Retro Review: ‘Red Storm Rising’ by MicroProse

Title screen from Red Storm Rising. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If you’re a regular visitor to A Certain Point of View, Too, you might have read my posts about a new computer game that I’ve been playing over the past few days. It’s called Cold Waters, a game that puts you in command of a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered fast attack sub during a hypothetical Third World War. Published three years ago by the Australian game studio Killerfish Games (Atlantic Fleet), Cold Waters boasts state-of-the-art graphics, immersive sound effects, and intense submarine combat action that pits you against either Soviet or Chinese Communist enemies in an alternate history where the Cold War turns hot and the Navy calls on its nuclear boats to keep the Allied sea lines of communication open and destroy the enemy’s naval forces.

Actual gameplay screenshot from a Training mission in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

One of the main reasons that I bought Cold Waters from Steam is that the game’s developers were clearly influenced by one of my favorite PC-based games from the late 1980s, Red Storm Rising.

This isn’t just my personal opinion; Killerfish Games’ own product description for Cold Waters says it outright:

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.

This is the packaging design for MicroProse’s Red Storm Rising computer game. This specific edition was for the Commodore Amiga; I had the DOS version for IBM-compatible PCs. Photo Credit: “Mr. Giggles” for mobygames,com (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Based on the late Tom Clancy’s second novel (published in 1986 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Red Storm Rising is a game that blends the tension of a sub simulation with the suspense and action of Clancy’s hypothetical near-future Third World War.

(C) 1986 G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Personally designed by MicroProse’s legendary co-founder Sid Meier, Red Storm Rising kept the basic concept of the novel: Some time in the late 1980s, the USSR’s oil supplies are drastically cut when Islamic terrorists destroy an oil refinery in Siberia. Faced with a failing economy and crippling fuel shortages, the Communist Party leadership in the Kremlin decides to seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf region. Knowing that the U.S. will not stand idly by while Red Army forces invade Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, the Soviets decide to neutralize NATO by invading West Germany. Once the West has been defeated soundly, then the Soviets can simply grab the oil-rich Arab and Persian nations and save the Rodina from economic and military ruin.

Clancy’s novel describes battles that take place on land – mostly in West Germany and on the North Atlantic nation of Iceland – and in the air, but he and co-author Larry Bond focus much of Red Storm Rising’s narrative on the crucial naval battles in the North Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea, especially – but not exclusively – the experiences of the Los Angeles-class fast attack sub USS Chicago (SSN-721).

Mission Orders screen. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Meier, who is perhaps best-known for his 1991 simulation of world history Sid Meier’s Civilization, and various teams of programmers at MicroProse’s Hunt Valley (MD) studios opened up the game somewhat so that players were not “locked” into playing as the skipper of a specific boat.

Instead, Red Storm Rising allows you to choose your command from several classes of U.S. Navy submarines. Depending on which starting year you choose (1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996), the availability of those classes varied, but these were the choices:

Screenshot from Classic Reload’s online “abandonware” version of Red Storm Rising, which can be played from a browser. Credit: ClassicReload.com (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
  • Permit-class boats, which entered Navy service in the early 1960s and were still in active duty in the early 1980s
  • Sturgeon-class boats, which were based on the Permits and entered service in the late Sixties. In the early and mid-1980s, these boats were still the workhorses of the submarine fleet
  • Los Angeles-class (or 688 class, after the lead boat’s hull number) Block I boats, introduced in 1976 and the original design for the Navy’s largest class of submarines (in number of boats)
  • Improved Los Angeles-class (or 688i) boats, redesigned and upgraded subs that entered service in the mid-1980s; USS Chicago (SSN-721) is an example of the enhanced 688i class; it is first available in the 1988 timeline, which is also the novel’s (unstated) setting
  • Seawolf-class boats, the smallest (in number of boats) class of U.S. Navy subs, and the most expensive. This class is not available in-game in timelines prior to 1996
The various game options a player has in Red Storm Rising. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Red Storm Rising was divided into three sections: Training, Battle Simulations, and Red Storm Rising: World War III in the Atlantic. Players could, when playing the game, get acquainted with the basics of the game in the two training missions, one which pitted the player’s sub against an elderly Soviet nuclear sub of the November class, the other was an engagement with a Kashin-class destroyer.

