Dangerous Water


posted 1/23/2006 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager

Dangerous Water is a highly-detailed, lovingly-crafted multi-platform naval simulator from the good folks at Sonalysts Combat Simulations.  To my meager knowledge, it is also one of the first games to actually combine so many different naval platforms into a single, cohesive title.  Without a doubt, “Bubbleheads”, “Skimmers”, and “Airedales” will be delighted at the proposition of commanding various subsurface, surface, and air vehicles through the cat-and-mouse scenarios and campaigns.  However, Dangerous Waters is also, most assuredly, not for the casual gamer, and it is downright hostile to seafaring newbies.  I am such a newbie.

This review is colored by the perceptions of complete and total outsider to the world of naval simulation.  I was, from the instant I installed Dangerous Waters, completely out of my element.  I tried to just jump in, as I do with most games, which lead almost immediately to disastrous results.  I fired up the simplest mission I could find, one in which I was commanding a submarine ordered to pick out and destroy a merchant vessel. 

Right away I noticed that, while I could get a traditional view of my vessel, almost none of the game play focuses on that aspect.  Most of the game is spent moving from station to station, dialing various displays and giving the occasional order.  In my first few minutes, I managed to cause my sub to begin “cavitating”, and, in a panic, I think I somehow launched all of my countermeasures.  Needless to say, my quarry escaped and I was left scratching my head. 

As painful as the learning process was for me, I gained a quick appreciation for the incredible level of detail of each and every one of the platforms highlighted in Dangerous Waters.  Players are able to take command of one of several submarine, surface, and helicopter platforms.  Each vessel is controlled through a series of stations, laid out (I assume) like their real-world counterparts.  Dials, small displays, and more military acronyms than I care to ever see again fill the screen for most of the game.  Actually using these displays to accomplish something is quite a challenging feat.  Different radar arrays need to be calibrated and analyzed, libraries of various sonar and radar patterns need to be accessed, and courses need to be plotted so that the quarry’s actual position, range, and heading can be triangulated.  And all the while, absolute stealth needs to be maintained, so that the prey won’t know what’s coming and the potential hunters won’t know where to find you.  To me, it was a nightmare of details, but to the naval sim fan, this is gaming Nirvana. 

At the beginning of each mission, a platform is chosen (or mandated), the vessel can then be outfitted with the best armaments for the mission, and the objectives are stated.  Most of the missions center around the hide-and-seek world of submarine warfare, either from the subs’ or the sub-hunters’ point of view.  Given this, many of the scenarios consist of carefully and quietly searching out the proper target, coming up with a proper firing solution, and initiating the attack.  Often I found that the attack launch was pretty much the end of the mission, sort of an all-or-nothing culmination of hours of work.  While this could be exciting at times, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

In addition to several single mission scenarios and quick battles, a long campaign is included in Dangerous Waters, starting off with a rebellion in part of the Russian Navy and quickly escalating to encompass many of the world powers.  Given the number of different choices to be made in each of the campaign scenarios, and the various platforms and strategies to try, there’s a great deal of depth and replay here.  There’s also a very dedicated fanbase out there to go to for tips, tricks, hints for brave newbies, or to challenge to one of the multiplayer modes.  I tend to find that, the more narrow the niche for a particular game, the friendlier the community and the community for Dangerous Waters is no exception.

Dangerous Waters isn’t terribly impressive from a graphics viewpoint.  All the platforms are very well modeled, but the graphics themselves look several years out of date.  Since most of the game actually takes place while viewing static 2D display screens, there just isn’t much to justify lots of bells and whistles.  The audio effects are almost non-existent, although there was nothing terribly disappointing.  The interface is most assuredly not user-friendly.  I struggled a great deal with the various displays, mostly due to a lack of familiarity with the different layouts.  There is also very little in the way of in-game help, not a problem for die-hard simulation fans, but certainly a bother for me.  The game comes with a flimsy little manual, just enough to get everything running, and a 580-page .pdf manual with all the crunchy bits.  I highly, highly recommend printing this monstrosity out or, better yet, ordering the published, spiral-bound manual directly from Strategy First.  If you’re interested in the game, you’ll undoubtedly find the extra cost well worth it. 

While I didn’t enjoy Dangerous Waters, this is a very solid and impressive entry into the naval simulation genre.  I certainly am not going to penalize a good game just because it doesn’t meet my tastes.  While not for everyone, Dangerous Waters will give naval simulation fans countless hours of highly-detailed, well-designed enjoyment.

A highly-detailed, multi-platform naval simulator, perfect for fans of the genre. However, Dangerous Waters is also quite unfriendly toward newbies, so enter at your own risk.