As I stood on the deck trying to avoid the temptation to look around at the vast ocean around me instead of scanning the skies above for threats, I couldn’t help wishing that I had been more careful to husband the limited power remaining in my batteries. Had I been more frugal with the engine speed as I made my way into the target zone, I wouldn’t have needed to surface prior to reaching my assigned patrol area. It was far too late for personal recriminations to matter, though, so I continued to search the clear blue skies for the mortal threats that I knew were out there. Sure enough, I heard the threat before I could see it. The sound of an airplane nearby is always a visceral fright, but it is even more so when diving to a safe depth under the surface is not a viable option. Better, I thought, to man the deck gun and try to remove the threat once and for all, rather than spend hours skulking in a hot, smelly steel tube, waiting for the plane to run out of fuel or for the pilot to decide to move on.
The plane began its attack dive, and I manned the single gun mounted to the deck upon which I had decided to stand my ground, so to speak. Controlling the gun is somewhat awkward, and it is often the case that the plane is right on me before I can hit it. That was the case this time around - we were nose-to-nose and eye-to-eye before I made the killing shot that caused the attacking bird of prey to explode into large pieces that landed just short of the hull of my small and delicate U-boat.
Still, I did kill the threat and I could press on with my search for the convoy that I had been tasked with sinking. My duty was clear, my resolve was stout, and I had an excellent weapon designed by the best engineers available. What could go wrong? I was now close enough to allow me to dive the boat and finish my approach at a more survivable, yet much slower pace, under the waves. I opened the deck hatch and went below to the navigation room. Where I was met with floods of water pouring into my U-boat! What??
It didn’t take long to realize what had happened. Which was good, because by that time I only had a few precious moments remaining in my time on this planet. Time enough to understand the manner in which I had failed the Führer. It was a classic mistake, one that was so simple commit yet so difficult to avoid on the heat of battle: I had killed the attacking airplane when it was so close to my submarine that the falling debris had pierced the hull. As the water rose over my head and I took my last breath, I had just enough time to silently apologize to my widow, my orphaned children, and my Führer. In that order.
Then I removed my Oculus Rift headset and took a deep, shuddering breath. A real one, this time. And oddly enough, I was utterly drained. Again, so to speak. It is vanishingly rare for a game to affect me in this way. The secret ingredient is, of course, the amazing amount of immersion in the game. It feels so real that it’s almost surreal.
The game I’m describing above is Iron Wolf VR from Ionized Studios. At a mere $20 for an Early Access version, I consider to be the bargain of the young century. Part of my problem in the anecdote above was that I was the sole occupant of the boat. This needn’t have been the case: while the game can be played alone, where it will really shine is when I can find 1 - 3 other players to operate the sub in an online multiplayer co-op mode. The sub, as in real life, feels too small and too crowded to hold an entire crew, but the Iron Wolf has four separate compartments, so there would be room for the full crew. In addition to the deck and the navigation room, there is a periscope room and a torpedo room. The development roadmap also hints that there may soon be a separate engine room as well. Note that this is one of the biggest perks of Early Access: not only do you have access to the developers when issues arise, you also get a peek into where they’re headed and often times can participate in those discussions. The roadmap for Iron Wolf looks intriguing indeed! This already excellent game is very well positioned to get even better!
Even as an early version, there is a tremendous about of depth (ha!) to the game. As mentioned, there are four locations in the sub. Starting from the top, there is a deck that you can climb up to when the boat is surfaced. There’s only one reason to do that: to watch for attacking planes while on the surface. There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to surface other than to go faster - the sub is faster on top of the water than it is under it. The time spent underwater, though, is limited by the amount of breathable air and the life of the batteries used to provide propulsion while underwater. We have already seen what can happen if you aren’t careful with those limited resources.
Below the deck in the navigation room. This is where you will find the screen that pictorially displays the data gathered by your hydrophone. You also have the controls that determine your depth. There is a lever to flood the ballast tanks with water, which is used to dive the boat, and there is another lever that uses compressed air to push the water back out of the ballast tanks to rise the boat. There are hydroplanes that can be used to accelerate either of those processes, but their correct usage is not yet detailed - the manuals aren’t done yet.
Aft of the navigation room is the periscope room. The purpose of the periscope is obvious, of course. Once you get a target in your sights, there is a switch to turn on the targeting computer. It will clank and grind for a few seconds before delivering a firing solution. Once that happens, there are four switches, one for each torpedo, to launch the weapons.
Below the navigation room is the torpedo room. The torpedoes will load themselves automatically if you enlist the help of AI, but it can be done more quickly by a human, be that you or another co-op player. The torpedoes can also be fired from that room.
There is a short tutorial that covers roughly 75% of what can be done, and the rest can be picked up through experience and experimentation.
There are also six missions available in the Early Access, each presumably more difficult than those that preceded it. I have yet to survive long enough to try them all, but the experience is so all-consuming, so nerve-wrackingly intense, and so incredibly fun that I’m sure I won’t lack for the tenacity to keep on trying.
I guess I’ll just have to get used to drowning.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.