Old Gamers Never Die: A Discussion on ‘Stalking the Red Bear’ in the ‘Cold Waters’ Submarine Sim

A striking screenshot from Stalking the Red Bear in Cold Waters. This is not a promotional image; it’s a screengrab from one of my first sessions of Mission #10. Here, the Typhoon has been forced to the surface by a torpedo hit and is trying to make a run for it. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games


Tom Clancy would have loved to see the visuals in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Cold Waters, the submarine warfare simulation released a few years ago by Killerfish Games, is one of my favorite computer games of all time.

Aside from the coolness of its state of the art graphics, sound design, and exciting gameplay, I like Cold Waters because it has what I call a “Tom Clancy technothriller vibe.”

This is one of my favorite books by the late Tom Clancy. (C) 1984 Naval Institute Press

Part of this, of course, is that the designers and programmers at Adelaide (Australia) based Killerfish Games are fans of Red Storm Rising, a late 1980s sub simulator published by MicroProse Software. Designed by MicroProse’s co-founder Sid Meier and programmed by a team that included Meier, Richard Orban, and Silas Warner, Red Storm Rising is based on one of the plots in the eponymous 1986 novel co-authored by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond. The team led by Killerfish Games’ Dr. Paul Sincock and Nils Ducker set Cold Waters in an altered version of 1984, the same year that Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October was published and created a Campaign that bears many visual similarities to MicroProse’s take on Red Storm Rising.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd.
(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Though all of the engagements in Cold Waters have that “Tom Clancy vibe,”[1] especially in the Campaign game, there is one Single Mission that has it in spades.

That mission, my friend, is Stalking the Red Bear.

Stalking the Red Bear is the tenth Single Mission in Cold Waters. It is set in April of 1984 and features the U.S. and Soviet submarine classes that are available in the North Atlantic 1984 Campaign but is a stand-alone mission. It puts you in command of a U.S. nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine (SSN) patrolling near the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, in the Arctic Ocean.

The pre-battle setup screen from Stalking the Red Bear. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Your assignment? Seek – and destroy – a Soviet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) or, in Navy parlance, a “boomer.” A Typhoon-class boomer, to be precise.

If you’ve read Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October or watched director John McTiernan’s 1990 film adaptation, you know that the Typhoon class sub was the basis for Clancy’s Red October. Known by the Russians as the Akula (Shark) class, this is the largest submarine ever built, displacing 48,000 tons and measures 175 m (574 ft 2 in) in length, a width (beam) of 23 m (75 ft 6 in), and a draught of 12 m (39 ft 4 in).

Armed with 20 nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), torpedoes, and cruise missiles, six Typhoons were built and a seventh canceled before the Cold War ended in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Of the six, only one –  Dmitriy Donskoi – is in service with the Russian Navy.

In Cold Waters’ alternate reality of 1984, the Cold War turned hot, and Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) has assigned you and your boat to stalk and destroy a strategic asset of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet – a Typhoon.

Basics of ‘Stalking the Red Bear’

Stalking the Red Bear is challenging for two reasons.

First, it is strictly a submarine vs. submarine scenario. There are no surface warships or aircraft (fixed wing or rotary wing) present. It’s just you, the Typhoon…and at least two capable Red Fleet (REDFLT) SSNs to provide escort.

Second, it is set in the Arctic Ocean. Here, the water depth isn’t as deep as in other parts of the North Atlantic scenarios. It’s not as shallow as, say, the South China Sea in the Junks on Parade mission, but it’s not so deep that you can trade space for time whilst evading Soviet homing torpedoes. Also, there are ice floes that can interfere with your sonar and weapons’ performance, as well as posing a navigational hazard to your boat.

A 688-class boat cruises in the Arctic Ocean. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

As if that wasn’t plenty to worry about already, this area is the natural habitat for “biologicals” – usually blue whales. So if your sonar operator calls out “Conn, Sonar: New contact bearing 0-2-0, designated Sierra One,” make sure you use your sonar classification feature and match the contact’s signature with those in the sonar signature database. Not only do you not want to waste a torpedo that can be better used against the enemy, but you do not want to kill a poor, innocent whale!

Greenpeace won’t like it if you kill this blue whale. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games
A shark-motif gives this Sierra-class SSN a menacing look. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Though Stalking the Red Bear is not as difficult to complete as Single Mission #7: The Bastion Gambit, you must use your best judgment as to how to close in on the enemy, get off the first shot at the Typhoon, destroy the escorts, and finish the mission with as little damage to your boat as possible.

