If you’re a regular reader of A Certain Point of View, Too, you probably know that I like to play – on occasion – a computer video game called Cold Waters. Published four years ago by Australian game design studio Killerfish Games, Cold Waters is a Cold War-turns-hot submarine simulator that its designers tout as inspired by the 1988 classic from MicroProse Software, Red Storm Rising.
In previous posts in my occasional series, Old Gamers Never Die, I have mentioned that Cold Waters features three types of gameplay (four, really, if you include the ability to create your own engagements whilst in Single Mission mode). As in Red Storm Rising (which itself is based on one of Tom Clancy’s most popular novels). Cold Waters has three modes for players to choose from:
- Single Missions (includes 17 scripted missions and Quick Battle mode, the latter of which allows you to create your own missions)
- Campaign (there are three Campaigns in Cold Waters, two of which – 1968 and 1984 – are NATO vs. Soviet Union battles for control of the Norwegian Sea; the 2000 campaign pits the U.S. Navy against China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy and the remnants of the Soviet Navy in a world where the Berlin Wall never fell, and Hong Kong was not turned over by Great Britain in 1997)
Many of Cold Waters’ elements will be familiar to old grognards who played Red Storm Rising in the 1980s and 1990s, but Killerfish Games adds impressive (and cinematic) graphics and sound effects thanks to 21st Century computer tech and programming. The Transit Map – visible only in the Campaigns – in which you move your subs is a refined and more detailed version of the one in Red Storm Rising, but it has the same function; you guide your boat – represented by a blue icon – from Point A to Point B in order to carry out your mission orders.
Some of the control screens and/or functions – such as the Sonar Signature database – in the Tactical Display are also reminiscent of those in Red Storm Rising but updated for the 21st Century.
About “Strike from the Sea”
Strike from the Sea is the ninth of the 17 Single Mission engagements created by Killerfish Games and it’s the only one outside of Campaign mode that depicts the use of UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) by the player’s boat.
Set in March of 1999 – it’s not part of the U.S. vs. PLAN 2000 Campaign even though it is set in the South China Sea theater and features the same classes of opposing ships and subs – Strike from the Sea is a complicated mission with two objectives. The primary one is to launch eight TLAMs at several Chinese military facilities in the Paracel Islands – including airfields, naval repair facilities, oil tank farms, and command-and-control sites.
The second objective is to destroy Chinese surface warships and subs that lurk near the PLAN bases in the Paracel archipelago.
Oh, did I mention that you also need to avoid air attacks from Harbin Z-9 anti-submarine warfare helicopters and Shaanxi Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft that are orbiting overhead? No? Well, I’m mentioning it now.
To be sure, while the number of enemy ships in Strike from the Sea is smaller than in Junks on Parade – usually the scenario generates three PLAN warships, mostly Luhu-class and Luyang III destroyers (the latter one of which is misidentified in Cold Waters as Chengdu-class) and Jiangwei and Jianghu frigates. Sometimes, the game will add a fourth surface ship or even a Han-class nuclear-powered attack sub (SSN).
Strike from the Sea is one of the few Single Missions which allows players to choose a boat to command from one of the U.S. Navy’s submarine classes that were in service in 2000. This means that you can be the skipper of any boat capable of firing TLAMs, although I strongly recommend using either the Seawolf (SSN-21 class) or the Flight 3 Improved Los Angeles (688i) class, with an emphasis on the bigger, better armed Seawolf.
I have played this scenario several times, and these are some of the basic tactics that I use:
- Destroy the Surface Ships First. In this scenario, the three, sometimes four, Chinese warships patrol a square-shaped region near the two missile strike zones spread far apart. I prefer to take them out with Mk.48 torpedoes rather than with UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles (ASMs). Yes, that means I have to close to 10,000 yards or less before launching my wire-guided “fish,” but anything that helps me avoid unwanted attention from the Chinese helicopters (there are usually one or two present) and the Shaanxi Y-8X is preferable than giving the enemy a “flaming datum” – missile launches leave a visual trail of flame and smoke from the Harpoon’s rocket booster and tells your opponent, “Hey, here I am.” Stealth and patience are key here
- Strike Hard, Strike Fast, Get the Hell Out of Dodge. Okay, so you’ve dispatched three, maybe four Chinese “tin cans” with torpedoes and avoided a deluge of enemy air-dropped ordnance. So far, so good. But now you must fire your TLAMs at your primary targets and can’t be stealthy anymore. So, here’s what you do. Once you have sunk the surface ships, load eight TLAMs into your boat’s torpedo tubes – assuming you chose the Seawolf, natch – and fire four each at the two “land target indicators” on your tactical map as quickly as your fingers can hit the “next tube” hotkey (F). Once the eight TLAMS are away, get out of the missile launch area; this is known by submariners as “clearing datum.” Knowing you have attracted the Harbin Z-9s and that annoying Y-8X, dive below 600 feet and go to flank speed (35 knots). Screw the “We’re cavitating!” protest from your sonarman; just dive deep, run fast, and watch out for enemy torpedoes
- Be Prepared to Accept Some Damage. As I mentioned earlier, firing missiles is a double-edged sword. Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles are fine long-range weapons that allow you to strike land targets from long distances. The cruise missiles are jet powered and don’t emit a visible smoke trail, but the rocket boosters that propel them up to the sky from underwater (you must be at a depth of 150 feet to fire TLAMs) have a brief but visible trail of fire and white smoke that can be seen for miles around. The Chinese can’t shoot down TLAMs, but they can counterattack with air-dropped torpedoes (each Harbin Z-9 carries two of those) or depth bombs from the Y-8X. You can – and should – attempt to avoid being hit by all that “incoming mail” by diving deep (six hundred feet ought to do) and running fast. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might evade the torpedoes by keeping out of the 45˚field of detection of their active sonars and avoid damage. Using MOSS decoys and noisemakers also helps in this endeavor, although you have finite numbers of either countermeasure aboard. However, be prepared to accept that if the Harbin Z-9s launch several torpedoes simultaneously from different directions, odds are good that you will get hit at least once.
There are, of course, other stratagems that sub drivers should use in Strike from the Sea, but I’ll leave those up to you to figure out on your own.
As I said earlier, I’ve played this mission in Cold Waters several times. Most of the time, I have completed it with my boat in relatively decent shape – with less-than-critical damage to the sub – and all enemy vessels and land targets destroyed. There was one instance where a Chinese counterattack sank my boat even though my TLAMs hit their targets; I did not detect a fourth enemy warship lurking to the west, and it fired a rocket-boosted torpedo at my already damaged boat – and killed me. That was not a fun ending, I kid you not!
Still, Strike from the Sea is mostly survivable – provided that you use stealth, guile, and determination to overcome the enemy’s defenses.
 In 2008, China’s English-language media discarded this somewhat clunky name and uses the more traditional term “Chinese Navy” instead. However, since Cold Waters is set in an alternate historical period in which the Soviet Union still exists and China is more militarily aggressive than it was in 1997-2000, the game uses the older PLAN.
 The “good” thing about airdropped torpedoes is that they have smaller warheads because they have to be light enough to be carried aloft by helicopter or ASW plane and can’t destroy your boat with one or two hits. That having been said, the Chinese often drop more than one “fish” at once from different angles, so if you avoid one, the other one has a good chance of hitting you and causing damage.