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Posted on Feb 12, 2008 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

1914-Shells of Fury – Game Review

By Jim Cobb

Passed Inspection: Fine vessel graphics; detailed ship models; simple interface; unscripted campaign missions

Failed Basic: Mediocre environmental graphics; no crew sounds or management options; no mission save; slow minefield transit; target data too easily gained

Submarine simulations have been around computer gaming since the early 1980’s. Naturally, World War II and modern vessels and their conflicts dominate the field, but the absolute absence of World War I subs was striking. Didn’t Imperial Germany’s U-boats change the nature of strategic naval warfare? Didn’t the irresponsible and failed gamble of unrestricted U-boat operations lead directly to Germany’s defeat? German developer h2f and Strategy First begin to correct the omission with the obtusely titled sub sim, 1914-Shells of Fury. Although not up to the standards of a patched and modded Silent Hunter III, this bargain-priced title provides interesting and exciting insight into the birth of underwater operations.

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Simple Yet Effective

The thirty-page manual, PDF if bought via download or print if boxed, does a fairly good job of explaining the interface despite a few Teutonic syntaxes and failing to translate “STRG” into “CTRL”. Especially appreciated is the introduction of alternative keyboard combinations for laptops. All keyboard commands can be changed in the options menu. The last five pages describe several of the U-boat types used and explain other important data such as ranges of torpedoes. More information can be gleaned from the five tutorial scenarios or found through www.subsim.com. Experienced gamers should have absolutely no problems getting into play and beginners won’t experience any real difficulties.

Graphics are a mixed bag, not incredibly intensive, and configuration options handle a wide range of systems. Crew members make only occasional appearances and players can’t walk through their vessels. Internal stations include control room, map, torpedo room, periscope, radio room and captain’s cabin. These rooms are just screens, dials and buttons arranged in a user-friendly manner. Some gauges, such as the control room’s depth and speed gauges and compass, can be manipulated while others just measure fuel, oxygen and battery levels. The periscope station is probably the least authentic but most useful with an updated, animated tactical tracking map.

External stations include the “sail”, binocular, machine gun mount and deck gun station, if available. All of these positions show environmental effects such as water, sky and land. The designers rather fudged the water with both the North Sea and the Adriatic displayed as either choppy or very choppy, allowing white caps and wakes but not reflections. Another shortcut was to always have the sky overcast so stars and wispy clouds can be skipped. On the other hands, sunrises and sunsets can be seen through a haze and the moon glows well. Harbors are not detailed but land is pretty. Raising the periscope partially in shallow waters reveals interesting sea beds as does the torpedo camera.

Vessels are modeled expertly with every detail of submarines and surface ships shown. Warships are also very authentic with some ships having sails set and billowing. Biplanes buzz around with struts and wires visible, trailing smoke when hit. Combat visuals include muzzle flashes, tracers, fires, towering shell splashes and satisfactory explosions. Ships take their own good time in sinking, creating navigational hazards for careless captains.

One constant in all screens is the information bar. On the left, the bar has small counters for local time, time acceleration and buttons for abandoning ship, crash dive and surface. The middle of the bar is taken up by icons that take players to the ten stations, also accessible through F keys. The left end is where the action lies. Here, small counters show speed and depth, but the main attraction is a compass with the submarine silhouette pointing out the present heading, a lightly shaded area highlighting the view direction, and small red dots around the rim to signify spotted targets. A horizontal thermometer bar shows the chances of the submarine being detected.

The primary omission in graphics is the lack of a reticule on the periscope, allowing estimates of target range and speed. Instead, centering a ship in the scope or binoculars brings up a text showing nationality, type, speed, heading, bearing and range to the target. If the target can’t be seen through these instruments but is shown on the navigation map, holding a mouse over the ship’s symbol will yield this same data. A similar disappointment is the lack of sights on the deck gun and machine gun. Ranging of the deck gun is accomplished by “locking” the target with binoculars, making it appear in the center of a circular chart. Small black marks on the chart record the fall of shot until hits are made. The machine gun is aimed by the flight of tracers. Manipulation of the periscope, binoculars and deck gun is done with the numeric keypad and SHIFT. The machine gun is handled with the mouse. Views through the binoculars and periscope can be zoomed from 2X to 4X.

Mechanical and combat sounds are done well, with engines throbbing according to speed, the hissing of compressed air, hull creaks and groans due to being under pressure, and explosions racking the air. Missing are crew acknowledgment of orders and environmental sounds like gulls calling. On long cruises, a little music would have been nice.

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