Old Gamers Never Die: ‘Cold Waters’ – One Campaign, Two Endings

Death of a Soviet fast attack sub near the Kola Peninsula, (Screenshot from Cold Wates. All game elements in this and other screen grabs are (C) 2017 Killerfish Games)

Hello there, Dear Reader. It’s late afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Right now the temperature is almost summerish: 81˚F (27˚C) under sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the west at 10 MPH (17 KM/H) and humidity at 53%, the heat index is 82˚F (28˚C). Today’s forecast calls for sunny skies for the rest of the day and a high of 85˚F (30˚C). Tonight we can expect mostly clearly skies and a low of 59˚F (15˚C).

Since today is Sunday and a day of rest, I have been taking it easy. I must have slept a bit past eight this morning because I could see a bit of daylight through the drawn curtains in my room, considering that local sunrise was at 7:39 AM EDT and it wasn’t dark out there. I don’t feel all that rested because I fell asleep late; I watched a few episodes of Sea Power on Amazon Prime Video (thank the Force for smart TVs that connect to the Internet!) until I got sleepy and turned the set off.

After a late breakfast of toast, cereal, orange juice, and coffee, I decided to complete the North Atlantic 1984 campaign in Cold Waters, my go-to computer video game that simulates modern submarine warfare in several Cold War-turns-hot scenarios.[1] Think of Cold Waters as a spiritual heir to MicroProse Software’s Red Storm Rising; the game’s Australian-based designers over at Killerfish Games certainly do!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, World War III was reaching its endgame state where I left off in North Atlantic 1984. Based on my successes-to-failures ratio, the Western alliance was winning the war. West Germany and Denmark were liberated from Soviet occupation, Norway was spared the indignity of not one but two amphibious landings, and the USSR was losing lots of ships and subs at sea, including the ones my boats sank.

Last night, before I watched Sea Power, I played Cold Waters at this “save point” in the game. In that particular instance – which reflected a game save from Friday – I had been rescued like a drowned rat from one of my lost subs (USS Portsmouth/SSN-707) after destroying a Soviet amphibious group off the Norwegian coast and assigned to command USS Dallas (SSN-700). When I loaded that saved game, I knew it was the last mission of the game; COMSUBLANT[2] advised me that the Soviets were deploying a nuclear-powered ballistic missile sub (a “boomer,” in Navy parlance) to the Arctic in a move to intimidate a victorious NATO into ending the war in a draw.

Well, because I was busy evading enemy antisubmarine warfare (ASW) planes, recce satellites, and surface groups, I was too slow in getting Dallas to a good ambush point closer to the Soviet coast, so I had to take my sub into the icepack instead. I found the boomer – a Delta IV SSBN – all right, but ice floes made it hard for me to get at it with my torpedoes, and a Sierra-class SSN sank Dallas. One of my Mk-48s sank a Victor III attack sub by sheer luck, but the boomer and her other escort got away.

A Delta III-class SSBN tries to evade a Mk-48 torpedo from Baton Rouge. On the mini-map on the left, you can see that we are evading a Soviet torpedo (marked in yellow) astern. The other yellow icon to the right of our boat (marked in blue as Los Angeles) is a MOSS decoy. Spoiler alert: That didn’t work, and Baton Rouge was hit…but not sunk.

That’s when I learned that the game has several possible endings, based on how well (or how badly) a player performs against the AI Soviets. If you have more failed missions than successful ones, at the end of the war the Soviet Union wins. If you have a good war record but lose the last mission, the war ends in a draw, with the USSR getting some concessions – such as being able to occupy whatever NATO territory they hold at game’s end, and the Cold War continues.

That, Dear Reader, was the outcome of the Third World War per my results of last night’s final battle.

I don’t remember if my crew and I survived the sinking of Dallas; based on the boat’s location and the fact that I didn’t get a chance to hit the Abandon Ship button, I don’t see how we could have come out of that alive.

However, there were several onscreen cutscenes – stills – which suggest that we did survive, and that my record as a successful wartime skipper allowed me to escape repercussions to my career in the Navy. Plus, the war ended, as I said, in a draw.

I’ve never tried to do a do-over of a final mission in Cold Waters, but this morning I fired up the game, hit Load in the Saved Games page, and tried my luck with the final missions of the North Atlantic 1984 campaign.

Oddly, instead of being in command of USS Dallas, I found myself aboard the USS Baton Rouge (SSN-689), the second boat in the Los Angeles class and, in real life, one of the few unlucky ones.[3]

Another surprise: the game sent me to intercept an at-sea replenishment group that consisted of an Ugra-class submarine tender and several escorts operating in the Barents Sea. So, I headed out to sea with Baton Rouge and went in harm’s way.

I’m not going to bore you with a blow-by-blow account of my last war patrol. Suffice it to say that before I found the replenishment group, I ran into another Soviet surface group operating near Norway. I got lucky and sank all three ships, even though COMSUBLANT sent me a semi-annoyed message letting me know that it was not my assigned target. It was a successful encounter, although it did make me use quite a few torpedoes in the process of sending the Soviet ships to the bottom of the sea.

