The ultimate submarine, powerful and virtually undetectable, takes the starring role in The Hunt For Red October. And the strategy/simulation game follows closely the situation set up in Torn Clancy's best-selling novel of the same name (published in paperback by Fontana).
The player is a Soviet submarine commander - but not for long, if his plans work out. For the challenge in The Hunt For Red October is to defect to the West and deliver the nuclear-powered craft into American hands, acting with stealth beneath thousands of miles of sea, without the conscripted crew knowing, against the might of the Soviet Red Banner Fleet.
As soon as the intentions of the Red October' s commander and officers became known, the captains of the Soviet Red Banner Fleet commenced an immense search-and-destroy mission for their erstwhile vessel.
Sea and air forces have combined to search the oceans and blockade American ports to prevent the entry of the Red October, and Soviet spy 'trawlers' monitor the world. Pressure makes the defectors ruthless and desperate in their quest, risking both their vessel and lives.
The first stages of the mission require the Red October to be navigated carefully through a heavily-monitored and patrolled sea passage off Iceland. The underwater landscape is dangerous and complex; careful navigation is essential, or the vessel will be grounded or damaged.
But while the Soviet fleet is on a sub hunt, the US Navy is looking to rendezvous with the Red October, take off her crew, and scuttle a decoy submarine. The plan is to then take the defected sub into an American port for examination - all in deadly secrecy. If the Soviet vessels are led to fire upon the Western forces, the Americans will have to abandon their scheme and, to avoid war, join the Soviets in their hunt.
The positions of the Fled October and the US and Soviet fleets are shown on a large map of the Atlantic Ocean. To the right of this central display is a column of command icons controlling the sonar, engineering, weapons and periscope systems of the defecting submarine. And a display panel to the left supplements these with information on the Red October's speed, heading and depth, and sonar and contour map displays.
The Red Octobers two sensitive sonar installations listen to the underwater world - sonar is like radar, but uses sound waves rather than radio waves to locate objects. The presence of submarines and ships, their headings and their identity can be established using passive sonar, but the intelligence may need to be verified by visual sightings, or by active sonar.
Active sonar gives a more reliable reading, but can easily give away the position of the Red October.
These sonar traces can be superimposed upon a contour map of the ocean bed, giving a clear picture of the safest route around underwater hazards and the opposition Details about sonar contacts and their direction, distance away and speed are shown in the message window. This information can be fed into the weapon systems for possible attack, or into the hydrophonics circuits for an accurate assessment of the threat.
By accessing the engineering systems, the commander can switch between different forms of propulsion - nuclear and diesel power, and caterpillar and propeller drives. Nuclear power is faster than diesel and less noisy, but after ten days the defectors have to disengage the nuclear power plant and rely on diesel.
And whether the commander prefers speed (propeller) or silence (caterpillar) determines which of the two drives he uses.
The only weapons that the Red October carries are acoustic torpedoes. Their targets can be selected manually or through the sonar system; the number and status of each of the sub's four torpedo tubes can be called up, and if the commander chooses to manually control the torpedoes he can direct the heading and elevation.
Helpful in a tight corner, the weapons system can also release deflecting flak to decoy approaching missiles and torpedoes.
The periscope system can only be activated when the sub is near the surface; the horizon can then be checked and possible targets visually identified. And if the Red October must surface to carry out repairs, which are done automatically, the periscope can be used to check that the surface Is clear.
The Red October's arsenal of electronics also includes surveillance manual antennae can be activated, which allow the sub to pick up electronic messages sent between ships.
Whatever system is being used, all commands are given using an icon-selecting arrow. A scrolling message window beneath the main screen reveals the responses and valuable information from various system officers.
Commands must be given quickly, for Soviet forces are homing in on the Red October and could deal it a death blow before it has even begun its transatlantic adventure. The hunt is well and truly on.
Grand Slam Entertainments is the new name for Argus Press Software, which changed hands last November.
'If Tom Clancy's novel is as absorbing as the game, I'm off to the library. The Hunt For Red October is very playable, and I found great enjoyment in outwitting the Soviet ships and occasionally blasting a few out of the water. Control of the submarine is easy to master, and the simple icon system soon becomes second nature. One clever and effective feature is the newspaper report that appears in the fictitious New York Telegraph at the end of a game, reporting whether the player's mission ends in disaster or success. This submarine should appeal to anyone interested in the genre.'
MARK ... 85%
'The book of the game was a tense, exciting novel so it's interesting to see how Oxford Digital Enterprises approached the computer version. The result is a mixture of strategy and arcade elements. The strategy side works well and the icon system is easy to use (though the pointer is sometimes a bit fiddly to position accurately). The problem with The Hunt For Red October is that it's a REALLY tough game. From the very beginning, everything happens at once with mines, torpedoes and enemy vessels homing in on the submarine. This may be realistic but it's awfully unfair on the player. But if you like strategy and can put up with the difficulty of it all, The Hunt For Red October is worth a look.'
ROBIN ... 59%
'As a simulation buff I was happy to try some variation from zooming about the skies in a jet. And Oxford Digital Enterprises has managed to cram an incredible amount of detail and loads of displays and controls to fiddle with into The Hunt For Red October - there's certainly more than In most bathe-action aims. Some of the displays, I particularly the sonar maps, are very realistically designed and well-programmed. The action is fraught from the start - you're under attack almost immediately - and the tension just doesn't die down. The icon system makes for quick and easy command-selection, which is just how it should be with so many activities to take care of in real time. The only letdown is the strange loading system, which seems to require the game's start position to be saved on a separate tape so a new game can begin after the submarine has been sunk. But this doesn't detract much from an otherwise excellent and atmospheric simulation.'
PAUL ... 83%
: meagreGeneral Rating:
a gripping sub sim packed with action and features.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...
Sonar and hydrophonics are the sub's electronic scouts.