Old Gamers Never Die, or: I Like Blowing Up Stuff in ‘Cold Waters’

The Soviet Navy’s battlecruiser Kirov lies on the bottom of the South China Sea after being hit by two Mk. 48 torpedoes in the Battle of the Spratly Islands. Screenshot from a game session of Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Hi, there, Constant (and Not-So-Constant) Reader. Well, the weekend is here, and it’s early Saturday afternoon in my little corner of Florida. It’s a hot mid-summer’s day here; the current temperature is 89 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) under mostly sunny skies. With humidity at 68% and a calm southwesterly breeze of 2 MPH, the feels-like temperature is 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius). We’ve had hotter days than that this week, but I’m glad that I’m an “indoorsy” person and don’t have to venture out – even though I do miss having a shopping plaza within comfortable walking distance to get my own groceries from time to time.

The Kirov begins its plunge beneath the waters of the South China Sea after the second torpedo hit from USS Seawolf. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Today is a rare “take a day off from reviewing things or griping about politics” day for me; I got a good night’s rest, but as much as I love to write more substantial blog posts, I woke up wanting to have a respite from “serious” blogging and taking some time to play games, watch movies, or read for a while.

Presently, my go-to computer game is Killerfish Games’ Cold Waters, a submarine simulation that its designers tout as the spiritual heir to MicroProse Software’s 1988 Red Storm Rising, which in turn is based on one of my favorite Tom Clancy novels from the late 1980s.

I bought Cold Waters on Steam last month, and I’ve reviewed it both here and on my original Blogger blog, A Certain Point of View. I think I have learned the basic concepts of the game in the six weeks that I’ve played it; I am at the point at which I can play at least two of the game’s Single Engagements with a reasonable amount of success – both of them being sub-versus-sub battles – but I’m not ready to fight one of the tougher ones in which I have to fend off threats from three dimensions, i.e. surface warships, anti-sub helicopters and/or patrol aircraft, and submarines, much less a full Campaign.

After action report (AAR) from the Battle of the Spratly Islands, in which my sub, USS Seawolf, sank a convoy escorted by a combined Sino-Soviet force comprised of a battlecruiser, a destroyer, two submarines, and a frigate. The Yukan and Chilikin-class vessels were the main objective, while the warships were actually secondary. Because the escorts pose a clear and present danger to my boat and her crew, I dispatched them first, then I went after the (mostly) unarmed transports and oilers. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Earlier today I created a Quick Battle, which is in essence what gamers call a “sandbox” game. In a Quick Battle, I choose the type of enemy vessels I want to do battle with, as well as the approximate number of ships, subs, and even aircraft on the enemy’s Order of Battle. Cold Waters likes to randomize things to add what military strategists and wargamers call the “fog of war.” That way, even though I know what class (type) of enemy vessels I’ll be up against, I don’t know how many of each class I will encounter in any given battle.

(For instance, once when I added the “heavy aviation cruiser” Kiev to a Soviet task force made up of 12 ships, the game put all four vessels of the class in the battle. I sank them all, but one of the Kievs managed to damage my boat with a salvo from its RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers.)

The game I created has no official name, but in my “head canon” it’s the Battle of the Spratly Islands, which “took place” on an alternate version of 5 March 2000 near the disputed Spratly Islands archipelago in the South China Sea.

I have a fondness for scenarios that call for intercepting enemy amphibious groups, a holdover from my days of playing Red Storm Rising back in the 1990s. So I set one up, giving the Chinese Yukan-class landing ship, tanks (LSTs) and Chilikin oilers what I thought would be a respectable escort that included a Kiev-class aviation cruiser (a hybrid between a cruiser and aircraft carrier), a Kirov-class nuclear-powered battlecruiser, Sovremennyclass destroyers, Chengdu-class frigates, plus two classes of Chinese submarines.

Well, Cold Waters omitted the Kiev (the game has a tendency to accept or reject player-generated requests for ships to “randomize” things a bit, but it included everything else in my “enemy ships wish list.” The end result was a convoy made up primarily of Yukans and Chikilins, escorted by a respectable but still manageable escort of warships and subs.

A Boris Chilikin AOR (fleet oiler) seen in a screenshot from a different session of Cold Waters. Note the cool details, such as rust on the hull and the ship’s Plimsoll markings on the bow. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

In situations when a submarine commander encounters a high-value target such as an amphibious force, the first priority is, of course, to eliminate the dangerous escort of surface warships and subs. Even if the escort is made up of relatively unimpressive ships like the Chengdu-class, they still have “teeth” (missiles and torpedoes) that can ruin your day if they hit your boat.

That’s what I did. Using torpedoes only (missiles are dangerous to use when attacking escorted convoys because the initial launch point can be spotted visually and provides targeting data to enemy ships with long-range anti-sub weapons). I used the sea conditions in the area (especially the thermocline or “layer” between warm sea water and cold that affects sonar performance) to make the stealthy Seawolf even harder to detect by enemy passive sonar arrays and, choosing several escorts as targets, fired a salvo of four wire-guided Mk. 48 ADCAP torpedoes.

Within 15 minutes, I sank two Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy subs and a Russian-made Sovremennyclass destroyer. Strangely, the Soviet battlecruiser Kirov did not alter course to avoid my sub’s kill zone, so I fired two torpedoes at her in such a way that both hit the mighty warship in comparatively quick succession.

A PLAN frigate of the Chengdu class attempted to locate me, but I was under the layer and hard to detect, so I fired one Mk-48 torpedo at her and maneuvered away from the “datum point” to avoid a Chinese counterattack. It never came; my torpedo hit the hapless Chengdu bow-on, and the frigate exploded, becoming a raging inferno before sinking into the waters of the South China Sea.

After that, it was just a matter of taking Seawolf up to periscope depth (45 feet), raising my radar mast, and “lighting up” the now defenseless enemy convoy to fire anti-ship missiles at the Yukan-class LSTs and Chlikin-class AORs I’d been ordered to destroy.

A Chinese escort goes up in a spectacular explosion after being hit by a Mk. 48 torpedo. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

It was, as a naval historian might have written had this been a real battle in a real war, “The Great Spratly Islands Turkey Shoot.”

I don’t plan to spend the rest of my Saturday gaming, but boy, did it feel good to blow stuff up in Cold Waters!

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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