Developer: Tesseraction Games
Release Date: August 25, 2003
Buy 'ENIGMA: Rising Tide': PC
Enigma: Rising Tide is an alternative-history naval simulation set in the late 1930’s. Imperial Germany has won World War 1 forcing the surrender of Britain whose exiled navy joins Japan in the League of Free Nations. At the beginning of the game America is a neutral country, having avoided the war completely, but that soon changes as America and Germany fight for control of the Atlantic Ocean.
Enigma is an attempt to combine the slower paced simulation games with the faster paced FPS games. Make no mistake: this is not “Quake on a lake”. While it’s a toned down simulation, it still places more importance on tactical thinking than quick reflexes. Actually, it’s a relief to finally play a naval game that doesn’t require the player to be a Master Seaman to figure out the controls. I’ve been hankering for a submarine simulation that wasn’t as complicated as previous offerings and Enigma fit that bill quite nicely. Creeping along in a German U-Boat at periscope depth, evading enemy destroyers while trying to sink a convoy is as close to playing Das Boot as I’ve ever come.
Controlling the submarines is very easy. If you want to dive to a specific depth, you just set the depth; you don’t have to worry about controlling the dive planes and adjusting the ballast levels. Steering the ship is little more than pointing it in the direction you want to go, and setting how fast you want to get there. Using the armaments is a little more complicated, but you can set it so the AI controls the guns. I definitely recommend this setting as the AI is more accurate than I could ever hope to be. Steering the ship out of the way of other vessels, gunfire and torpedoes is hair-raising enough without having aiming and firing to worry about. That level of control is there is you want to micro-manage your vessel, but I was able to leave well enough alone and did not find that handing that off to the computer detracted from my enjoyment of the game at all. You do still need to line up the torpedo shots manually, but that’s where the real fun lies, doesn’t it? The satisfaction you get from lining up the perfect shot to sink an enemy vessel is well worth the time spent getting it just right.
Enigma also allows you to use a headset and issue voice commands, which greatly aids in controlling the boat. There’s about a page’s worth of commands that you can train the game to recognize your voice commands. In addition to being a blast to use, it also minimizes some of the mouse work needed to operate the ship. To further make things easy on the player the game combines all the tactical screens into one. What looks like the radar screen is really a combination of radar, sonar and hydroponics. You can set the scan range, and if there is an enemy outside the set range, there is an indicator as to what direction you need to go so you don’t waste hours looking for them. If you are an experienced naval sim person, this screen is going to take a few moments to get used to, but in the long run it makes the game easier without sacrificing any game play. They’ve simplified damage to vessels as well. Rather than track damage to specific systems, your vessel has a hull health level; once that level drops to zero the boat sinks. Damage to the hull affects your maximum speed, but you don’t have to worry about a key weapons system going offline.
Now that I’ve gotten how easy it is to control your boat out of the way, let’s get to where Enigma really earns its pay: the single player campaigns. Each of the three factions has their own set of submarine and surface campaigns. The game also has instant-action patrol missions which bring the total mission count to about 90. As you complete each of the campaign-based missions, your success in the mission determines whether or not you get promoted. Getting promoted means better vessels, eventually being able to give commands to other ships in the battle group. While the missions are pretty standard fare where the objective inevitably is to sink enemy vessels, the story that ties them all together is first rate.
At the start of each mission you receive the mission objective, the front page of a newspaper showing the events of the campaign unfolding, as well as sections of the Captain’s Log that offer glimpses into crew life on your vessel. The newspaper stories are excellent, and do a fantastic job at illustrating the political events surrounding the campaigns. You will see your actions from previous missions show up in the news headlines as well, which aids in the immersion. Right now the game is single player only, but a subscription based online game is in the works once they get more funding. While some people may criticize Tesseraction for releasing game as a single player version at first and holding back on the multiplayer, I really applaud them for this decision. I would much rather see a quality single player game released with the multiplayer client as a future add-on, than to see them ship both components in a single release, and do a poor job at implementing either of them. The MMOG style multiplayer should prove interesting, as they are promising to model in ports and land mass.
This game is a tribute to what a quality, independent developer can do. The physics model is excellent; this is the first naval game that actually made me seasick. You get the feeling for being on a choppy ocean as the boat rides the waves, and is even pushed off course. Add in an excellent weather system and stormy missions will give you a greater appreciation for what life on high seas is really like. The boat models are well done and accurately reflect the World War 2 ships they are based on. They’ve done a good job with the collision detection as well; in one mission I was run over by the vessel I was supposed to be guarding. The sounds are excellent, and if you have a good subwoofer crank up the volume to simulate the deck on the ship vibrating. Your neighbors will appreciate Enigma’s attention to accuracy as you (and them) really feel the ship accelerating through the waves. There is one area the sounds are a let down though. You never hear your crew, as all communication about ship systems is done via a text dialogue box. On the other hand, having suffered through some horrendous voice acting in games, I’ll take a text screen saying “We’ve been hit, Captain”, over someone going “Veeve been hit, Mein Kapitan” in a bad German accent. If they had to skimp someplace due to budget, I’ll take the lack of voice acting given how superior the rest of the product is.
What’s also apparent is that the developers really care about this game. Each Sunday, the development team puts out a “radio address” on Jabber where they inform their customers of the week’s happenings and announcements. It’s also a great insight into what challenges a small development house face. They are also very active on their message boards, and in a rare display of humility have actually admitted to some things they could have done better. The dialogue from the development team a refreshing change from the sterile, isolated environments most of the studios work in these days.
There are some noticeable flaws in the game though. I’ve noticed that sometimes ships forget to fire back at you, and enemy submarines have a habit of firing off one torpedo, submerging and running deep until their air and battery run out, forcing them to surface. This makes hunting subs more of a waiting game than a hunting game. The merchant vessel also seems to follow a set track, and doesn’t react well to you getting in the way. The game documentation could be a little better since the lack of a tutorial makes the initial learning a little rough. Firing the depth charges is a little harder than it should be, since the tactical screens never give any feedback on the sub’s depth. You have to set the depth of the charges manually, so you end up needing to learn the habits of the AI. It would be nice if the tactical screen also gave you a guess of the depth, even it wasn’t 100% accurate.
The quibbles I’ve had with the game are minor though, and I thoroughly enjoyed Enigma. While most games promise to be good down the road, you can’t help but feel that the future promised by Tesseraction is going to be extremely rewarding based on how excellent the game is right now. They have promised to continue the story arc through several expansions, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series. Each of the expansion packs is also going to introduce new vessels the player can control. While the lack of multiplayer may be a strike against the game for some people, it is worth getting just for the excellent story line. You won’t be selling yourself short getting the game now, and waiting for the multiplayer to be added in.
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