Publisher: Dreamcatcher Software
Developer: Tesseraction Games
Release Date: February 4, 2005
Buy 'ENIGMA: Rising Tide Gold Edition': PC
Back "in the day," we used to play these huge naval simulations like "Jutland," "Bismarck," and "Midway," (we miss you, Avalon Hill) humungous board and paper/pencil affairs that often took up the entire living room floor to map out and play. Rulers, measuring tapes, jars of dice and massive amounts of "to hit" and "damage resolution" charts were scattered hither and yon (holy CINCPAC, Batman, what an ancient cliché to whip out!).
Then, on an ancient PC with green-screen monochrome graphics, I got a taste of what was to come with an adaptation of Tom Clancy's epic novel, "Red Storm Rising." Further efforts in large-scale naval sims came and went and were mostly forgotten. There was a really really bad version of The Hunt for Red October; we had the hit-or-miss of the Silent Service series and a handful of other naval sims. Aces of the Deep broke the mold in a number of ways, being a pioneer in "voice activated" gaming, but failed to deliver with anything but what I can only call "developmentally challenged" AI. The Harpoon series was the pinnacle of success, making the transformation from paper and pencil tactical sim, through detailed miniature combat, and onto (in my case) the Amiga and beyond. It's been a long, strange trip for full-fledged naval simulations. As of this writing, the much-ballyhooed Harpoon 4 has been scrapped, leaving yet another gap in this much-ignored genre.
Now, Dreamcatcher and Tesseraction have provided us armchair admirals with a new diversion, Enigma: Rising Tide. Blending elements of a true-to-form naval sim through FPS and RPG elements, Rising Tide makes a nicely suitable introduction to newbies, and also provides enough of a challenge for the most battle-weary console commandant.
You aren't just thrown in the middle of the fray (although that is an option if you have a death wish to visit Davey Jones' locker). A series of tutorials cover all aspects of your command, from the basic "move, search and shoot," through complex maneuvers featuring multiple friendly (and enemy) ships. Individual patrol missions will further stretch your expertise with the various weapons and enemies you will encounter in the campaign game, which is where Enigma really shines. The campaign game is much more than just a tacked-on storyline to link missions together.
The game takes place in an alternate-history 1939, when three factions, the US, the League of Free Nations, and Imperial Germany are competing for control of the oceans. The storyline is mostly told through newspaper scans and cinematics. Let's assume for the moment, that Germany won World War I and conquered mostly all of Europe. The United States is attempting to expand its territories (insert your own George W. Bush joke here) due to a massive economy, taking bases in such unlikely places as Ireland and Morocco. Great Britain fell to the onslaught of massive U-Boat blitzes, and as a result, the exiled British Royal Navy and Japan have formed an unlikely (yet fascinating) alliance called the League of Free Nations, attempting to take out both the US as well as the Germans. Pretty neat "what-if," eh? Welcome to the wet and wild world of Enigma: Rising Tide.
Having not played the game prior to this Gold Edition release, I intend to treat this as a squeaky-clean new look at a game with which some of you may already be familiar.
From a control standpoint, Enigma: Rising Tide couldn't be simpler. Navigation can be handled by a single mouse-click, trusting your well-trained crew to follow out your orders, as any good skipper would. No tedious mucky-muck about setting dive planes; just tell your officers the requested depth, and voila!
If desired, you can take direct control over most all of your ships' systems, but generally speaking, your able crew will efficiently handle the mundane tasks, and they are certainly accurate in the anti-aircraft weapons department. This simplistic scheme frees you up to do the brainwork. Enigma is a tactical delight, offering almost unlimited combinations of surface, air and submarine units on each of the three sides of the war. Since it's so easy to actually fire a torpedo, you must be certain you know where it's going to go, and when you want to fire it. This is especially important when firing torpedoes from a non-submersible, when you have set the gyros of the torpedoes to achieve a correct path to the target.
By the same token, if you want to really get "hands-on," you can take direct control of any of the guns on your vessel, which is where the game switches over to being an FPS. Flak cannons, AA guns, and booming 3-, 4-and even massive 5-inch guns are yours to control, and it can be a nice "twitch" diversion in a prolonged encounter. However, your crew will usually be more accurate than you are.
The physics model employed here is first-rate. The bobbing of your vessel in rough seas is near-real enough that you almost feel your stomach lurch. In short, everything here just has that "feel" of historical and mechanical accuracy.
On the "eye candy" scale, this game is solid at the highest graphics level. The ocean is in full 3D, the attention to detail on the vessels is wonderful, and the more "arcade-y" segments recall some of the best moments in the Medal of Honor series, when you get to utilize mounted weapons.
The sound is a little bit of a problem to me. Your crew does respond vocally when commands are issued, but when important information comes to you from your "higher-ups," you are only notified with a Morse code beeping, prompting you to return to the HUD where you can read the incoming orders/intel. More voice work would be preferable, especially if this new data comes when you are in the middle of shooting down a flotilla of enemy planes.
Now we come to the thing that puts Enigma: Rising Tide head and shoulders above the crowd, and carries on the best traditions of Aces of the Deep: the voice command in this game is absolutely stellar! No more repeating the same words into a microphone over and over again so the system can recognize you. Let me tell you something: I recently lost a few front teeth (don't ask) and I now speak with a pseudo-lisp, but Enigma's voice-recognition software understood my every command straight out of the box. You could almost play this game completely hands off, since all of your major navigational and tactical commands can be done as simply as talking into your mic (a Logitech USB headset was used for purposes of this review). You will, however, need to touch the mouse if you wish to take part in the FPS stuff, and you can't really scan the horizon that well without one.
My only serious complaint about Enigma: Rising Tide Gold Edition is the total lack of multiplayer confrontation. I have been told that the original Enigma was an MMO affair, but in the incarnation I have, there isn't even an option to play single battles mano a mano.
What you have here is a superior tactical simulation, in an intriguing alternate reality, combining all of the best elements of these genres and more. To paraphrase a colleague, "Finding a great sim these days is like hitting the lottery." In the case of Enigma: Rising Tide Gold Edition, buy extra tickets, because this is a prize you will cherish for a long time.