Cold Waters, the 2017 Cold War-turned-hot submarine simulation developed and published four years ago by Australian game studio Killerfish Games (Atlantic Fleet, War on the Sea) is one of my favorite computer games. Inspired by the 1988 MicroProse game Red Storm Rising, Cold Waters puts you in command of a nuclear-powered submarine from one of three navies – the U.S. Navy, the Soviet Navy, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in hypothetical conflicts set in alternate versions of 1968, 1984, and 2000.
And just like its 1980s forerunner, Cold Waters has three mission types: Training, Single Mission, and Campaign.
The first mode – Training – teaches you the basics of sub warfare: how to fire unguided torpedoes, wire-guided torpedoes, using sensors, diving and maneuvering your boat, damage control, firing missiles, and navigation.
The second mode – Single Missions – has 17 scripted missions, ranging from a one-on-one encounter with an enemy sub all the way to attacking convoys and firing cruise missiles at land targets. The missions start with a simple scenario, but get more complex as you move from the first to the last.
The third and most challenging mode is the Campaign. This is, in essence, a “war career” series of missions in a hypothetical Third World War that could have taken place (but mercifully did not) at three different points in the Cold War’s timeline: 1968, 1984, and 2000.
I’ve written about Campaigns in previous Old Gamers Never Die posts, so I won’t delve into that here.
Instead, I’d like to talk about one of the more challenging scenarios in the Single Missions mode: Beating the Odds.
To Kill a Battlecruiser: ‘Beating the Odds’
Beating the Odds is the fifth mission in the Single Missions lineup. It is set in the same period as the 1984 North Atlantic campaign with you as a U.S. Navy submarine commander in a war against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
In Beating the Odds, you are in command of a Sturgeon-class fast-attack sub operating near Norway’s North Cape. Your mission has two tasks. The first: to sink the centerpiece of a Soviet surface action group, the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Kirov, which is escorted by two warships and an IL-38 “Dolphin” (NATO reporting name, May) and – depending on Cold Waters’ randomizer – a fast attack boat. The second part of the mission: survive.
Beating the Odds is a challenging mission for various reasons. Even though it’s not set in a geographical location where the water is shallow (see Junks on Parade) or the enemy task force is large, your primary target is the Kirov, a heavily-armed, nuclear-powered capital ship armed with a mix of anti-ship, anti-sub (ASW), and anti-aircraft weapons. Displacing 28,000 tons fully-loaded, the Kirov class (now called the Admiral Ushakov class) was the reason for the recommissioning of the four Iowa-class battleships in the early 1980s.
Because Kirov is a capital ship, Beating the Odds provides it with a small but powerful escort of two surface ships and a May ASW aircraft. The classes of surface escorts varies from one session to another; sometimes you’ll be lucky, and the escort will consist of two destroyers – most commonly from the Kashin and Kanin classes At other times, Kirov will be protected by more powerful warships, including the ASW-optimized Kresta II cruiser. (If you’re really unlucky, the game will add a submarine escort as well, which means you face threats in three dimensions: air, surface, and underwater.
To add even more complexity to the scenario, you are assigned to a late-1960s tech SSN of the Sturgeon class. Introduced in 1967, the Sturgeons were the precursors to the Los Angeles class; 37 boats and one research variant were built from ’67 to 1975 and, along with early “flights” of the Los Angeles class and the older Permit class, were the work-horses of the Cold War-era Navy. (The last Sturgeons were retired in 2004.)
Although this class was still formidable in 1984 and carried the same weapons as the more state-of-the-art Los Angeles class, command of a Sturgeon in Beating the Odds requires careful planning before you attempt to sink the Kirov.
See, even though your boat has four torpedo tubes and can fire Mk.48 ADCAP (advanced capability) torpedoes and UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles (ASMs), you can only fire two wire-guided torpedoes at one time. If you fire four Mk.48s at the three warships (two at Kirov, one each at the escorts), you can guide only two of them. The other two “fish” have to be carefully aimed at an interception point (IP) based on your best guess. Those unguided torpedoes will run straight till they reach their activation point, then they’ll go “active” and search for a target until they either hit it or run out of fuel.
