Crash Dive!12 Jan 2015 0
Submarine games have been a staple element for the gaming industry since the ?Drop- a-quarter-and-swivel-the-periscope? machines in arcades of sixty years ago. Yet, serious sub sims were only accessible to the general public with the advent of home computers. Several since the 1980s have been a source of interest for gamers and a target for criticism by experts in submarine operations. How would this broad scrutiny approach Panic Ensues Software?s Crash Dive, available for iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire and Android?
Beauty is in the Eyes of the Periscope
A war patrol begins with a fairly ordinary map of the North Sea between Cornwall and the Bay of Biscay. The players? sub, evidently a Type VIIC, is a white dot and is guided by pressing and moving a yellow reticule. Possible destinations are green resupply points, red splotches indicating reported convoys and the home port of Lorient. The time and fuel status is in a band on top ? pretty standard stuff. This humdrum feel changes when a pop-up reporting freighters and escorts appears. When player?s engage, the view is immediately changed to the periscope. The environment effects in this game are marvelous. Depending on the time of day and weather, the sea can be like glass under a clear sky with fluffy clouds or dark, high waves with white caps under a leaden over cast. Dawns and sunsets are beautiful mixtures of yellow, orange and pinks. The view from the bridge of a surfaced sub shows waves breaking over the bow and the stern?s wake. Such features are not merely eye candy. A nice day lets players spot smoke on the horizon easier but also allows escorts to spot periscopes and torpedo wakes faster. The night may blur targets but the hunt is safer.
The lonely U-boat seeks prey.
A fine target appears at dusk. Note the target solution below.
Surface ships are portrayed with great accuracy for freighters, tankers, Liberty ships and liners along with combat vessels ranging from corvettes to carriers. The first view is usually silhouettes with medium detail but more details become more visible as the sub draws closer or when the periscope?s magnification is increased. A truly frightening image is the bow of an escort speeding down on the player?s position. Combat shows how dynamic the graphics are. Torpedoes betray themselves with wakes and their hits are marked by glowing fires. Hits from the deck guns are dark grey puffs with debris flying in all directions and misses by water spouts. Stricken ships have fires that spread and fire distress rockets as they turn turtle or break in two, sinking beneath oily waves. Their cargo is flotsam as the sub passes.
Deck gun fire has crippled this ship.
This stricken ship fires a distress flare.
This destroyer is far, far too close!
Players will have to submerge from time to time with the screen changing to a plotting chart. This zoomable chart is blue with concentric circles marking the distance at 250 meter intervals. The submarine is in the middle shown as an outline, its heading marked with a thin line. The approximate track of the convoy is dark stretch marks with large Xs showing possible locations of ships sinking or sunk. Attacking escorts leave nothing to doubt about their position as they are seen from a birds-eye view, careening to where they think the sub is. Sonar soundings are expanding red circles while depth charge explosions are red dots.
The boat submerges beneath an attacked convoy.
A destroyer will attack if a bearing shot fails.
Sound is very good. Battle stations are called with the iconic ?Aahh-ooga? and whooshes accompany torpedo launches. Hits have the usual exploding noise and the deck gun barks. Changes in speed are marked with bells. Sonar has pings and depth charge explosions have a frightening clang that defies description. The learning curve isn?t that hard but the four-part tutorial helps.
Softly, Softly Catchee Convoy
Action in Crash Dive is made accessible with a sort of a heads-up display on all screens. In the upper left corner are a button to speed action to 16x normal speed and a safety indicator light. The light is green when the boat is undetected and red when detection occurs. A red circle surrounds the light that rolls counterclockwise to black as danger dissipates. Along the bottom is a toggle to switch between periscope and map view and a toggle for raising and lowering the periscope. The battery charge meter is next followed by lights indicating the readiness of the four bow torpedo tubes and the single aft tube. The buttons for launching torpedoes, firing the deck gun and deploying decoys come next. Arrows to dive and rise bracket the depth meter. A compass showing the sub?s heading is on the end. The right edge has buttons for three forward speeds, stop and reverse with present speed displayed below them. This configuration allows quick control of the vessel. Over the bottom control bar is a band displaying a sighted ship?s name, class, speed, range, heading and tonnage. On the first three difficulty levels, another display shows targeting solutions: red when a torpedo hit is impossible, turning yellow when calculating and green when targeted. On the hardest, ?sim?, level or when the periscope is down, this handy tool isn?t there.
Engagements usually start with vessels in the periscope?s field of view. Swiping the screen swivels the scope to other vessels in the convoy. When a ship is in the scope?s center, a small yellow plume with the range appears and the target solutions calculation begins. Tapping the compass brings the sub?s heading to the direction of the view. A light under the fire button turns green and a tap launches the torpedo. Getting a solution on more than one ship before firing allows faster fire when the time comes. Pressing the button longer fires a spread of three torpedoes. The plume now shows the torpedo?s run time. Using the deck gun is like hunting geese; players lead the target while the crew handles trajectory. Several shells are required to sink a ship but the ammo locker is well supplied.
Escorts will move in soon after attacks and players will want to submerge or at least lower the periscope. Action on the plot chart is very different. Launching a decoy and then moving away is a good idea. Bold captains, however, may want to try a ?bearings only? shot by tapping on a target and using a range line to fire. Such shots are chancy and will give the boat?s position away; better to keep diving, turning using arrows on the screen and launching decoys at different depths and spots. With luck, the depth charges will only kill fish and the safety light will turn green, allowing use of the ?disengage? menu option.
Inevitably, depth charges will cause damage. Damage is shown on health bars representing seven areas and functions including flooding, engine, and torpedo compartments. When the bar is green, the damage is not critical and a spinning wrench indicates the crew is repairing things. Some damage may not be repairable by the crew but not fatal to the sub. These functions can be repaired at a supply point. Damaged areas are prioritized with flooding always the highest priority. Players can move an area up on the list but flooding should always be ?job one? as the sub will be crushed below 200 meters.
Bracketed by depth charges, the U-boat is severely damaged.
Players? tactics will change with the difficulty level. On ?easy?, convoys are lightly escorted and slow. The sub can sink the escort and then surface to sink the merchant ships with shell fire. Caution is recommended because some ships may get enraged and attempt to ram. The next two levels feature more and smarter escorts. Submariners should stalk the convoy until dusk, take out one or two targets, dive and continue the hunt. On the ?sim? level, the basic tactics are the same but the lack of the solution calculator puts pressure on players? ability to estimate time and distance. Practicing on the random and challenge mission will hone skills.
Not even a night attack is safe.
Purists may bemoan the lack of oxygen limits, voice acting and the unrealistic choice of targets such as the USS Saratoga. Maneuvering and resupply may be too simple and one wishes to call up a wolf pack. The greatest omission is the lack of air operations. Nonetheless, the detail and excitement crammed into this $6.99 USD tablet game is astounding. Mobile gamers should put this jewel high on their ?must buy? list.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad