, and then skulking off into the sea. However, other times the battle can turn into a chaotic mess, with your sub maneuvering right next to an enemy sub, looking to get a perfect shot off while dodging torpedoes. In these moments the game really shines, as the simple controls let you stay hooked into the action. 

Killerfish Games are already busy improving the game, with a couple of patches out that have fixed several minor issues and added a couple of quality of life features. They promise to eventually add in voiced lines and a matching set of Soviet scenarios and campaigns. Extensive modding support is also on the agenda, so those looking for a more hardcore experience may need only wait for a mod or two to change things up.

At $40, I think Cold Waters is reasonably priced for being such a niche game. There simply aren't many games like this out there, and this is a very solid title with some more improvements on the way. I give it a strong recommendation for anyone looking for a fun submarine combat sim.

- Joe Beard

Official Site: http://killerfishgames.com/games/cold-waters

Cold Waters is available on Steam for PC and Mac


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