Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising
Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising is a 3D shooter, real-time strategy hybrid whose story takes place in the year 2032. World Peace has finally been achieved, yet that peace is now being threatened by a "cabal of Old World magnates." These are the folks who apparently used to run the world and are not happy sitting around enjoying the calmer waters. They are looking to return the world to its chaotic recent past, for profit of course, from a chain of artificial islands in the South Pacific.
In order to prevent this from happening, the good guys (that’s you) must rely on the last of the Adaptive Cruisers (read as aircraft carrier), the Antaeus. Equipped with an onboard nanofactory capable of generating tanks, attack choppers and fighter planes in mere seconds, the Antaeus has been rescued from the sea floor and, with a little TLC, will soon be ready to battle those power-hungry "death-loving military men." The question is... in a world without weapons, who would have the necessary skills to operate these death machines? Well, luckily, the former crewmembers of the Antaeus each had their individual consciousness captured on a "Soulcatcher chip," and those preserved intelligences are going to help you on your way back to World Peace. Then the power-mad cabal will just have to learn to enjoy playing Parcheesi or something instead of creating anarchy.
If you’re thinking at this point that the storyline is A) a little far-fetched or B) full of holes, you may be onto something. Still, let’s see how the game plays before drawing any conclusions...
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
As I mentioned, Antaeus Rising is a hybrid of 3D action and real-time strategy. The game allows you to create military and scavenging units from your Construction Room, command your units from the War Room (the RTS part) or through the Command Interface, or to personally control any unit in a 3D representation of your environment.
So far, so good. The idea of mixing the RTS and 3D shooter genres is not a new one, but it promises the gamer a good variety of options for creative control of the missions. The basic ideas behind the gameplay and interface of Antaeus are sound. However, the implementation of those ideas is somewhat lacking.
For starters, there are two big gameplay/interface liabilities for this title right out of the box: no multiplayer support and no joystick support. No multiplayer option is a huge setback for any game in either the 3D shooter genre or in the RTS genre. No joystick support is enough to make one raise his eyebrows when he needs to fly helicopters in a 3D environment using a keyboard and mouse.
The interface is fairly confusing at first, but you will get the hang of it by playing through the first few missions. (There are tutorial text boxes you can use during the missions to get your bearings, although there are no separate tutorial training grounds.) Using the mouse and keyboard, you will create, equip and command your units through each mission. From the War Room, you can view the mission map in a ? view and give your units orders or movement waypoints. You cannot, however, control your units in real time from the War Room. Basically, you give them orders or set waypoints, then click "Leave the carrier" and watch them do (hopefully) what you asked of them.
If you want a little more hands-on action, you can take control of any unit in a first-person, 3D view, where you can do things like dogfight enemy choppers or roll your scavenger over hills to gather energy units from the bits of metal found lying (rather conveniently) around the enemy base. Of course, dogfighting enemy choppers using keyboard controls is tough enough to make you want to stick to the War Room controls and just watch the computer fight your battles for you, at which point you naturally lose a lot of personal involvement in the game.
Another option is to use the Command Interface, which lets you give quick commands (such as attack, pick up object, or scavenge) from a small square area at the upper right of the screen. After being trained to use the War Room and 3D controls for the first three missions, I found myself hesitant to learn the Command Interface, and when I did learn it, I often returned to the War Room to set waypoints and give commands there. The only real advantage I saw to using the Command Interface was that you could use it more easily in the heat of battle and wouldn’t have to jump back to the War Room and lose sight of your units. But since most missions were fairly easy to beat with smart construction and good waypoint planning, the Command Interface didn’t seem to be a very beneficial feature much of the time.
Around the fourth mission, I started having trouble with the game spontaneously quitting on me. Needless to say, this can be very frustrating when you’re in the middle of a mission. I searched for a patch, but it seems that as of the writing of this review, there isn’t one.
Experienced gamers will find the enemy AI pretty easy to beat. As I mentioned previously, if you are patient and keep building units and scavenging resources, you can wear down the opposition in most missions without feeling your pulse quicken.
The 3D engine and virtual environment are among the few saving graces of Antaeus Rising. When you are personally controlling one of your nanotechnology-created vehicles, you can easily become impressed by the reality and details of your surroundings. The explosions are realistic and the movies well done... Church, the female part of the mission-briefing team, is actually pretty hot for a 3D model, but in a too-good-to-be-true, Lara Croft way. I thought that the speech animations on the models could use a little work. They seemed at times more like foreign-film overdubs than real representations of speech (have you ever seen "Thunderbirds"?). Still, on the whole, you can tell that more work went into the graphical elements of Antaeus Rising than into any other feature.
The music and audio quality are about par for the course. During the missions, music was limited (which I usually deem a good thing). That was the right choice here. The sound effects are good enough to get you into the action, but otherwise not spectacular. Basically, nothing in this category stood out in a good or bad way, so I’d call the sound features adequate.
Minimum: Pentium II 266MHz, Win95, 4x CD-ROM drive, 64MB RAM, Keyboard, Mouse, 16 bit sound card, and a 8MB AGP Video card.
Recommended: Pentium II 350MHz, Win98, 16x CD-ROM drive, 128MB RAM, Keyboard, 3-button mouse, 3D sound card, and a fast 16MB video card.
Optimal: Pentium III 700 or AMD Athlon 700 and beyond, WinME, 36x CD-ROM drive, 128MB RAM, Keyboard, 3-button mouse, Creative SoundBlaster Live!, and a 64MB AGP video card.
If you do decide to purchase this game, you may want to hide the user’s manual as soon as you can. You will learn more from actually playing through the first few missions and, despite the on-screen suggestions to consult the manual for more details, you won’t find much in there that you can’t find with less confusion by playing the game. As an example of the manual deficiency: It verbally takes you through a piece-by-piece description of the Antaeus, but doesn’t give you an illustration to coincide with those descriptions.
Some suggestions toward a better manual: more illustrations and screenshots; more explicit detail on the game interface, especially the Command Interface.
Originality / Cool Features
The originality in this title comes from its use of the 3D action/RTS hybrid genre. Theoretically, that should give you many gameplay options and interesting angles from which to command and view your battles. However, the lack of need to personally control units wipes out a lot of the 3D action appeal, and the RTS interface is basically just a waypoint-setting screen.
There is some rough language in the game, which can be turned off by toggling the Swearing option in the Options menu. Parents will want to consider setting this option before letting their kids play the game, as the default for this option is Swearing On. There is also some cursing in the between-mission movies, which you unfortunately cannot remove. Other than that, there isn’t much to complain about regarding graphic violence or sexuality.
You can tell that the folks from Rage/Interplay had some interesting ideas when creating Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising. The game provides what at first appears to be an interesting mix of 3D action and real-time strategy. Yet, although the 3D environments feel genuine and promise the most fun, I found myself hesitating to command my units with keyboard/mouse controls, since the computer AI can handle it much more efficiently... and that kind of defeats the whole purpose.
Ultimately, a gap-filled and very linear storyline, a lack of any sort of multiplayer or joystick support, and the relative ease of mission completion undermine any real value here for the gamer.