I mentioned previously that a good bit of my early gaming was wargames. This was due in large part to my dad being in the Navy and me growing up obsessed with the massive ships and salty dogs I saw with him. Red Storm Rising is one of my favorite games from that time in my life, and may still be the most fun submarine combat game ever made. It’s based on the sub fighting plotline in Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name, with you captaining a single US attack submarine as you try to stop the evil Soviets from conquering Europe and taking all the oil in the Middle East. Depending on the year you start in, the available hardware is different for both sides, and you can then customize what weapons you want to bring along based on the mission you are given. You might be intercepting an amphibious invasion force looking to get behind the lines of allied forces, or you could be hunting other submarines looking to disrupt shipping. Many of the missions are from the book which is a neat touch if you’ve read it.
After you leave port, you are on a basic map screen of the North Atlantic, moving your sub around trying to find your intended target. Markers for the enemy appear and disappear as they pass in and out of satellite/radar/sonar range of allied forces, and in a nice touch, the sonar net that covers the GUIK gap (Greenland to Iceland to UK) can be destroyed. The map shows a crude Green/Red creep to give you an idea in real time if what you are doing is making a difference. Miss taking out that invasion force? Red explodes behind the lines, and the green area retreats. Destroy the bases where the Backfire bombers launch from? More troops get through, green takes back the land.
Once you enter battle, either by bumping up against an enemy contact (or them finding you), you end up at a blue screen that represents the readouts for your sensors. Your sub is in the middle, and any contacts (if you have them) are marked. Along the side you can see just how good the contact is, cycle through readouts such as what is loaded in your torpedo tubes, and so on. It’s a very basic, almost text-only display, but it doesn’t matter – the action is intense. You can’t just go full speed ahead at the enemy and fire torpedoes like they are going out of style – you have to conserve them, get in the right position, fire and then hide. The enemy scatters, with any sub-hunting ships trying to run you down, while your likely target ships flee. There is quite a bit of realism, with thermal layers, accurate speeds of ships, subs and weapons, and enemies that seem to react based on the real data you give them and not with any computer cheats (like magically knowing where you are all the time). It really felt like it was ahead of it’s time, and for years afterwards, I tried submarine games, but always returned to Red Storm Rising. I spent countless hours hunched over the blue screen, sweating it out under the thermal layer as frigates and destroyers mercilessly hunted me for sinking their prized carrier. It was available on Commodore 64 (where I played it), along with DOS, the Amiga and Atari ST. It can be tough to find now, since Microprose and everyone that has owned the Microprose name are pretty zealous in guarding their property and don’t think of anything as abandonware. You can try and order one of these from Amazon but you will need some form of emulation (whether it’s Dosbox or something else). Anybody else play it?