Finally, the endgame mission. I received orders to intercept a Soviet boomer that was expected to sail from the naval base at Gremkha, which is located on the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula in Russia.

The Strategic Transit Map shows my boat’s position in the Norwegian Sea, as well as US and Soviet ASW patrol aircraft (blue and red plane-shaped icons) on November 25, 1984, shortly after the start of World War III.

I was already in the Barents Sea – almost due north from where the boomer was said to be departing – so I followed a hunch and headed south instead of north and into the icepack.

Luckily, I was right! The game “pulled me out” of the Strategic Transit Map (which is where you move your boat in accelerated real time) as soon as Baton Rouge found a contact. (Oddly enough, Cold Waters sometimes generates encounters with enemy forces that don’t show up as icons on the map, probably to simulate the “fog of war” effect.)

Sure as rain, as soon as Baton Rouge slowed from 20 knots to five, I hear “Conn, Sonar. New contact bearing 134. Designating as Sierra One.[4]” It was an Alfa-class fast attack sub.

Of course, this didn’t necessarily mean that this sub was one of the boomer’s escorts. But it was there…it was less than 5,000 yards away…and it was firing torpedoes. So I retaliated.

A Ka-27 Helix hunts the Baton Rouge.

Now, the game lets you see what’s going on outside of your boat – like a movie, which is one of the reasons I love Cold Waters – from different vantages. F1 lets you see your boat; F2 lets you see an enemy contact (even if the sonar operator has not classified it by identifying its sound signature), F3 lets you follow torpedoes or missiles, and F4 shows you enemy ASW patrol planes and helicopters. I like to use those views (even though you can’t do that in real life) to ID enemy warships or aircraft by sight, so I checked to see what was going on with one of my Mk-48 torpedoes.

Now, boomers are meant to be stealthy, so usually their skippers tend to move SSBNs in a way that they don’t show up on sonar. And at that moment, the only “Sierra” contact was the Alfa, though my tactical display was giving me hints that there were other steel monsters out there.  So, when I went on “exterior view, weapons” mode, as I checked to see if my torpedo was heading toward the Alfa, I noticed, in the distance, the silhouette of a Delta III-class SSBN.

As I said before, the Alfa had fired several torpedoes at me; only one when it first detected Baton Rouge, then two more when it heard the “transient” from my own torpedo launch. All those weapons crisscrossing in the Delta’s vicinity must have spooked the captain, and the sub became visible in “external mode” when she started speeding up to avoid being hit.

This account is getting more detailed than either you or I would prefer, so I’ll cut to the chase. I bagged the Alfa, the boomer, and a second escort (a Victor III, I think. I don’t keep detailed game logs, so….). Baton Rouge suffered one hit that caused her to lose 38% of her hull integrity, but she survived. I evaded the other “fish” the Russians fired at us, waited till they ran out of fuel and self-destructed, then hit Leave Combat.

After 38 days at war, my four boats – Salt Lake City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Portsmouth, and Baton Rouge – and their crews performed well; we sank no capital ships, but we did destroy 16 other warships, 20 submarines, and 10 merchant/amphibious ships, 46 in all, for a combined tonnage of 241,690 tons (see the attached Achievements to Date graphic above).

And this time around, the destruction of the Delta III resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the war in an Allied victory.

I liked both endings to North Atlantic 1984, but I prefer the second one. I didn’t lose Boat # 4, and I helped win the Third World War.

As the old beer commercial used to say, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”


[1] Cold Waters features three Campaigns, each one reflecting the politics and naval technology of the year indicated in the Campaign names. The first one is North Atlantic 1984 and is the one that most resembles Tom Clancy’s 1986 novel Red Storm Rising and the eponymous 1988 PC game from MicroProse. (The reasons for the war are grounded on the real situation during the Reagan years and just tweaks history enough for an East-West clash, but some of the Cold Waters missions are similar to Red Storm Rising’s.); the second one – which seems to be the toughest – is North Atlantic 1968, which again pits the U.S. Navy against the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet but limits both sides to the vessels, aircraft, and weapons of 1968; and – of course – South China Sea 2000, which depicts an alternate history in which the Soviet Union didn’t fall but became a vassal of the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong turnover did not occur in 1997.

[2] Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic.

[3] USS Baton Rouge was decommissioned on January 13, 1995, the first boat in her class to be stricken from active service, almost three years after colliding with the Russian Sierra-class submarine Kostroma (B-276) in international waters off the northern coast of Russia. Though she suffered minor damage and was repaired, the Navy was looking for vessels to retire from service, and Baton Rouge was one of the warships chosen for decommissioning in a money-saving decision. She was “recycled” on September 30, 1997.

[4] Per Tom Clancy’s Submarine: A Guided Tour of a Nuclear Warship, sonar contacts are called out as Sierra and given numbers upon detection. “Sierra 1” indicates the first sonar contact found in a specific encounter. Radar contacts are called out as “Romeos,” and those detected by a sub’s electronic surveillance mast (ESM) are labeled as Echoes. A target “marked” by various sensors is a “Master.”

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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