The Height of Battle...The Depth of Fear
Anticlimactic. That is the word which comes to mind as I map out all the things--good and bad--I have to say about this game. For the first half-hour or so, Deadly Tide held me spell-bound with its fast-paced action and realistic special effects. I felt as if I was actually thousands of feet underwater, duking it out with aliens! But, there came a growing awareness that I had more or less exhausted the game's possibilities, and my enthusiasm for Deadly Tide ebbed quickly.
The premise of the game is that aliens have landed on Earth and, for several years now, dwelt at the bottom of our oceans manufacturing seawater to engulfe the continents. We, of course, will all die (and hence the conflict), but they will all be quite happy, since water is their usual medium. You are sent by Earth Oceans Alliance on 15 missions to overcome nearly impossible odds (unless you choose the Easy skill level) to destroy the enemy and keep the continents dry. You are provisioned with the latest technology in the Hydra, a fast and highly maneuverable fighter submarine armed with lasers, and, occasionally, you leave the Hydra on brief escapades in your armored dive suit. After completing all 15 missions, you will predictably save the world . . . but Microsoft has thrown you an unusual twist which I will not reveal. You will enjoy this surprise ending.
Sound pretty good? Here are the problems with the game. First, several features of the storyline are very cliche and made me wonder if I had been cast for a part in Independence Day. The game begins with a five-minute video depicting the space battle which preceded the aliens' landing on Earth. Seeing that the puny starfighters are no match for the mothercraft's many huge mega-cannons, the earthling leader gives the signal to retreat. Perhaps you should be surprised to see one of the brave earthlings drive his starfighter straight into the main thruster of one of the huge motherships . . . Didn't that also happen in ID4? Later your commander reveals that part of your objective will be to plant explosives around the central reactor powering to the enemy armada in order to blow it up, and this either brings you back to ID4 or makes you wonder if R2D2 is alright up there.
But, it is said there is no such thing as an original story. So, why so anticlimactic? The best answer I can give is this: the sound effects are excellent, the scenery and the action is interesting and well-produced, the storyline is unoriginal but sufficient to get you hooked, and your commanding officer gives you a laundry list before each mission of all the near-impossible objectives you must accomplish... but you never get to actually do any of it! What you do is aim the joystick and fire. For those of you who missed it: you AIM and FIRE, that's it. You don't get to plant the plastic explosives that blow up the main reactor--your character does this without your pushing a single button. You don't get to steer the hyped-up Hydra--you watch as it dances its way through narrow passageways and nearly collides with enemy fighters. You don't even get to move your character when he exits the Hydra to gallop around in his armored dive suit--he runs and jumps just fine without you. In short, there are a ton of really cool things happening in the game, and your character does nine-tenths of them without your lifting a finger. When your character needs you the screen displays the crosshairs your job it is to line up on enemy targets; then, once you get your character to his objective, the crosshairs disappear and you watch a video segment of your character performing one of your battle objectives. The screen again shows the crosshairs and you, well, resume aiming and, uh, firing. Sometimes you are in "Flight Mode," which means the Hydra or your dive suit decides where you are heading. Other times you are in "Rotate Mode," which means you aren't going anywhere at all but are free to spin around and shoot in all directions. Rotate mode is arguably more difficult because enemies can be all around you but are hard to spot. The game offers a feature called "Selecting a Path," supposedly to put all the power in your hands. At specific points in the game several arrows will pop up to indicate that you must choose one of two or three directions. You click on your joystick's top button and live with your decision. Yet the decision is not really important: it influences only one aspect of your current battle and not at all the battles to come. The feature provides but a fleeting sense of command over your character.
Your biggest strategic decision is when to release your precious torpedos. The Hydra is equipped with only five at the beginning of any battle, and, at times, the game throws so many enemy craft into view that shooting all of them before your shields go down would be a miracle. A well placed torpedo can save the battle, and knowing when to use them is a challenge.
The game's four compact discs get eaten up rather quickly by all the graphics, so you get about 60-90 minutes of actual playing time. The second and third difficulty levels are quite hard (bordering on impossible for the third) so it could take a long time to complete the game. It might be a mistake to run the game in the easy level, however, because I finished the whole game in less than two hours playing in this level. Also, it is regrettable that along the way there are no additional weapons, maps, "health power" or other tools to pick up to spice up the game. You always fire the same laser and, to make matters worse, so do your enemies! There are several types of alien craft and a laser-wielding reptilian in a dive suit to contend with in the game. Unfortunately, killing one form of enemy does not differ significantly from killing any of the others. Neither does the difficulty level progress sufficiently as the end draws near. In most games of this sort, enemies become more formidable and do different things in the game's latter stages; Deadly Tide would be a better game if this technique had not been overlooked.
To add features, Microsoft gives you the "Tactical Engagement Sphere" which looks like a globe showing the battles you've fought. At first, I thought this would be a strategy war room where key decisions would be made. Alas, all the room does is lets you get back to the last battle you were fighting before turning off the computer--or go and re-fight a battle you've already won (not a strategy Sun Tzu suggests in The Art of War). The feature has obvious utility but, again, if it weren't hyped up to be something it isn't, you wouldn't be disappointed... Anticlimax.
As far as hardware is concerned, I'd recommend a Pentium 166 and an 8X CD-ROM. There are three graphics levels and there is a vast amount of improvement as you go up the scale. In Level I--the only level the Setup Utility recommended for my machine, a P-100 with 4X CD-ROM--it was hard to make out the enemies if these were far away, and certain video clips looked hazy. The other graphics levels revealed a superb picture quality but the game was too jerky to play.
Deadly Tide is a viewing extravaganza, whatever it may lack in the way of playability. The sound effects are interesting and correlate well with the action to create an almost movie-like experience. If you have a fast system, you'll especially enjoy the production. But like a lot of grandiose Hollywood movies owing their success solely to special effects, the simplicity of a good storyline somehow got forgotten in all the technobabble.