SSN didn't do it. Fast Attack and Seawolf didn't do it. But Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer does it with a vengeance. At last, the long wait for a worthy nuclear submarine simulation is over. Since MicroProse published Red Storm Rising umpteen years ago, sub-heads have been waiting for a realistic game that put them at the helm of a modern attack submarine. And though there are still some minor issues to be worked out, there is no denying that 688 is the best submarine game yet.
688 is the work of the submarine veterans at Sonalysts, the military contractor that created subsystems and training programs for the Navy. This is a complex, detailed simulation of the Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine - so complex that the manual runs to 280-plus pages. Sonar stations, target tracking and recognition, and complex undersea warfare tactics are all modeled in depth. Missions take a long time and require careful planning and attention to protocol. The sonar, target motion analysis, and fire control sections can all be turned over to AI crew members, but that still leaves a lot to do.
The interface for 688 is similar to most Jane's games: a simple front end with access to single missions, a custom mission builder, campaigns, and tons of online information. Gameplay comes in the form of 18 individual scenarios and tutorials or a set of 15 scenarios linked together to form a canned campaign spanning the globe. As a commander, your tasks cover the entire spectrum of sub ops: sub hunting, anti-surface warfare, cruise missiles strikes, SEAL team insertions, and search and rescue. In campaign mode, you also need to manage sub repairs and the installation of new equipment, which you can "buy" with points earned on successful missions.
688 is played from a series of stations: ship control (for steering and depth), radar, Target Motion Analysis (TMA, for developing fire solutions from information provided by various sensors), periscope, sonar, radio, fire control, sound speed profile (SSP, to determine the thermal layers), the CO's stateroom, and a set of reference materials on friendly and enemy weapons and targets. Since passive information gathering is the key to undersea warfare, the heart of the game is its ultra-realistic sonar suite, including active intercept, DEMON, broadband, and narrowband stations to help find, track, and identify every ship in the water.
This information is fed to fire control, where you actually launch Tomahawks, ADCAP torpedoes, and harpoon anti-shipping missiles. The systems work together flawlessly, and with a bit of practice you'll be jumping between stations and sinking ships in no time. The sharp attention to detail makes you feel like you're actually running each station, and an effective 3-D viewing mode even ensures that you get to see the fireworks.
Just about everything you could possibly want in a submarine game is in 688. The globe is accurately mapped with varying water temperatures, equipment looks and responds realistically, enemy and friendly vessels respond intelligently, and missions are complex, tough, and challenging. There's even network, modem, and TCP/IP play for head-to-head sub hunting, and online "fleets" have been formed for competition and ranking.
There are some things that don't feel right, however. Torpedo reload times and turning speed both seem too fast to be right, but I can't be sure of this since I've never driven a nuclear submarine. (Apparently, Sonalysts thought so too: a "realism" patch has already been issued to correct turn rates and reload times.) For the wish-list: Navigational waypoints, more platforms (where are the Typhoons?), naming contacts on the nav map, and better post-launch control and feedback for weapons. Some missions gave me funky results: I know I flattened a target, but never got points for it. These are small items and easily fixed, however. Considering all that 688(I) offers, it is required gaming for naval warfare enthusiasts.