The key word to highlight here is the word ARCADE, this is an action game paired down to give you a flavour of submarine combat, but to free you from the shackles of all the Silent Hunter skills you may have acquired over the years. The blurb describes the “Vertical Axis of Combat”, by which it means you have depth of water, it fails to mention that you only have three depths of water to play in namely, Surface, Periscope Depth and Deep Water. You have an endless supply of torpedoes, but only forward facing, I haven’t come across any aft torpedo tubes in the 5 or 6 sub types there is. You have sonar, that shows you colour coded threats, and it retracts in range the deeper you are. But ultimately, surface boats show up as large dots, and underwater enemy subs show up as large arrows, giving you an idea of their orientation and hence their torpedo tubes.
The graphics are nice enough, if a bit last generation – I could quite easily imagine this game on the original Xbox – and it would have been a stunner. But coming from the likes of Battlestations Pacific to this game is a big step down graphically. The presentation is very much leaning on the indie side of rough and ready, not a lot of polish in the menus or the options. Functional would sum it up.
The single player has you pitted against scenarios where you take out specific target ships or fend off air attacks from fighters and bombers. When surfaced, you can use the deck flak gun in first person to try and down the waves of flying peril. Its sufficiently satisfying to warrant its inclusion, but don’t try and take on surface enemy ships with it. There are obstacles such as mines and coastlines in your way to make navigating more interesting, although in most scenario’s your area of play seems fairly limited, and often I got a sense of piloting a toy sub in a bathtub. Hence my weak stab at the games title, with the tide mark reference.
The multiplayer is very basic, two modes, timed or score. You battle player subs over a given time period, or until one player reaches a score limit. There are a number of maps that can be played and I believe you can have up to 4 players in a game. What seemed very odd to me was that the multiplayer game was sub vs sub. Surely a multiplayer sub game would include players in the normal cat and mouse chase of ships with depth charges and subs with torpedoes fencing it out in the old briney. No. There can be ships on the multiplayer maps but they only serve as additional annoyance to make navigation through the bubble bath a bit more interesting. There didn’t seem to be any gain from taking them out during a multiplayer match. In this game, you have to align the front of your sub up with the enemy sub and make a torpedo hit on a moving sub. Remember that sub can be in one of three planes of depth. So your offensive or evasive manoeuvres not only involve pitch but yaw too. No roll available.
The sub vs sub game devolves into a game where you sit on the surface for as long as you can, to get the longest range sonar impression, until you spot the enemy arrow. Then dive to deep water depth, orient yourself facing toward that enemy, and as soon as you can see them, pop a torpedo off in their general direction. If you wait long enough to get a good view of them, you risk having a torp coming your way also. If all doesn’t go to plan, then they’re upon you, and its a game of turning circles and who can plant a fish in the other persons side or backside. It interesting for about an hour. After which the tactics remain the same. Every encounter. Only spiced up by attempting to lure the enemy sub under a depth charging ship, or encourage them to sail through a mine field. On one level extra points could be gained by intercepting radio transmissions by tapping buttons to a mini-game, another distraction to add to the variety I suppose, when the variety is quite sparse anyway.
I’m not sure whether you could fire a torpedo across the vertical axis, ie. from deep water fire a torp upwards to hit a sub now at periscope depth. The few matches I had usually involved being on the same level and catching my opponent with a slithery fish from a sideways angle. I think the multiplayer game would have been much more effective if a player could be a depth charger frantically plunging their payload to break the silent sub beneath them.
Overall, the game screams “budget” and the price reflects that emotion. Its not bad if you want a cheap arcade ride, with some diving, torpedoing and a bit of flak cannon destruction for good measure. If you’re looking for a “deep” experience (pun intended), then this is not it. I’ll play through the campaign though, the mechanics are just submarine enough for it to whet my appetite and install Battlestations Pacific again.