Old Gamers Never Die: From ‘Red Storm Rising’ to ‘Cold Waters’

Screenshot from a session of Cold Waters. Here we see a Sturgeon-class boat at periscope depth. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

Back in the 1990s, when I first bought my first MS-DOS-based personal computer, I used to play many military-themed simulations and strategy games. Most of them were designed and published by MicroProse Software of Hunt Valley, MD, which was founded by Sid Meier and William “Wild Bill” Stealey in 1982.

Although Sid Meier’s Civilization is perhaps MicroProse’s best-known game – it spawned a still-ongoing franchise that includes the latest entry in the series, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI – the company’s original focus was on military simulation games such as Hellcat Ace, Spitfire Ace, the F-15 Strike Eagle trilogy, the F-19/F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter duology, M-1 Tank Platoon,the World War II submarines Silent Service duology, and Gunship.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software

One of my favorite MicroProse games was 1988’s Red Storm Rising, a game based on Tom Clancy’s eponymous novel about a conventional World War III in which the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact invade West Germany some time in the (then) near-future.

At its core, Clancy’s novel was a look at what a Third Battle of the Atlantic would be like in an era of missile-armed ships, planes, and subs, and how such a naval struggle would affect the battles on the ground and in the air in Central Europe and on Iceland.

Accordingly, MicroProse’s Red Storm Rising was a simulation of nuclear submarine warfare that allowed players to take command of an American boat – one could choose one from various classes, ranging from the Permit class that first entered service during the Kennedy Administration to the Seawolf class, which had not yet been introduced to the fleet when the game was published – and fight a campaign in the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic.

Screenshots from Red Storm Rising. Note the late-1980s graphics style and the “status bar” showing the war’s progress on Day Six of World War III. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software.

Although versions for specific PC types (such as IBM PCs, Commodore 64, and Amiga) were programmed by different personnel, the basic game was designed by Sid Meier, the company’s co-founder and the designer of Silent Service. As a result, Red Storm Rising gave players different options to play the game, including Training Scenarios to familiarize new “skippers” with their boats and how to play the game, and Single Battles that depicted different scenarios, such as a one-on-one duel with a Soviet sub, a sub attack on a Red Fleet aircraft carrier, or an interception of a Soviet amphibious group made up of transports, landing ships, and escorting warships.

The capstone of Red Storm Rising was the Campaign. Here, the player took command of a sub (the classes available varied depending on what year was chosen as the setting; one could choose 1984, 1988, 1992, or 1996) and played through Tom Clancy’s World War III from start to end.

Glub. Glub. Glub. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software

For obvious reasons, the game is only loosely based on the novel, but it allowed players to try to influence the outcome of the war by carrying out various missions in a nuclear attack sub. If the player’s sub completed a mission successfully and survived encounters with the enemy, the news reports and status maps would reflect the battles’ outcomes. Conversely, if the player failed to achieve several missions and lost too many boats in battle, then the war ended in a Warsaw Pact victory.

Red Storm Rising was one of my favorite games back in the day, so when I could no longer play it because its MS-DOS programming was no longer compatible with newer Windows-based operating systems, I was not happy.

Sure, the graphics were already looking a bit dated by the time I bought my first DOS-based PC (I owned an Apple IIe before that, and Red Storm Rising did not have a version published for it, which was a factor in my decision to go DOS), but it was still a great game and I missed playing it.

The closest game to Red Storm Rising that I played for a few years was Simon & Schuster Interactive/Virtus Corp./Clancy Interactive Entertainment’s Tom Clancy’s SSN. Published for Windows 1995 in 1996, SSN was more of an arcade-like game than a simulation and traded in Soviet Union adversaries for ones from the People’s Republic of China. To win, you played through a series of 15 linked missions in a “closed” script that centered on a Chinese takeover of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

I didn’t like SSN as much as I did Red Storm Rising, but I still enjoyed its use of simulated news reports and cool “seen from outside the sub” graphics. I played it for only about a year or so; when I upgraded my PC sometime in 1998 so I could have a computer with a DVD-ROM drive, I had to buy a computer with Windows 98, an operating system that was not compatible with SSN.

For the longest time, I did not have any modern counterpart to Red Storm Rising in my modest collection of computer games. I have Silent Service II back, thanks to Tommo’s Retroism brand, which owns the licenses to many of MicroProse’s classic games; I bought it last year from Steam, so at least I have a World War II sub sim that I was already familiar with.

Screenshot of the main title scene from Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Earlier this week, I received an email from Steam letting me know that several titles on my Wishlist were on sale. One, Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation, was selling for $1.37 (ironic, because I purchased the GOLD edition in 1995 for $40 but could never get it to run, even though I had a PC with the required amount of RAM and the proper software). I bought it, even though the graphics are nowhere as good as any 21st Century flight sim’s.

Another title which was at a low price was Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3-D, a game for which I have the manual, so I bought it, too, just to have an arcade-like Star Wars game in my collection.

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

The third game that was included in the sale was pricier ($19.99), but that’s because it’s a newer (2017) game. I had been keeping an eye on it for about a year or so, but I didn’t want to shell out $39.99 for a game that I’ll only play when I’m not writing. I am, after all, a writer first and a gamer second, and sub simulations do require some investment of time and commitment if you’re going to play them at all.

Here’s the sales pitch, from the Killerfish Games website, that drew me to Cold Waters:

After tracking a Soviet landing force bound for Iceland it is time to plan your attack. Do you silently close in to torpedo the landing ships and escape during the resulting chaos? Or strike with long-range missiles but risk counterattack from the enemy escorts? Have you detected them all, could another submarine be out there listening for you? Has the hunter become the hunted? Will you survive the Cold Waters?

Inspired by the 1988 classic “Red Storm Rising”, command a nuclear submarine in a desperate attempt to prevent “mutually assured destruction” when the Cold War gets hot and WWIII begins.

You will be tasked with intercepting convoys, amphibious landings, insertion missions and battling it out with enemy warships, submarines and aircraft. Thankfully, an arsenal of wire-guided torpedoes, anti-ship and cruise missiles and the occasional SEAL team are on board to keep the Iron Curtain at bay.

This is not a promotional cut scene or a main title shot. This is a periscope view screenshot that I captured while playing a training mission (Basic Torpedoes) in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So far I have only completed a couple of training missions, but I am impressed by what I’ve seen of Cold Waters so far. The graphics are stunning and realistic, and I like that it has voice actors that portray your unseen but ever-present command crew.

A screenshot taken at the end of Wire-Guided Torpedoes,where you see three hit-and-sunk Soviet fleet auxiliary vessels and a Mk.48 torpedo in the map display. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

It’s not as easy to learn as Red Storm Rising; the thing that I miss most about buying games that come in boxes and physical data storage is the manuals and Quick Reference Cards. Instead, the game has Training Missions with pop-up “cards” and prompts that help new players learn how to operate – and fight – their boats.

Dosvidanya, Rodina! (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So far, I’ve completed three training missions (Basic Torpedoes, Wire-Guided Torpedoes, and Missiles), although I still have a long way to go before I feel comfortable to take on a Combat Mission. There are several other skills I need to master, such as Navigation, Target Motion Analysis, Sensors & Masts and Tactics & Damage.

Still, this looks like an exciting and fun sub simulation and a worthy heir to the classic Red Storm Rising.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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