A case of Russian in where angels fear to tread (This joke is not funny - Ed.) The Hunt for Red October belongs to that most difficult of genres, the submarine-simulator-based-on-a-best-selling-novel. It's a complex and challenging game, and if you can forgive the fact that all the R's are printed backwards, the manual and the game itself ooze authenticity.
The plot. You are the commander of a top secret Russian nuclear submarine, Red October. Fed up with a constant diet of cabbage and vodka, you have decided to defect to the West. You must make a rendezvous with the American fleet in order to fake an accident an complete your defection; but first you must traverse the Atlantic with the Russian fleet searching for you!
Everything is fashionably icon-driven from the High Level Command Screen. The pointer is moved using the joystick or keyboard, and you select the function you require from the left or right of the screen. In the centre is the map display, which shows your own position, and those of the American and Russian fleets.
Other commands can be issued by clicking on the icons for particular officers. For instance, to switch on the sonar, or the sea bed contour display, you have to select the right icon then click on EXECUTE. You can cancel orders if you change your mind, and you'll find yourself sometimes having to do this as the situation changes. Remember that not all the officers are in on the plot (some of them want to stay Ruskies); if you deviate from the mission profile, they may relieve you of your command, in which case you've lost the game.
Combining your sonar information with the contour display enables you to navigate dangerous undersea terrain without risking sonar detection by the fleet. Your power source is also important; you can choose fast, noisy propellors, or slower but more silent caterpillar tracks (yes! this submarine crawls!). If your pursuers come too close, you can choose to fight. The Weapons Officer icon gives you control of the torpedoes, which can be aimed automatically or manually. To do this you'll need to surface to periscope depth, study the seascape, and identify enemy ships using the recognition chart in the manual. The Electronic Surveillance option allows you to pick up messages from enemy ships, which are displayed beneath the main screen.
You'll enjoy Red October whether you like strategy games, action or simulations.
There's a catch, of course. The manual is fine if you have a PC, but pretty dreadful if you have a Spectrum. Many of the screen displays are different, the command controls aren't explained properly, and the tiny sheet included for the benefit of Spectrum owners does little more than explain which bits have had to be left out of the Spectrum version. I would have thought that with a little extra effort, a 128K version with full facilities, and improved music and sound would have been a doddle. Black marks for neglecting Spectrum owners but otherwise A+.
Author: Mike Fox
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
An exciting blend of fact and fiction offering both action and depth.