Tip #1. Stealth and Patience are Your Friends

We survived this mission…but not unscathed. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

In real life, submarine vs. submarine engagements tend to be long and tedious affairs. The process of finding and pursuing a sub that does not want to be found is hard enough. Doing chasing a heavily armed ballistic missile sub and her capable guardians is much harder, especially in a war situation where torpedoes and anti-sub missiles are “weapons-free.”

Cold Waters eliminates much of the time-consuming preliminaries and starts each engagement in what storytellers call en media res. Here, you are entering the battle at the point of first definite contact with the enemy and your sonar operator already has one or more Sierra (meaning sonar) contacts on tap.

A first-time player might succumb to temptation and hit the F2 (Look at Target) key to see what the current contact looks like. If Sierra One is the Typhoon, the rookie gamer might even get an itchy trigger finger and let loose with a Mk.48 ADCAP wire-guided torpedo even if the firing solution is less than 30%.

We call that a Typhoon-class “boomer.” The Soviets called it Akula (Shark). (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Here’s my bit of Cold Waters veteran’s advice:

Do NOT do that.

By all means, if you want to get cinematic and hit the F2 key to see what your current target looks like, go ahead. The striking visuals of Cold Waters are part of why it’s one of my all-time favorites and makes me wish someone (Ubisoft, I’m looking at you!) would upgrade a licensed-by-the-Clancy estate upgrade of Red Storm Rising. It is not a realistic way to play the game – if you want to play Cold Waters as though you were a real submariner, you’d stick to your tactical display screen and the various mini-displays for acoustic conditions, sonar signatures, weapons loadout, and damage control.

That having been said, even if you see a Typhoon as that first contact and it the mini-map on the left-hand side tells you it is within spitting distance – even though that firing solution reads 36% – do not fire that torpedo.

See, though your contact seems as though that Typhoon is, say, 4,000 yards away, your boat’s sophisticated sonar-based targeting computer only has a 36% firing solution. That means there’s a 64% chance that the target is farther away than it looks. Or It could be closer. Either way, a 36% firing solution is not good enough to firing that expensive Mk.48 torpedo prematurely. All you’ll do in this case is to give away your general position – Soviet subs have sonar, too, though not as good as yours – and announce your presence to the Typhoon and her SSN guardians.

On the lower left-hand corner, do you see a target data mini-window? That tells you a contact (S1 or Sierra One) is detected by your sonar crew. We know it’s at Bearing 224, but we don’t have information on its course (CSE) or speed (SPD). And it looks as though it’s 13,500 yards (RNG 13.5 KYD), but the firing solution is only 26%. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So…when you hear your sonar guy call out “Conn, Sonar: New contact. Designating Sierra One (or Two, or Three)…” Chill out.

Don’t shoot. Listen. (And by ‘listen” I mean hit Shift-S for “Rig the ship for ultraquiet,” then hit F6 for Sonar Signatures and cycle through the database. Depending on your difficulty settings, your “Sonar Guy” will identify the contact if you wait a while. But you can identify the target yourself and designate it manually by cycling through the database of signatures – the ” key – and hitting Enter when you get a visual match. )

Once you classify your target(s), choose one – usually the Typhoon – and wait until your sub’s systems have a better firing solution. The higher the percentage on the firing solution, the more accurate the tracking data on your screen is. Eventually, you will know the target’s direction – course heading – and how far away it is from your boat. Once you have a firing solution of 80% or better (95% is the highest percentage Cold Waters gives players), fire one “fish” at the target.

An Mk.48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) torpedo streaks toward its target. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

 Tip #2: Fire & Evade

First, a word about which U.S. boat to choose in Stalking the Red Bear:

All the U.S. submarines in the 1984 scenarios have four torpedo tubes and 16 torpedoes, but not all of them can fire four wire-guided torpedoes at once. The older Skipjack and Permit classes have only one wire, while the Sturgeon and Los Angeles classes have two or four wires, respectively. So, if you are new to the game and want to survive and thrive in Stalking the Red Bear, choose the Los Angeles class boat until you are an ace in that mission.

If you’re playing Stalking the Red Bear for the first time, choose this class of SSN as your command. Once you have successfully completed the mission a few times, try older classes, like the Sturgeon or Permit, (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Moving on….

Before you let loose with your first torpedo, make sure you have a mobile submarine simulator (MOSS) MK70 loaded in one of your tubes. A MOSS is basically a small torpedo-like device that plays a sound that closely matches your boat’s acoustic signature. Yes, it means you can only fire three torpedoes at the enemy, but you’ll need that MOSS to (hopefully) decoy the enemy torpedoes that the Russians will fire at you once they hear that first “transient”- mechanical noise heard underwater – from your sub.