Since I bought Cold Waters in July of 2020, I have played Beating the Odds several times. My results have been mixed. On my first playthrough, I was fortunate that Kirov was escorted by older warships that were capable and dangerous but not impossible to beat. I was also patient enough to do a proper target motion analysis (TMA) and opted for a “torpedoes only” approach.
As I recall, I used my wire-guided torpedoes to damage Kirov – one ran out of fuel before it could hit the Soviet battlecruiser, but the second torpedo struck home and damaged Kirov so badly that she was afire and limped along at 12 knots, far less than her max speed of 32 knots. With the main target burning and seriously damaged, I focused my energies on sinking the escorts while avoiding sonobuoys and air-dropped torpedoes from the Il-38 May orbiting overhead.
Once the escorts were in Davy Jones’ locker – as it were – I then finished off Kirov, evading the torpedoes dropped by the persistent four-engine May patrol plane. As I recall, one hit my boat and caused heavy damage to my propulsion system. But I was able to sneak away and saved the Sturgeon from sinking using my crew’s damage control skills.
In other instances, however, I’ve only managed to damage the Kirov severely enough to put her out of action for months but not sink her, while losing my own boat to enemy torpedoes launched from alerted (and angry) escorts. Once it was because I used a UGM-84 Harpoon missile instead of torpedoes – launching ASMs in a battle zone where there are aircraft present is a good way of saying, “Hi, Enemy! I’m here! Kill me!”
And, as I said earlier, Cold Waters will randomize the mix of enemies you face. The number of surface ships in the Kirov battle group is fixed at three, but the class types of escorts vary. And sometimes the surface ships have a friendly sub with them, sometimes they don’t. Always, however, the Il-38 May is there to provide air cover and dissuade NATO subs from using long-range ASMs like the UGM-Harpoon.
Here are some tips on how to survive and thrive in Beating the Odds:
- Don’t rush heedlessly into attack mode when the game begins and fire your “fish” as soon as you hear your sonar officer say, “Conn, Sonar: New contact bearing 0-4-7, designated Sierra 1.” Be patient. Do a target motion analysis and identify your targets using the Signature function of the boat’s sonar
- Be stealthy. Soviet naval tech might be slightly inferior to its Western counterparts, but Russian sonar operators are well-trained and are listening for boats like yours on their echo-location equipment. Like your boat, Ivan has both active and passive sonar gear, and if you cruise along at higher speeds than 5-10 knots, chances are good that the Russians will hear you. If you are within the 10,000 yard kill zone and have a decent firing solution on at least two enemy ships – preferably the Kirov – fire four torpedoes and then rig for ultra-quiet. If you’ve done your TMA and aimed your two unguided torpedoes just right, you might get lucky and hit all three ships in the enemy surface action group while avoiding being hit yourself
- Do not use Harpoons unless you are willing to accept at least some damage from that May’s air-dropped torpedoes or depth bombs. Planes and ships can spot the trail of flame and smoke from the UGM-84’s rocket booster and can base their own firing solution on the launch point – hence the term “flaming datum”
- Once you fire your weapons, carefully maneuver away from your launch point to deny the Soviets a datum point which they can use to make their own TMAs of your boat. Remember, war is not a one-way street where the enemy passively waits for you to kill him. Ivan will take your torpedo attack personally. And he will fire back
- If you fire four Mk.48 ADCAP torpedoes at once in hopes of hitting all the ships in the group in one attack, remember: the Sturgeon class (aka the 637s, so called because the lead boat, USS Sturgeon, had the hull number 637) only has two wires, while the newer 688s of the Los Angeles class have four
Beating the Odds can be, ahem, beaten. I’ve done it often enough to be confident in this statement. But it is a difficult scenario. Not as tough as, say, Junks on Parade or The Bastion Gambit, but it is designed to keep would-be submariners on their toes.