Rating: ESRB – Everyone 10+
Way back in August 1914, Germany actually had a fleet of twenty U-boats which set off as a defensive screen in the North Sea. Disaster ensued at the Scapa Flow (the body of water in the Orkney Islands) during an attempt to attack the British Grand Fleet, and a fifth of the German U-boat fleet was destroyed.
It was not until 15 September later that year that the German U-boat SM U-21 finally sunk a British light cruiser – the HMS Pathfinder. And just a scant 6 days later, the U-boat SM U-9 led by Kptlt. Otto Weddigen successfully sank three cruisers – the HMS Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy off the Hook of Holland. All onboard SM U-9 were awarded the Iron Cross, and from there U-boats became a threat of gravest concern.
PS – The notes from the above paragraphs were extracted from this great website on U-Boat history.
It is on this note, that we start today’s review about U-boats from World War I. The game 1914 – Shells of Fury (SOF) is an aptly named game for it depicts the tense moments of underwater warfare during this rarely explored era. Designed by h2f and released by Strategy First, I think the game is a pretty decent submarine simulation, which is not too overly complex (when compared to the Silent Steel series).
|Time for war!|
The main menu in SOF provides the options of playing the lengthy Campaigns, playing through the 10 Single Missions, assessing the Mission Builder for infinite replayability, or entering the encyclopedia mode to look through the submarines and ships you encounter in the game.
The Campaigns included in the game include a full campaign of 50 random missions that take you through the entire First World War from 1914 all the way till 1918. If you find 50 missions too long an endeavor to complete, you can always try the 3 shorter campaigns that have been provided in the game.
|I rather go for the Full Campaign|
You will find 5 tutorial missions placed under the Single Mission mode. These tutorials take you through navigating your submarine, firing your torpedoes at targets, firing your deck gun, firing your machine gun, and laying mines. Other than a mission briefing that briefly covers what you should do to achieve your objectives, there is absolutely no tutorial narration or dialog boxes that walk you through managing your submarine. There is of course, the handy PDF user manual that you must read to reap maximum benefit from the game.
|That’s the only help you’ll get in the tutorial|
Fortunately, operating your WW1 submarine is not as stressful as that of a modern nuclear submarine. For starters, you don’t have to worry about sonar at all.
What? You may ask, so how do you tell if you have dived too deep, or that you may be just inches away from running aground? Well, you don’t, at the very most, you may suddenly hear an awful grinding sound and then see a Game Over message.
Yes, I hear your frustration, you may ask again, but surely there must be an an external view, right?
Well, SOF has not provided for any external views at all (except for torpedo view), this may be keeping with realism, but not knowing what lies below you is a problem in this game.
Here’s a tip: You could leave your periscope out slightly. Before it breaks the surface of the water, you will be able to see the sea bed from there. Primitive, but it works for me.
|A most important view|
In SOF, you will find 11 stations that you can use to operate the various stations of your submarine. These stations can be assessed through the press of a Function key. Here are the available stations:
- F1 assesses the sail view of the submarine, and in the words of Burton Lane: On a clear day you can see forever.
- F2 brings you to the control room as shown in the screenshot above. There are 3 gauges of prime importance that you can adjust from here – the rate of speed, the depth gauge, and the compass. Also of importance is your battery gauge; I’ll talk more about the battery later in the review.
- F3 shows the map room where you plan all your waypoints.
- F4 housse the torpedo launch configuration panel. You can also lay your mines from here.
- F5 and F6 allows you to employ the deck gun (against enemy ships) and the machine gun (against aircraft) respectively.
- F7 assesses your binoculars while on the surface.
- F8 is your periscope room; you can actually accomplish a lot from here. You can lock on targets, fire your torpedoes, change your submarine depth, and of course raise and lower your periscope.
- F9 brings you to your radio room to send or receive messages. Not much use in my opinion.
- F10 is your room where you can read your missions, check your logbook and view the damage report screen. F11 can also be used to assess the damage report screen.
|I’ll live to fight another day|
As SOF is a real-time simulation of a WWI submarine, there will be large periods of peace and calm before you enter the war zone. To accelerate time in the game, you can speed up the game to a maximum of 16 times in the presence of ships. And when there are no ships nearby, you can advance the time compression to an astounding maximum of 1024 times.
|Plot a course via the Map Room|
Even though you can speed up, make sure you have enough time dedicated to play through and complete your mission. Why you ask? Because, the developers have committed the biggest sin of all in a simulation game – you simply cannot save your game while in the mission. The game is only saved in between missions during your campaigns.
Once in my mission, I must confess I actually felt tensed up as I headed into the patrol zone. You have the choice of submerging, but once you do that, you will start draining your batteries. When your battery is out, you become a dead duck in the water. There is no warning when that happens, so keep a look out for that by heading back to the control room via the F2 function key.
Hint – here’s what I normally do: Make your way by sailing to your objective. Once you spot a ship on the horizon, you must immediately decide whether you should take action by diving to hide yourself. When you are underwater, the submarine is run by electricity. After you have passed the ship, you can resurface and your battery will recharge itself as you switch back to your diesel engines.
|Being sneaky here|
There is a green indication bar depicting detection probability which tells you the chance that you will be spotted by your enemy; it’s located near the bottom right of the above screenshot. You should be safe if you stay submerged, in this case the indication bar will be 100% full.
Watch out when you raise your periscope though, the indication bar may be about 75% full, but I have been unfortunate quite a number of times when I did this. Obviously, the closer you get to your enemy, the higher will be your risk. Do try to stay submerged around your enemies and raise your periscope only when really necessary.
The computer AI is quite smart and ships will not stay stationary and present themselves as an attractive target.
|Pretty 3D models to rotate and view|
The encyclopedia provided in SOF is a pretty submarine and ship gallery. There is no descriptive writeup on the objects you can view in the encyclopedia, which is sort of a disappointment. At least, you can rotate and gawk at the beautiful detail and effort that the developers have put in to the 3D models.
SOF has some simple rousing military music at the menu, but that’s about it for music. As for the sound effects, you get to hear the monotonous droning of your diesel engine. There are also whooshing sounds from your torpedoes firing, sounds of pistons and valves hissing, and other interface sounds that make up the sound effects you will hear in the game. Nothing fantastic to write home about, folks.
|Torpedo view… milliseconds before it strikes the Cressy class ship|
There are some negative issues I highlighted earlier in the review, plus minor problems such as the use of a non-seamless graphic representing the sky, no external views of your submarine or your enemy ships, you don’t really have much control over damage repair, and there are no 3D models of your men working in the submarine.
One surprising plus point towards SOF is that the game is moddable. There have been some mod work done by submarine enthusiasts of the game over at the Subsim Radio Room forums, and you can download these to add some variation to your game.
|When you are done with the campaign, the mission builder awaits|
I think SOF deserves some mention for simulating a period that is not much explored by other game developers. The developers have done a pretty decent job in implementing a submarine game that does not come with the bells and whistles of modern day submarines (like sonar).
To sum it all up, I really had great fun re-enacting the battles from World War I, and hope you will consider getting this game to play as there is some value to be had from it. If you are a submarine enthusiast, then shame on you… why isn’t it already in your collection?