Once you read the manual and mastered the training scenarios, you moved on to the Battle Simulations. You would start with a relatively easy one vs. one sub mission called a Duel, then you’d gradually test your mettle as the commander of a U.S. Navy warship by choosing progressively difficult missions that included attacks on Soviet convoys, underwater battles with two or more Red Fleet subs, or attempt to intercept heavily escorted amphibious landing forces or carrier task forces.

Your final test before attempting Red Storm Rising’s campaign was the Chance Engagement, which was a randomly generated scenario based on one of the missions on the Missions menu.

Then, it was on to the Main Event: Red Storm Rising: World War III in the Atlantic. Here, your task was to command your boat, based in Holy Loch, Scotland, and take on a series of missions designed to deny the Soviet Navy command of the North and Norwegian Seas. Every so often, you’d receive orders from Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic (COMSUBLANT), tasking you with missions intended to destroy Soviet naval assets and frustrate the enemy’s strategic plans against NATO.

One day, for instance, you’d be tasked to intercept Red Navy cruise missile subs before they reached the North Atlantic shipping lanes between the U.S. and Western Europe; if you succeeded and still had enough weapons in your inventory, you’d be asked to destroy an invasion fleet off the coast of Norway, or sink a diesel sub carrying Spetsnaz (the Soviet SEALs) operatives trying to land in NATO territory.

The Strategic Transit Map. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

The most important element of the campaign game – other than the player and his sub – was the Strategic Transit Map. This was an animated map that allowed the player to move his boat in compressed time by using the joystick to make the transit from his base in Scotland to the various OPAREAS in the campaign. On the map, players could see the effects of their efforts on the war by watching the advances of Soviet forces (marked in red) across NATO territory (marked in green).

The Strategic Transit Map, in addition to allowing players to avoid the tedium of playing the game in real time during the “transit” phases and keep tab on NATO’s current situation, also showed the status of NATO’s underwater surveillance net, known as SOSUS, the paths of Soviet recon satellites and antisubmarine patrol aircraft, and the positions of enemy surface and sub groups.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
The game kept players informed of their successes (or failures) either through official Navy comm messages (top) or news broadcasts (bottom) .Here, the war clearly is going in favor of NATO by Day Eight. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Like most MicroProse war-themed simulations, Red Storm Rising struck a good balance between giving players a small and sanitized glimpse at military hardware, strategies, and tech and a fun, entertaining game-playing experience. The simulated subs, their weapons, sensors, and propulsion systems were all based on unclassified data provided by the Navy and other sources, but their in-game depiction was, of course, simplified so that players could play Red Storm Rising without having to attend the Naval Academy and train for years to be selected for a submarine skipper’s assignment.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
Some of the various displays that players use to fight battles on Red Storm Rising. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Because all combat in submarine warfare is carried out primarily in a nuclear boat’s control room (or “conn”), players have to depend on various display screens, which are activated by hitting the “function keys” (F1-F10), that represent the various battle stations: weapons, torpedo defenses, sonar and other sensors, and damage control. Here, the player uses all the tools at hand – active and passive sensors, wire-guided torpedoes, Harpoon and Tomahawk anti-ship missiles, and even weapons that were planned for 1990s-era subs (like the Sealance Mk. 50 rocket-launched anti-sub torpedo) but were canceled when the Cold War ended in 1991.

A Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) sub after firing a missile (seen just above the horizon line at top right). (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
If you did well in battle and survived to return to base to refit and rearm, you would be given a summary of your accomplishments, awards, and an officer’s efficiency rating (ER). The higher your ER, the better chances you had of being promoted to either Captain or Rear Admiral. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

When Red Storm Rising was released in December of 1988, it was considered to be among the best games in the submarine simulation genre. Though saddled with graphics that were great in ’88 but were already outclassed by those in newer games (such as MicroProse’s Silent Service II, which was released only two years later), Red Storm Rising was popular among gamers all over the world and is still considered by many submarine war game fans – including the designers of Cold Waters – as a pulse-pounding, spine-chilling adaptation of Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel, and a true classic in its category within the war game genre.

Red Storm Rising was a game that I played frequently in the early 1990s. I even bought my first MS-DOS based PC in 1992 just so I could play it and other MicroProse Software games which my original – and still-operational – Apple IIe could not play because there weren’t any versions published for that computer. It was compatible with at least two PCs that I owned between 1992 and 1995, but I had to stop playing Red Storm Rising sometime after that because newer operating systems, such as Windows 98, simply were not compatible with a game written for MS-DOS.

A Mk. 48 torpedo heads toward a Soviet destroyer. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

It was, without a doubt, a truly great game.

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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