Buy 'DANGEROUS WATERS': PC
The popularity of the simulation genre has steadily declined for the past several years. Flight simulators, tank simulators, and submarine simulators all used to be a staple of the PC gaming scene. Unfortunately, with the rise of the first-person shooter and real-time strategy game, the sale of realistic combat sims declined. Thankfully, there remains a hardcore group of gamers who continue to demand titles like Sonalyst Combat Simulations' Dangerous Waters. S.C.S. and Battlefront.com are a niche developer and publisher who have teamed up to bring us quality games that'll likely never be commercial successes but are certainly masterpieces of gameplay.
Dangerous Waters, although it possesses all the hallmarks of a game, can hardly be called "only a game." The title is a simulator at heart, allowing the player to command a number of different naval and air platforms. Several submarines, a frigate, an airplane, and a helicopter can all be controlled by the player – 12 controllable platforms in all. This brings considerable variety to the game, allowing you to experience battles from almost every viewpoint. For instance, as a submarine, you'll often be tasked with escaping detection by surface forces, or to destroy a ship. As the helicopter or plane, you'll be searching for submarines and trying to protect the fleet from the undersea threat. As the ship, you can launch the helicopter and also hunt for subs, as well as become a threat in a battle between surface vessels.
At the start of the game, you'll be able to take advantage of several different options. There is a full-fledged dynamic campaign, in which you can participate in several missions, leading up to a climactic finish. Depending on the actions that you take, the next missions can be altered. If you sink a ship in one mission, it'll be out of action for the next. Alliances between countries can be altered with the launching of one torpedo. While your mission objectives are clearly laid out for you at the beginning, you can receive updates throughout the game by using your radio room. It really makes you feel like you're the commander in charge of your vessel or aircraft, receiving your orders and carrying them out to the best of your ability.
There are also single missions that you can play through, each one playable from several different platforms or sides. Quick missions throw you into a simple scenario of play. Another option is the mission editor, which gives you free reign to create your own missions using the over 270 realistically modeled ships, planes, and submarines. Choose which of the 12 player platforms you want the players to be able to control, and only your imagination will limit you. Want to simulate a showdown between the Chinese and United States in the Gulf of Mexico? It's possible. How about a battle between the British and Indian navies off the coast of South Africa? It's also possible. The amount of options is staggering, and fan-created missions will likely lend this title legs to run on for many years to come.
Once you start your mission, you'll likely be amazed and confused by the incredible realism provided by Dangerous Waters. Submarines have sonar arrays, helicopters have magnetic anomaly detectors, and ships model their top speeds, buoyancy and weapons loadouts with insane accuracy and realism. When you start controlling your platform of choice, you'll be overwhelmed by the amount of detail placed into the game. Thankfully, you won't have to control every operational aspect on your own. You can set the autocrew options to take care of some of the more complicated tasks, like reading the sonar displays and plotting firing solutions for the torpedoes. Or, if you're really adept, you can turn them off and take care of everything on your own.
Getting into the action is easy. Courses are set, speeds dialed in, and weapons launched with just a few clicks of the mouse. The only thing that you'll need to possess is the patience to wait for your targets to get in range, or wait for your sonar men to identify a target, or wait for any number of other things to happen. You'll be doing a lot of waiting around, and although there is a time compression, it still doesn't seem to make time pass fast enough. Once things get hectic, you'll start having fun. Launching countermeasures, torpedoes, turning frantically, and trying to avoid a trip to Davey Jones' locker is all part of the experience.
Dangerous Waters is good looking for a simulation title. The water is pixel shaded, and moves realistically, tossing ships about as they move. Each of the units in the game is modeled after its real life counterpart as closely as possible, so you can be sure that when you're looking at an aircraft carrier, it's just like the real thing. The menus and different stations are simple enough to navigate, but you can take care of almost everything from the main map view if you like. The only real gripe I had about the graphics is the lack of a realistic damage model for the different ships. When you damage a ship, it shows flames for a while and then they disappear. Smoke trails for a bit, and then goes out. The only evidence that it has been damaged is a numerical representation of damage level and a slight change to the model; they never break up when sinking or linger on the surface trailing smoke and flames. If you're playing from a submarine and looking through the periscope, it's near impossible to tell if your target has been damaged at all.
The sound is pretty simple as well, consisting of sonar pings, engine noises, radar sweeps, and appropriately-accented crewman repeating your orders. There is a musical soundtrack as well, which amps up when you're in a combat situation. It's pretty basic, but out of the way enough that you don't feel the need to turn it off, unless you're trying to really get into your role as a captain. There's even an option to use voice commands to operate the game! If you turn on this option, you can speak into a microphone and bark orders to your crew. Pretty neat, and it's great to see the option provided.
There is a multiplayer option, and you can get online to play or play over a local area network. The options are almost the same as the single player aspect, except for the fact that you can't compress time, leading multiplayer games to take a very long time to complete. It's still a lot of fun though, and if you can find someone online to play, you'll have a blast.
Despite the overwhelming number of things Dangerous Waters does right, there are a few things that can be annoying. Occasionally, the music would cut in and out. Sometimes, the screen would go black for an instant before the graphics would reappear on screen. The sonar autocrew wouldn't identify vessels for a long time, but by taking over manually, I was able to get an accurate representation of my target much quicker. The weapons crew doesn't automatically reload empty tubes. Overall, these complaints are a minor drop in the bucket, but they deserve to be mentioned.
Dangerous Waters is a genuine hit in a world that will never appreciate it. It's only available to order from Battlefront.com, which means that most of the general public won't ever be aware of its existence. It's all a sign of the times, but as long as these small developers and publishers are willing to create and sell games of this caliber, there'll be willing buyers. If you crave strategy and realism, Dangerous Waters is a simulation that'll have you playing for years to come. It's a whole lot of fun and will appeal to everyone who's ever wondered what it'd be like to take command of your own ship, submarine, or aircraft and engage in combat with the enemy.
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