There Are Very Few Games That Draw admiring glances from the entire office these days. Heads no longer turn when a title with native 3Dfx support shows up (with the odd exception) because we've pretty much come to expect most new games to be accelerated in one way or another. Despite this increasing feeling of indifference to the new breed of 3D games, Sub Culture brought the office to a standstill with its breathtaking graphics and mesmerising underwater environment. There were plenty of 'oohs' and 'aaahs' as the pretty little fishes swam around the place and the underwater inhabitants of Sub Culture went about their artificial lives. This sort of thing has been done before of course. Subwar 2050 and Archimedean Dynasty spring immediately to mind, but we've never seen a game that captures the feeling of a living breathing underwater universe so perfectly. It would seem that Sub Culture had everything going for it before this review got under way. All it needed was plenty of captivating and challenging gameplay to ensure itself a place in the PC hall of fame. You've probably guessed that this hasn't been the case (we know you look at the score first). So what went wrong? Well...
If looks could kill...
...Sub Culture would be the most dangerous videogame in town. You'll probably spend your first 30 minutes just wandering round the place in your ship marvelling at the fantastic graphics. Then you'll get bored and dash to the nearest city to get your first mission, which happens to be a training mission. This handy test-run teaches you how to manoeuvre your ship, collect some raw ore, and trade it at the refinery for credits. Not the most exciting mission in the world, but it teaches you the basics. Er, the problem is, of all the missions I tried, I didn't find any of them particularly exciting. Maybe it's simply the fact that underwater warfare is just too slow-paced to generate the kind of excitement players get from games like Wing Commander or TIE Fighter (although Archimidean Dynosty somehow managed to pull it off, as Paul Presley will readily point out). Maybe it's just the missions themselves (escort diplomats to a set location, go kill big nasty jellyfish, blow up misbehaving pirates etc). Whatever the reason, I found Sub Culture very, very pretty but, unfortunately, fairly predictable and tedious as far as the gameplay is concerned. However, Elite fans who fancy a couple of weeks beneath the ocean waves will be pleased to know there's more to the game than just blowing the hell out of everything. For example...
Sub Culture is home to many underwater cities (or colonies). Dock at one of these places and you can trade stuff for credits. It's not entirely dissimilar to Elite in that respect, or Privateer 2, or any of the million trading/ combat games out there. Buy stuff one place, sell it at a profit somewhere else, and use it to upgrade your ship or buy better weapons - you know the drill. The trading elements are a nice touch, but aren't enough to give Sub Culture the extra "something' it needs to drag it out of Averageville. The amount of weapons and upgrades available for your ship are fairly limited (there are only seven weapons in all) and it doesn't take long to get your ship kitted out with enough stuff to see you through most of the missions. Because of this, there's no real incentive for the player to spend time working out the best trade routes and checking out the prices of minerals and stuff and building up a large kitty - compare this to Privateer 2, where you can be playing the game for days and still be trying to get enough money together for that fantastic new ship you've got your eye on. I'm not saying Sub Culture is rubbish, just that it doesn't have enough challenge or variety to keep seasoned 3D action game fans happy. Having said that, there are probably people out there who will be happy with the slow (some might say thoughtful) pace of the game. There may even people who will be happy st to roam around the ne area looking at the little fishies. If you fit ! of these categories, Sub is the game for you. The you, stay well away.
Download Sub Culture
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Lovers of action/adventure games set entirely in an undersea environment have been quite lucky in the past year. First, Microsoft released Deadly Tide, which contained stunning 16-bit visual effects under the ocean (even though the gameplay lacked much player control as a straightforward rail shooter); then Blue Byte released Archimedean Dynasty, which added a richer and more flexible adventure plot to a beautiful deep sea environment; and now Ubi Soft has released Sub Culture (developed by Criterion Studios), which tops them all in video and audio effects as well as in gameplay. Like the other two, this new offering does not purport to be a simulation, so it would be unfair to compare it to the many submarine simulations on the market (which, by the way, do not focus much on depicting the underwater environment).
You play a freelance mercenary named Bubba Kosh (whose tiny home was just destroyed by a tin can carelessly tossed overboard by a human on a surface ship) who tools around in a miniature submarine in the midst of waterways that are the site of an ongoing bloody civil war among the Bohine, Procha, and Pirates clans. You try to survive and save the world from destruction. The aquatic world is filled with mutant creatures, interesting sea plants, and human debris. You undertake a series of missions in which trading and prospecting are essential for success.
Every aspect of Sub Culture is extremely well designed, from the options screen to the controls displayed while moving around in the submarine. Controlling the submarine takes a little getting used to, given all the abilities it has, but the controls are highly customizable. I could not imagine playing this kind of game without a joystick or a gamepad, as the keyboard and the mouse seem quite awkward.
