Old Gamers Never Die: Playing My First Campaign in ‘Cold Waters’

Screenshot from Cold Waters’ US vs. China Campaign. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s early evening here in New Hometown, Florida on Saturday, February 20, 2021. Currently, the temperature is 66˚F (19˚C) under sunny skies – local sunset won’t happen until 6:23 PM Eastern. With humidity at 44% and the wind blowing from the northeast at 11 MPH (17 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 67˚F (19˚C). The forecast for tonight: Clear skies with a low of 49˚F (9˚C).

Today I decided to take most of the day off from writing; I have a new script to write, yes, but I woke up early (5 AM) and couldn’t fall asleep again, so my brain rebelled at the thought of another long day trying to break a story for Project X. I love writing, and I especially love it when there’s a purpose for writing something. But as I have mentioned several times before on A Certain Point of View, Too, I am not the best of thinkers – much less a decent writer – when I am not well-rested. So, Dear Reader, I gave myself permission to get some rest and recreation (R & R).

This afternoon I decided to attempt playing a Campaign on Cold Waters, the 2017 submarine simulation created and published by Killerfish Games as the spiritual successor to the 1988 classic game Red Storm Rising. This is one of the games I bought on Steam last summer and hands down one of my favorites of all time, partly because in many ways it does remind me of Red Storm Rising, but mostly because it’s fun to play and has gorgeous visuals and an immersive sound design.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software
Damage control status screen from Silent Service II. (C) 1990 MicroProse Software

Like MicroProse’s Silent Service II (a World War II sub sim set in the Pacific between December 7, 1941 and August 15, 1945) and Red Storm Rising, Cold Waters has three different types of missions. They are:

  • Training
  • Single Missions
  • Campaign
Menu screen from Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

In all three games, this setup is intentionally designed to help players – especially new ones – learn not just the basics of submarine warfare – navigation, handling the boat, tactics, weapons, and use of sensors – but also how to physically play the game. And even though in Cold Waters the Training missions are more elaborate than in the 1990s-era games, the way in which the game is designed allows you – the player – to get acquainted with your boats, their sensors and weapons, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the Do’s and Don’ts of underwater warfare. (Do try to be stealthy and stalk your targets before shooting that torpedo. Don’t use active sonar or sprint through the water at 30 knots in battle unless you absolutely have to!)

I’ve owned Cold Waters since early last July, and even though I am a decent American sub driver (the game also lets you play as a Soviet or Chinese skipper), I am not my generation’s equivalent of Richard “Killer” O’Kane, Dudley “Mush” Morton, or John S. McCain, Jr. I’ve fought in Single Missions where I have survived close encounters of the worst kind with enemy forces by the skin of my teeth, as well as quite a few in which I’ve “died” with my boat and my crew at the hands of either the Chinese or the Soviet navies.

Part of the background briefing for the US vs. China 2000 campaign. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

And in all that time, I have not made a serious effort to play any of the game’s three campaigns (NATO vs. Soviets 1984, NATO vs. Soviets 1968, and US vs. China 2000).[1]

That is, until today.  

If you have played any military-themed game – and this applies not just to games set in the real world (historical or hypothetical conflicts) but also to fantasy ones set in the Star Wars galaxy or Tolkien’s Middle-Earth – you know that a Campaign game consists of a series of single battles in which you, the player, have to complete a specific mission in order to hurt the enemy and prevent him from winning the war.

Official seal, U.S, Naval Base Guam.

In Cold Waters, your boat[2] is based at Naval Base Guam – not Pearl Harbor, though you will receive your orders from Pacific Fleet HQ there – because it is closer to the South and East China Seas than Hawaii is. At the beginning of a Campaign you can either choose which class of fast attack sub you command, or you can have the game choose one at random for you, which is closer to reality in the U.S. Naval service.

At the beginning of a campaign, you set out to sea as soon as you receive your first orders; the boat is fully operational, and its weapons loadout is complete. Because you command a nuclear-powered vessel, fuel is not an issue, and the game does not factor in food consumption or crew health or morale. But it does factor in weapons loadouts and expenditures, so one of the concepts of command you have to master is how to make every shot count and, most important, when to return to base to rearm and repair your boat.

The first thing I did – once I chose USS Seawolf as my boat for the US vs. China campaign – was to read my orders carefully. My first assignment once the war broke out was to go to a certain area in the South China Sea and intercept a task force of small but deadly Chinese Navy (which inexplicably calls itself the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN) surface ships and sink them. The orders – which I should have taken screenshots of for this blog post – specified my general operational area or OPAREA, so I navigated my sub on the huge Campaign map in Transit mode. (This was a feature Cold Waters borrowed from Red Storm Rising, which in turn borrowed it from Silent Service.)

The Transit map. Note that Chinese units and assets are shown as red icons; Americans are depicted in blue. Naval Base Guam is the green square south of the Northern Marianas on the lower right quadrant; Seawolf is marked as the sub-shaped blue icon just west of Guam.
The Transit map from Red Storm Rising is a bit primitive-looking, but you can see it serves as inspiration to Cold Waters’ designers. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software

This time around I paid close attention to the geography of both my transit across the Pacific and my OPAREA per my orders from CINCPAC[3] at Pearl Harbor. The orders tell you where the PLAN forces are sailing from and their suspected OPAREA, so I made sure I read the place names and moved my boat – with the mouse – to the right spot on the map.

Because the distances are so vast in the Pacific/East Asia theater, Transit is done in accelerated time, and you have to look not only at your blue sub icon, but at all the other icons on the map, some of which show you certain friendly assets – in blue – and others – in red – that depict enemy patrol planes, sub and surface units, and even reconnaissance satellite flight paths.

The one thing that the map display will not do is spoon feed you all of the necessary data to carry out your assignments. So if you see two enemy task forces leaving from, say, Shanghai at the same time and head in two different directions, which one do you go for? Cold Waters will not ID specific unit icons to tell you, “Okay, go after that one.” It’s your job to decide which enemy group to go after, and the best way of doing that is to remember your orders and see if the red icon is going toward the specific location mentioned in the message from CINCPAC or is heading elsewhere. Geography – it matters!

So far, I have completed three “intercepts” of PLAN and Chinese merchant ships in the Campaign. I won three battles, although Seawolf suffered heavy damage from sub-launched torpedoes that left her with 45% structural integrity. But I survived, and after I finished my third assignment I took Seawolf back to Guam, where she was repaired and rearmed.

I don’t want to play the Campaign in a marathon session – I used to do that when I was younger, but now I don’t have the stamina, so I saved the game there.

However, I did earn my first decoration – a Bronze Star for Valor – and a nicely worded citation to go with it. Because it was the first time since I bought Cold Waters last summer you don’t get medals for Single Battles like you can on Silent Service II (which is also available on Steam), I took a screenshot so I could show it off on this post.

My first medal in Cold Waters!

All right, Dear Reader, that about wraps it up for this episode of Old Gamers Never Die on A Certain Point of View, Too. I hope you are enjoying your weekend, and as always, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

[1] I have tried to start two campaigns –  NATO vs. Soviets 1984 and US vs. China 2000 – before, but on those occasions, I rushed into the game without paying heed to the geography of the scenarios and made rash decisions that resulted in my boat being found and sunk by enemy antisubmarine warfare (ASW) forces or many wild-goose chases because I went after the wrong enemy task forces.  

[2] In naval parlance, submarines are never called ships, even though some – the strategic ballistic missile subs nicknamed “boomers” – have enough firepower to destroy entire nations with their nuclear missiles.

[3] Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet.

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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