Game Reference Guide entry for the Mk.70 MOSS. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

If it looks as though the enemy sub is firing blind and from too far away to get a workable solution on you, aim your MOSS at a point halfway between the enemy fish (it’ll show up on your tactical display as green if inactive and yellow if active) and fire it. You’ll see a yellow blip heading out from your boat and toward the point you selected.

At the same time, set a course away from the enemy launch point and do what the Silent Service calls “Clear your datum.”  In other words, the enemy has a fix on your launch transient even if he does not have a good firing solution on your boat. By moving away from your launch point – ideally at a slow speed and even more ideally with that MOSS already cruising along making the noise of a Los Angeles-class (or, if you prefer, a 688-class) boat – you are making it hard for Ivan to get a good firing solution – and thus denying him the chance to kill you before you destroy the Typhoon.

Like the instructions on the average shampoo say, “Rinse and repeat.”

Or in this case, follow the same basic principle of firing and evading when firing at the enemy subs.

Important Fact: You only have three MOSS decoys. If you deploy them properly – like, not too close to your boat and if the enemy is far, far away[2] – they might work as advertised. Like my dear mother used to say, “A MOSS a day helps keep Russkie torpedoes away…” [3]

Typhoon-class subs are large, have double hulls, and are hard to kill. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Tip #3: Priorities and Strategies

Your first priority in Stalking the Red Bear is to bag that Typhoon. Hopefully not at the expense of your boat or – natch – your life.

Your second priority is to destroy Ivan’s escorting attack subs. Blowing them into next week improves your chances of getting home alive.

It takes two Mk.48 ADCAP torpedoes to sink large targets like the Kirov battlecruiser or the Typhoon boomer, but I usually fire just one torpedo at a behemoth like a Typhoon SSBN and two (one each) at the escorts. One fish won’t kill a 48,000 monster like the Typhoon, but it will cause damage. Depending on where the Mk.48 hits the boat, the boomer might suffer enough flooding for it to surface, or it will lose the ability to sprint at flank speed, or it will be unable to fire torpedoes from damaged tubes.

Russian SSNs usually only require one torpedo hit to be killed, at least in Cold Waters, so a good rule of thumb is to damage the Typhoon and kill its SSN friends first, then finish the wounded boomer off with a second Mk.48 shot.

That Typhoon won’t be heading back to its base in the USSR. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Remember. The Typhoon is the Soviet Union’s most expensive SSBN and represents a sizable portion of its strategic nuclear deterrent. It isn’t as maneuverable or fast as your 688-class boat, nor is it equipped with a Tom Clancy-style silent propulsion system, so it will be escorted by nimble and well-armed attack subs. So once you fire that first fish, you need to focus on three things:

  • Know where the enemy SSNs are and fire torpedoes at them ASAP. Even if you don’t kill them right away, the Soviet subs will be too busy evading your torpedoes to get a good solution and fire more torpedoes.
  • Avoid being hit by Soviet torpedoes, even if you must maneuver at flank speed and risk breaking the wires to your torpedoes. Hopefully your “fish” will go active and home in on the enemy boats and distract them so their own torpedoes will miss you
  • Don’t get “target fixation” and focus only on the Typhoon. Yes, firing two torpedoes at the primary target would kill it if you made a good TMA and the torps were fired exactly right, but if you leave the enemy SSNs for “dessert,” your next of kin will be visited by a Casualty Notification Team. And that would ruin your whole day

Also, if you are new to Cold Waters and have not tried Stalking the Red Bear, watch the video by YouTube creator Kasey Chang to see how challenging – and entertaining – the mission is.

Well, that’s about all the advice I can give you without doing a step-by-step “cheat guide.” So, my friend, good luck, and good hunting.

Dosvidanyia, Rodina! A shark-mouthed Soviet SSN sinks and we see an after action report from USS Cincinnati on the end-of-mission screen. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

[1] After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Clancy’s novels went on to pit Jack Ryan – in various government posts – and the U.S. against various adversaries. At least two of Clancy’s novels (The Bear and the Dragon and Threat Vector) feature U.S.-China confrontations. And, more relevant to this blog post, Clancy wrote a tie-in novel based on a Simon & Schuster Interactive video game titled Tom Clancy’s SSN.

[2] But not in another galaxy…..

[3] Actually, Mom never said this.

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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