The pace of the game is up to you, ranging from slow exploration to frenzied combat sequences. In the latter mode, the game is tons of fun: in one mission where you attack a rampaging "attack walker" the action was quite similar to a MechWarrior combat scene, only in Sub Culture the graphics are more spectacular and the environment a lot more multifaceted. Trading is the most cerebral part of the game, and through this process you use money gained from successful completion of missions to upgrade machinery or purchase tools, weapons, and commodities needed for future success in the game. Because prices and availability differ from place to place, successful trading requires quite a bit of strategic thinking.
All the creatures in the game have advanced artificial intelligence, allowing them to attack when provoked and flee when pursued. It is a lot of fun interacting with them and watching their reactions to differing moves you make; this capability stands in stark contrast to most games of this type where these creatures are simply window dressing, moving only in pre-programmed directions and impervious to anything the player does. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer mode to enhance the varying interactions even further.
The missions are quite varied and provide innovative and diverse challenges. There are 27 missions each divided into four stages. This is clearly not the kind of game you just whiz through in a couple of days. At times I had problems not only getting through missions but also locating key mission objectives. As you go through the game you can increase your armaments, but you begin with simply a "mini-zapper" that shoots out weak short-range stabs of electricity. You can switch between third-person and first-person perspectives, and this is often essential to see clearly what is going on or to interact properly with parts of the environment. You can save games, but only at the end of a mission.
The visuals in Sub Culture are simply stunning, setting a new standard for undersea graphics. Criterion's proprietary Dive game engine, based on its generic Renderware 3D library, provides the basis for the astounding beauty and realistic physics. Everything is done well, but I especially love the bubbles. However, this is only the case if you have 3D hardware acceleration (with the 3Dfx implementation as usual the best). as otherwise what you see loses much of its engrossing gorgeous qualities. Also, the superior nature of the graphics during gameplay contrasts with the rather average quality of the full-motion videos (the mediocre docking video becomes annoyingly repetitive over time) encountered during the game.
In contrast to many other games, Sub Culture focuses its graphical attention not on the moving creatures and objects in the ocean, which though beautiful are composed of a relatively small number of polygons, but rather on the background terrain. I cannot imagine seeing a more detailed dynamic ocean floor, more astounding changing lighting effects (including automatic switching between day and night lighting), or a more mesmerizing translucent ocean surface when one looks upward.
But the graphics contain some strange incongruities. The central character in the game, Bubba Kosh, looks like a Claymation refugee from a Saturday morning children's television show, and somehow this seems out of place when juxtaposed to the refined and serene undersea environment. When you destroy one of the attacking mutant sea creatures, it explodes into a bloody mess (presumably accounting for the "realistic violence" warning on the game box); somehow this kind of graphic carnage does not fit the rather peaceful spirit of the rest of the game.
The sound during the game is excellent, with wonderful mood music and realistic sound effects. But the whir of the submarine's engine can be a bit monotonous or irritating at times. Otherwise I loved the intriguing variety of atmospheric sound effects. The music is innovative, pensive, and engrossing. The whole audio tone of the game is understated rather than being loud, brash, and dominating.
The printed documentation consists of the usual black-and-white CD jewel case manual, but this one is very nicely done. It is very well organized and well written, and it provides extremely helpful instructions on how to approach a quite complex multi-layered game.
System Requirements and Comments
The minimum system requirements for Sub Culture are a Pentium 90 CPU, 16 MB RAM, 80 MB hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, 8-bit sound card, 256-color VGA or SVGA graphics card, and the Windows 95 operating system. These are about average requirements for this kind of game, but (as mentioned earlier) more than in most games you really need a 3D accelerator card to take full advantage of the graphics.
Aside from state-of-the-art graphics and sound, what really makes this game special is its innovative completely non-linear open-ended quality. You can pursue the missions in sequence, or you can just zoom around exploring and encountering interesting creatures of all sorts. Of course, this versatility has its drawbacks: it is not the very best adventure game, the very best action shooter, or the very best strategic challenge precisely because Sub Culture attempts to combine all three genres. While this game is a bit heavy on premeditated strategy for my personal taste, gaming fans of all stripes will find a ton of absorbing elements here to make it not only worth their while but actually one of their most enjoyable and memorable gaming experiences.
Snapshots and Media
- Black & White
- Black & White 2
- Discworld 2
- Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
- Hercs Adventures
- Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
- Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
- Pitfall: The Lost Expedition
- Ratchet & Clank
- Starfox Adventures
- The Adventures of Cookie and Cream
- The Curse of Monkey Island
- The Lion King: Simba's Mighty Adventure
- Tiny Toons Adventures: The Great Beanstalk
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Master Quest