Saturday, September 21, 2019

Game 10: The Hunt for Red October

 Tom Clancy. It seems so strange that twenty years ago the man was popular and we were all on the train for freedom and justice and bringing democracy to the world. Now all I ever see popularly consumed is James Patterson and other kinds of mystery novelists who judging by the content of their books I wonder why people call video games violent. A lot of romance novels too, have tons of stuff that proves anyone who throws stones at video games are living in glass houses. I'll stick to my Agatha Christies, my sci-fi and fantasy novels. Yes, Robert A Heinlein is never going to do any of that weird stuff*.
I'm strangely nostalgic for Tom Clancy despite not being a fan, he reminds me of the schoolboyish fascination I had with military equipment back in my youth, and something I associate with people from a more optimistic era. Its funny calling a series of decades in which we were afraid of nuclear war or terrorist attacks happening at any moment, but today despite having the greatest communication tool of all time, we are constantly told lies about our politican opponents in order to make us gibbering paranoid wrecks with no consideration for the past or the future. Its only natural I have some form of optimistic nostalga for a man who wanted to write about spies and submarines.
The Hunt for Red October is, of course, the first novel by Tom Clancy, it was made into a movie starring Sean Connery and James Earl Jones, and I was bored to tears by it. This is not based off the film, although there are games based off the film adaption. You can tell because they have the mug of a greatly beloved British actor on them. This does not. This has the same dry cover you'd expect to find on the original novels. Its the story of a Soviet commander who defecting to America with the submarine Red October, a experimental prototype nuclear sub with an advanced caterpillar drive, which is silent. He acomplishes this by on her maiden voyage with him as commander, he provides a bull explaination to the crew, his officers are in on it, and sets sail for Virginia, then Cuba. Of course, Cuba isn't in the cards.
Just as I was ready to call this quits, I accidentally deleted all my screenshots. As a result, the new screenshots are not entirely in line with what I've written.

I played the Amiga verison, at first. That's a bit more complex to explain than just telling you to do X and Y. It does work just fine with a seemingly standard imitation of an A500. The DOS version works just fine as is, although I had to play in CGA because the EGA version freaked out.

