Ok. Lets start by reducing the number of readers by 90%. If you are looking for action, the kind you saw on “The hunt for Red Oktober”, then look elsewhere. Sub Command is anything but action. If you don’t have any knowledge of sonar (and I’m not talking about the sonar anno 1944 but that of the current nuclear submarines), be warned that if you start playing Sub Command, you will have a huge problem. The printed manual just tells you how to install the game and gives you a list of all the features in the game and how to get there. If you want a detailed explanation of how all the stuff in your sub works, you’ll have to revert to the pdf manual on the CD (230 pages). There you’ll find out what each button and switch does and what you can expect to see on the different displays. But neither of the two manuals really teaches you how to use all that equipment in the best way to maximize the success.
For rookies, Electronic Arts has provided us with an automated crew. They take care of all the tasks. All you have to do is give orders where the sub should go. Very easy, isn’t it? Problem is that your crew is not top quality. The guys that operate the TMA (Target Motion Analyses), Fire Control and Radar do a pretty good job, but your sonar operator can barely detect a ship passing over your sub. And as a coincidence, this is the most tricky station to operate.
In Sub Command you have the choice between three submarine classes. Two from the USA, the well known 688I Improved Los Angeles Class, and the brand new Seawolf Class. The third one is Russian, the Akula Class. In fact there are two versions, the Akula I and the Akula II, but all the stations are the same, just some upgraded specifications and performance.
There are 23 single missions and one campaign. Actually, you can say that there are two campaigns, because you can play this campaign both from the Russian side (with the Akula) as from the US side (with the 688 or Seawolf). The tasks are very different, from the standard ‘hunt and kill’, to covert operations where you have to deploy Seals or retrieve defecting people, to pre-emptive strikes on land targets. These missions (and the campaign) are scripted to have some general structure, but the units are dynamical. This means that each time you play a mission, it will be a different mission. There is also a mission editor if you still want more.
Graphics : For simulations, the quality of the graphics is very important. But because all you do in Sub Command is stare at some consoles in a sub, the quality isn’t that critical as in e.g. a FPS or a flight sim. Sonalysts have added the possibility to add a external 3D view. It’s nice, not top quality, but sufficient. Note that the image you see is determined by the classification you give to a contact. So if you have a contact and you classify it as a civilian oil tanker, then the 3D image will show an oil tanker, even if it’s in reality an enemy sub. But since the game is oriented to the hard core sub simmer, this 3D view will be turn off, because a real sub commander doesn’t have this feature either.
Sound : The sound needs some improvement. The explosions of torpedo’s don’t exist, the pinging of active torpedo’s can be heard even if they are fading away and there is no collision sound. So if you hit something with your sub (e.g. ice) or run aground, it’s pure silence. Also, when you are at the sonar station, because you are supposed to have a head phone on, you expect to hear only the sonar sounds and not the humming of your subs nuclear engine.
Another thing I miss is the sound of helicopters or airplanes passing over. Normally the sonar should be able to hear a helicopter hovering around the subs locations. And for EA, the sea is dead, no whales or other animals to be heard.
Sub Command has some very realistic sonar simulated. In Jane’s 688(I) you could detect ships which were 50nm away, in Tom Clancy’s SSN (that’s a book) the Cheynenne (Los Angeles Class) was able to detect, identify and kill subs that are 30 km away, But here in Sub Command, you will have problems identifying contacts which are only 5 nm (9km) away. In the forums, there has been (and still is) a discussion if the settings aren’t a little bit too low, but the hard core sub simmers claim that this is realistic. The problem I have with it, is regarding the rookies who never played such a game. EA give them an automated sonar crew, but, like I said before, his performance is pittyful. A better solution for a beginners level, was to increase the performance of the sonar, so that it’s easier to detect the ships.
Electronic Arts has given us a very realistic nuclear sub simulation. At the moment Sonalysts is working on a patch to solve some of the realism errors in the game. Let us hope that they also add some better assistance to beginners. If not, Sub Command will only be admired (and played) by a few hard core sub simmers and will be too difficult for the general player.