Dive! Dive! Dive!
I remember playing Silent Service on the original Nintendo. I had always wanted to be at the helm of a submarine and Silent Service let me do just that. Unfortunately, the spell of fantasy was broken by the bad sound, poor graphics and low realism. It simply wasn't possibly to build an immersive submarine simulation for a platform such as the Nintendo.
In designing for Pentium-class computers, the 688(I) programmers had the freedom to achieve a high level of realism, graphic and sound quality. For the most part, they used it. 688(I) is a simulation of the Los Angeles class of submarines. It was even made by Sonalyst, the same company which creates training simulations for The Navy.
Missions are of four varieties in 688(I). There are training missions, in which there is no risk to your sub and crew; Single missions, in which you must accomplish a specific objective; Campaigns, in which you must destroy as many enemies as possible before you are destroyed or run out of ammunition. Finally, there are multiplayer missions, in which you and a few of your friends can play against each other in either co-op or deathmatch. Unfortunately, to play multiplayer, each player must own a copy of 688(I).
Control of your submarine is managed by a number of different stations, each of which represents one aspect of the submarine. In play, you will find that most of your time is spent at four of these stations: Sonar, TMA, Weapons, and Navigation.
The Navigation station is probably the most straightforward of the stations. Navigation consists of a zoomable, pannable map of the area with the best known positions of all ships in the area overlaid. It includes an additional screen which displays the depth beneath the keel, which is useful if you need to make sure you won't run aground.
The Weapons station allows you to assign targets to specific weapons, reload empty torpedo tubes, and check on the number of weapons in storage. Prior to firing, weapons can by assigned presets such as depth, activation range, deactivation range(in case of a miss) and speed. The presets allow the advanced submarine captain to ensure that weapons will take a route to their target that delays their detection by enemies, and ensures that the weapon will not attack friendly or neutral forces. Countermeasures such as jammers and decoys can also be used if you come under fire. However, it was at the weapons station that I found fault with 688(I). Weapons are reloaded much more quickly than in real life. I don't know the speed of a crew on a real submarine, but somehow I suspect that it takes them a little more then 5 seconds to reload a torpedo tube. There is now a patch available of the net to fix this.
The Sonar station gives you five functions for identifying other ships in the water. There is active sonar, which can be set to give a single pulse or periodic pulses. Active intercept tells you the bearing and relative range of ships in the area using active sonar. DEMON, which stands for DEMOdulated Noise, can analyze the sound coming from a ship and tell you its speed. Broadband waterfall shows a cascading display of the bearing of passive sonar contacts. Finally, Narrowband waterfall can be used to classify targets so you know if they are friendly or hostile. In all sonar modes, contacts show up as brighter green pixels against a black or dark green field of noise.
The TMA station is the most difficult to master. TMA stands for Target Motion Analysis. The TMA station is where information from all sensors is compiled to try to give the most accurate picture of a target's position, speed, and heading. The reason TMA is so difficult is that it usually involves taking bearing-only measurements of the target and then trying to estimate its range and speed. For example, if you first spot a target at bearing 90, and one minute later you spot it at bearing 91, and the next minute at 92, does this perceived motion exist because the target is moving North, or is it because you are moving South faster than the target is? Fortunately for novices, there is an option which can make the computer handle TMA like an expert.
Graphically, 688(I) is very good. The only blockiness I noticed was when looking at the ocean or at an explosion at very close range. All craft are Gouraud shaded and texture-mapped. They also have nice little touches like spinning propellers and wakes. Sound is also good. The executive officer repeats your orders to the crew, although he can get a bit repetitive. You can listen to the white noise of a sonar contact, or feel fear as an enemy's active sonar gets louder and louder.
The AI is unexceptional, and as can be seen from the included mission editor, merely follows a preset tactic. The AI seemed to show varying degrees of hostility towards me. At times, it would launch a torpedo as soon as it detected my presence, while at others, it did nothing even when I fired torpedoes at it. It seems that no one bothered to teach the AI the simple tactic of returning fire.
Despite a few realism and pixelation faults, 688(I) is great fun to play. It's great for your ego to be in command of a 300 foot long, nuclear-powered missile carrying Hunter/Killer [Ed. Note: Freud would be so proud.]. 688(I) makes it a fun challenge to sneak up on your enemy, attack, and get away without detection. With over 30 missions, it can keep the average gamer busy for many hours. And with multiplayer and a mission editor, there is a lot of play value for your dollar. If you are a fan of submarine sims, or have wanted to command a nuclear sub without the cramped space and lack of fresh food, then you should put 688(I) in your sights.