Firing up the game reveals it should be a bit outside of my bailey-wick, but I already wrote the intro to this and I want to keep it. Besides, it'll let us know what's up with Red Storm Rising** and 688 Attack Submarine later on. The submarine is already an instrument of stealth and strategy and this game takes that even further, you are supposed to use stealth and strategy to escape the oppressive Soviet Union and join the freedom and democracy loving Americans. Your men do not know of this plan, so you must be careful.
The main game takes place at this here map screen, with additional help from a short-range map screen. (telling you where your enemies are) Because I am once again playing this without a manual, I do not know if the Soviets are already aware of my plan or if the boat following me thinks I'm on his side. Well, no matter, let's see how our missile compliment handles.
Let's see what to put this under, shall we:
[  ] Playing a shooter
[  ] Playing a shooter badly
[  ] Playing a strategy game
[X] Playing a strategy game badly
I'm glad to see I'm only nine games in and we've gone pretty far off the reservation. I'm playing a game where I thought I'd be shooting things, and as it turns out the shooting part isn't first-person nor very possible for me to aim. I fired off like five missiles at this guy who may or may not be my enemy. Ultimate Submarine Combat Simulation my buttocks. So that leaves stealth and speed. As to speed the slowest Soviet craft at the time of this game is something like 29.5 knots...we can reach...37 knots. Interesting.
Starting over, in case I need those missiles for some reason. One thing I have to say is that this game is very slow. Sound, despite not being very sound-y, is very important to the game experience, so I can't exactly put on some music. I can't read or anything or I'd miss something vital happening. This leaves me with staring at a single screen for long stretches of time. Riveting, isn't it? I'm now essentially describing paint dry. Fitting as the start of the game has about an hour of dead time. Its about three seconds per in-game minute and I've got a full couple of days ahead of me.
There are two engines and two propellers. Nuclear and Diesel; Caterpiller and Propeller. The later of course, create more noise, but the propeller is faster than the caterpiller. You have four missiles, two fire straight ahead and two more which seem to just drop out of your sub. These, of course, are probably completely useless to me. Other ships fall under various categories, but I find it safe to assume that engaging with any of them will result in my death. There are also mines, but that's an assurance, not a safe assumption.
It takes me til 8:16 or something in-game to finally get away from the high tips of Norway. Next stop Iceland. A few more mines. Hey, I can get through these, so I gun it. As it turns out, gunning it through mines is a terrible idea. I die a few more times, once instantly after I reload. Thanks, fellas, thanks a lot. Too boring to solely focus on, too involved to not solely focus on. Thusly, I assume that saving only saves time and location. Thanks for making the game so exploitable. Hopefully I won't need it.
Now I guess would be as good as time as any to discuss essentially the main screen, the nearby map. It contains varying colors of blue, which I believe measure the depth of that particular area. The lighter areas make it less safe for you to gun it, which seems to be the primary attempt at limiting your speed in this simulation, as otherwise you could just go full speed all the way to Virginia or whatever. Beyond the mines and hostile ships.
Its December 8th 15:10 at this point and I've been playing this off and on for several days. Finally reached a point where its all dark blue. Progress. Just off the point of Iceland. Still at the point where I could literally play a different game in another window. I'm reading something while playing this, which you know, is just what we always wanted to hear about a video game. I mean, I tend to read books during other slow strategy games like Dwarf Fortress, but at least then I'm just doing it because there's downtime in the game. Here I'm just waiting for something to happen at all.
Since I'm on this neverending journey, I found a manual for the Apple II version. The site says its the manual for the Apple II version, anyway, but the manual says its for all versions. This proceeds exactly according to the book, I have to somehow meet with the US somewhere, where I will be able to defect to the glorious USA with Ronnie Reagan, apple pie and blue jeans. I also discover that soon I will have to deal with a leak in the nuclear power plant on-board. Soviet engineering, eh? The good news is I figured out how to make time go faster. Ah, progress.
Well, thanks to the time trick and a lack of anything underneath, I can go at full speed towards America. Three days in and I'm halfway there. And nothing's happened since Iceland beyond me seeing a ridge sometimes. A ridge here and there, requiring course adjustments. This leads me to question if I will see any action at the end. The game says I'm going to find Soviet subs near the US's bases, and the novel does involve an explosive confrontation with a sub after the ruse has almost been completed.
Now, its worth pointing out that the combat in this game is properly garbage. I know I explained the manual firing of torpedoes, but when you're near the surface, firing torpedoes against a ship on the surface, supposedly guided, it still comes out garbage. I could miss Mt. Everest twenty feet away from it. My previous experience is Battleship and Down Periscope, but aiming is legitimately hot garbage. Is this just a general problem with submarines, or is this a problem with Red October?
Of course, as I write this the nuclear drive gets thrown out of commission. I don't know whether to blame quality Russian engineering or the story. The Diesel engine requires frequent trips to the surface. I presume this is due to toxic gases building up inside the sub. I don't under how subs work at all, is what I'm saying. At this point I think I'm just going to give a token effort towards any subs that try to sink me and resort to save-scumming.
It doesn't take long for me to get close to the coast of America. So close, but how far away am I? Answer?
Ah, Maine, just how I remember it.
Right on the coast. I have touched America and no one has done anything about it yet. Now what do I do? Am I too low? Too high? The manual is useless. Something eventually happens. I can't pass time quickly. Who is it? Who knows. I switch to stealth mode.
The ships that approach are American. Only took me so long. They send info on how to proceed and win this thing. I even get info on where the Soviets are. Or is it the American fleet? No matter. If nothing else, this is a really enjoyable minute and a half. Let's see where I have to go...
This seems easy. Will it be easy? Will I be able to find them? Is the game just jerking me around despite having no actual provisions to finding out where the real 33W and 75N is? Am I throwing all these questions out merely to pass my own time and pad out this review's word count?
A lot of ships arrive. They're not really doing anything. I'm not actually close to the contact point, having missed it slightly. I'm starting to get antsy. Surely the Soviets know roughly where I am and roughly where the US ships are. They're going to send someone after me, and I know that according to the manual any combat against Soviets while the US are in range will result in the US deciding I'd look good if I was Swiss, if you know what I mean. I don't know what's happening. I keep circling the contact zone and nobody tells me anything. None of the ships contact me. This goes on for much, much, much longer than it should. Actual hours. I get impatient and eventually end up beaching myself trying to find wherever it is I'm supposed to go to end this game already. I'll give the developers credit and say the long wait was something they couldn't fix, but this is objectively garbage. I'm pretty sure this has already reached the point where I've hit the eight hour mark. Another trip across the Atlantic it is then...By the way, this is roughly a two hour real-time experience with the proper speed.
Comrades, it was just a joke. Comrades? Comrades?
This time I follow the curvature of America. Sure, if this game was anything close to realistic I'd cause a bigger scene than a bunch of K-Pop fangirls locked up with their idols. Then, if it was realistic, something would fricking happen when I blow across the Atlantic full speed. Go past Florida...where's everybody? What happened? I'm about to hit Cuba. I think its Cuba, I don't know anymore with this map. By the way, when you use the periscope near land, it doesn't show anything other than sea. Quality work guys. You know, I've heard a lot of negative things about '80s British computer games. Like lots of absolute garbage that no one would ever play if they saw in-depth beforehand. This is mostly regulated to bad action games. Usually platformers or fighting games. This is really new ground I'm breaking here. I don't like it. Its more of a challenge to make an unfun and uninteresting strategy game.
After a while it starts to occur to me it may just be a problem with the Amiga version, we're not exactly playing the highest quality gaming experience here or anything. DOS it is. For some reason the EGA setting causes the game to crash so the CGA setting.
Make your own jokes here, I can't see anymore.
Kill me now. Its one thing to play a game made for CGA, but its another thing to play a game made for EGA downgraded to CGA. There's a reason why it took until EGA for the PC to take off as a gaming platform. I won't be rating this based on the DOS versions graphics and sound, but it is worth pointing out that both are terrible. I don't find anything I'm looking for and at this point I'm ready to call it a day. Ross Scott of Accursed Farms may like to finish games for his internet thing, especially for obscure ones without the ending documented online, but he's lucky if he gets through twelve games a year. He can afford to wait. I wanted to be done with this a long time ago. That's what I would like to do. Unfortunately, I deleted all my Amiga screenshots by mistake, so I get one final shot for this.
Now, I obviously didn't win this time around either. The game's a straight shot once you know what you're doing. Only two hours of waiting. The problem is you absolutely have to find US ships before you hit the US coast. They're obviously not patroling anywhere around the obvious route for a Soviet submarine to invade. I'm sure if I cared I'd check more along Greenland or France for some, maybe further south along the Atlantic than I've been. I'm sure there's a way for the game to be beaten, I just don't care to enter the developer's head to find out.

