|a game by||Jane's Combat Simulations|
|Editor Rating:||8/10, based on 1 review|
|User Rating:||8.7/10 - 3 votes|
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Submarines have always fascinated me, especially nuclear submarines. The deadly balance of stealth and military power make these boats the most feared weapons platform anywhere and the 688(I) is the best available -- faster, quieter, and more deadly than any other boat in the water. Jane's Combat Simulations' 688(I) Hunter/Killer is the most realistic submarine simulation I've ever tried, providing an in-depth look at how undersea warfare is really played.
To succeed you will have to master the control systems, learn how to use the sonar and weapons to develop target solutions, and keep your boat repaired and supplied with the latest weaponry. It will take all your skills to complete the tour of duty and earn your dolphins to become a true sub-mariner.
Unlike many other sub simulations 688(I) doesn't sacrifice realism to be more playable -- this is a no-holds-barred game that focuses on giving naval junkies the most accurate simulation of real-life submarine operation possible. You must spend your time monitoring the different stations within the submarine and directing your crew's activities. The designers at Jane's realize this can become overwhelming, so they have provided assistants to help with sonar tracking, target management and fire control. You can select either a standard assistant or an "expert assistant" for any of the three posts. For the most challenging game you can turn off all of the assistants -- you alone act as captain and crew.
Nuclear subs rely on stealth -- constantly popping up to the surface and looking through the periscope or running a radar sweep can quickly turn you into prey rather than predator. Fortunately, one of the best features in 688(I) is its sonar. Sonalysts Inc., one of the top technical and analytical support groups for the United States Navy, worked with the folks at Jane's to ensure that the game matches the capabilities of a real sonar system. Unlike other sub games that only include a single sonar display, 688(I) gives you an entire sonar suite with several different modes of operation.
A front-mounted spherical array, side-mounted hull array, and towed array all feed sonar data to the operator, who then can analyze the information using five different modes. The first is a broadband waterfall display, used to detect and track contacts. Second is the narrowband sonar, which is useful for identifying the unique frequency signature of a vessel. A demodulated noise (or DEMON) waterfall display allows you to determine the speed of a contact. Active intercept sonar analyzes the frequency and location of sonar pings from other ships and subs that are actively searching for you. And finally, the classic active sonar allows you to send pings out to detect surface and submerged contacts. The information gathered from all five types of sonar can be critical for a target motion analysis and for identifying friendly ships from unfriendly contacts.
There are also several other stations in 688(I) including radar, radio room, periscope, and a pilot station where course, depth, and speed are controlled. The periscope station gives you the choice of two different periscopes -- one with night vision enhancement and one without. The radar station gives you the standard sweeping display and can be used to locate surface contacts or aircraft when the sub is on or near the surface. In the radio room you receive or send radio messages and monitor enemy radar transmissions. A target display panel provides a computer-generated topographical map of the area around your sub and provides a plot of the position of all targets you have detected.
The target motion analysis station (TMA) is where you enter contact information like speed, heading, and course, and try to determine a firing solution. This station is very difficult to master; I found I usually had to turn on the TMA expert assistant -- I never did get the hang of plotting positions accurately enough to hit anything. 688(I) is designed so that the player never needs to see anything an actual sub commander wouldn't see, but for those who must have a 3D view, there are external cameras available that allow you to see your sub from the outside.
The missions available in 688(I) are fantastic. You may be asked to sink enemy vessels, launch missiles at surface targets, or rescue a downed pilot. The game includes several training missions that teach you the skills necessary for survival. These missions are accompanied by in-depth tutorials in the manual, giving you a thorough overview of the game's controls and options. There are also several single-mission scenarios and a fifteen-mission campaign. If that's not enough, there is a scenario editor that allows you to create your own missions, providing unlimited game play.
Overall, the graphics in 688(I) are very good -- the control panels have a scratched, used look that make them feel more real, and the sonar and radar displays update smoothly. The periscope views are also well done -- ships actually rock up and down with the waves, rather than sitting there like they were nailed to the bottom. The explosions on sinking vessels also look great. The one display that doesn't look good is the 3D view. No matter how deep your sub is, it looks like it's just a few feet under the surface. But since using the 3D view is not required, the poor graphics didn't usually bother me. There are also full-motion "news footage" video sequences scattered throughout the campaign that help to fill out the story line and provide background for your missions.
The sound effects are great, especially in the sonar suite. Each ship has a unique sound -- if you play long enough, you could probably start recognizing ship classes just by listening. Other ship systems are also good -- the periscope and antenna masts slide into place with hollow thumps, loading and unloading weapons gives you clanks and bangs, and when you crank the sub's speed up to flank you can hear the propeller churn. This is one game where playing with a good set of headphones really helps -- if you can hear noise from your sub, you can be sure the enemy can too.
The one spot where the sound falls short is the game's music. It is too upbeat for the tense gameplay -- I preferred to shut it off and stick in an appropriate CD like the soundtrack from Hunt for Red October.
Multiplayer Support / Experience
For those who master the computer-controlled opponents, 688(I) offers several multiplayer options. Up to eight players can compete over the Internet or on a LAN, or you can go with a two-player Sub-to-Sub battle via modem. Hunting "real" targets brings a whole new level of tension to the game. There is even an online group, the SeaWolves, that can help you find opponents ready and willing to puncture your hull.
Like most military simulations, reading the manual for 688(I) is required for successful play. In addition to several tutorial sections the documentation includes information on all ships you will encounter and interesting background on submarine operations and tactics. The game also has an extensive online database of military hardware. The one thing missing from the manual is an index -- without one finding the information you need can be difficult, if not impossible.
Required: Windows 95, Pentium 90 or faster, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, DirectX compatible sound and video card. LAN play requires IPX or TCP/IP. Internet and modem play require a 28.8 or faster connection.
688(I) is probably the closest I'll ever get to running a submarine -- this simulation feels like the real thing. A lot of work has gone into making the game as accurate as possible; casual players will probably find it too realistic, but for naval buffs this is a must-have.