I guess its time to rate it, as part of my grand shooting game project. You might be saying, "But Morpheus, this isn't a shooting game, why are you rating it?" Well, three reasons, I spent time on it, I started this with the knowledge that it would be the first Amiga game I play for the blog and I don't really care, we've got some other submarine games coming up, better start with something. Even if its garbage.

You get torpedoes. Non-specific torpedoes. Ultimate Submarine Combat Simulation my buttocks. 0/10

Effectively, there are no real enemies, in the sense that there's nothing you have a decent shot at killing. Some technical effort was put in making each individual ship, but, these are functionally the same in combat terms. You fight an enemy, you will probably die. 1/10

The US does or does not qualify depending on circumstances. They're...something... 1/10

Each time you reload the game you get a different scenario/layout. Meaning you can save just before a thousand missiles are about to hit your vessel, but you reload and nothing is there. The opposite can happen too. The game itself is a long slog across the Atlantic that never changes beyond layouts. Effectively, there are no levels. Also, the terrain is extremely questionable and I can go across the green area much longer than I should be able to. 0/10

Player Agency:
You have a great many options available to you, even if most of these are solely useful to whatever situation you are in. I didn't really use most of them, but it is better to have some options that might not be so useful rather than lack options that would be. There's no real way to measure what direction a particular area is from you, however, which is a minus. 5/10

There is no interactivity with the game world. 0/10

I don't feel like I'm on a submarine, I feel like I'm playing a simulation of what someone thought a submarine would feel like. If I have to spend time doing something else while the game is going on,  0/10

While it does look nice on a surface level, when you get down to it it looks rather questionable. The geography on the main map looks wrong. The sea map is just a blur of blue color. I'm sorry, but I just look for more in my games. 2/10

There's not much story happening in the game, in fact, you mostly only get story whenever you crash. If I randomly came across this, I'd wonder what the hell was going on. 1/10

Bloops for shooting missiles, a buzzing sound for the propeller. 1/10

That's 11. Let's just adjust that down to 9. That being this really isn't a good strategy game either. It is the very definition of a video game as a pointless time-waster. How ironic it's the adaption of a novel. Thinking about it, I don't know how you would adapt the novel into a good game. Oh, sure, you could certainly make it into a competent game. Fix the ending issues, map, maybe something happens New Yorkers or Icelanders see a sub barrelling through. That'd make it competent. But good? Maybe in the downtime try to ferret out any moles. I mean, you still got problems, but then its just a crummy Covert Action-type of game, without a career mode.
Hmm, maybe as a single scenario...

Next time, the finale of A-10 Tank Killer. Probably.

*This is of course, sarcasm. Science fiction and fantasy, being the domain of weirdos, has just as weird sexual and violent content as James Patterson's novels and most romance novels. But the point is that the more popular novels frequently contain content that people might actually imitate, as opposed to the content in Friday or Neuromancer. Mostly. Weirdoes being weirdoes, there are the crazies who take the absurd into the real.
**Also a Tom Clancy adaptation.

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