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Posted on Jun 21, 2004 in Electronic Games

Harpoon III – Game Review (PC)

By Ralph Benton

To start a game you load a scenario. There are hundreds of scenarios available, and new ones are being continually created and distributed (for free) by the community. They range from the simple, like a few torpedo boats attacking Israeli coastal hotels, to unbelievable complex, with a hundred ships and airbases and hundreds of aircraft fighting for days. There are training exercises, rescue missions, and convoys. Most scenarios can be played from either side, so you can play each one at least twice.

Once the scenario is loaded you review your orders, the Order of Battle, and the victory conditions. Then the fun starts. Depending on the scenario your forces may already be in motion, or you may have to get things moving. Organize your formations, send out patrols, get your AWACS aloft, and scout out the situation. If you are sub-hunting it may be awhile before you find anything. If you’re attacking the Russians, there will be plenty of contacts in very short order. Harpoon is real-time, not turn-based, so the action is continuous.


Let’s say you want to destroy an enemy air base. This is no ‘click on the plane, click on the target, and sit back’ game. You must first think about what sort of strike package you will need. This may include fighter cover, electronic jammers (stand-off or escort), and the bombers themselves. Each plane will need to be equipped with the proper load-out. Next you will have to track the ready times for each group of planes. Depending on their initial load-out, changing them can take hours of game time. Finally you will have to coordinate the launch times of all the groups, so that they form up together and attack as a team. But you may also want to have them attack from different directions to overwhelm the ground defenses. This will mean that some of the group will have farther to travel, and the launch or loiter times adjusted accordingly. And when you get close to the target, don’t forget to plan for the different speeds and ranges of the attack missiles!

U.S. bomber groups head for the Soviet Union. Note Zoom Map 3, in which a group of F-15s are exchanging missiles with a Soviet fighter. (Click to enlarge).

Every platform in the game has been, and continues to be, meticulously researched and updated. The message boards are filled with posts debating just how many reloads are available for a given mount for a given ship for a given country for a given year. All of this information is contained in a database that is continually revised, and always available for download. The F/A-18 has sixty-three different versions listed, and a given version might have fifteen to twenty different load-outs available in a scenario.

The game can get daunting, especially with the larger scenarios. Fortunately there are game settings which can be adjusted to suit your playing style and skill. The game AI can handle things like setting formations, patrols, and the like, leaving you free to concentrate on higher strategy, like which target to attack next. While some players like to get into the details, and control which plane fires which missile and when, others prefer to just organize the patrols and let the machine do the rest.

The system requirements are modest, but if you want to play the larger scenarios a fast machine with a good chunk of memory is highly recommended. Otherwise the game bogs down as all of the sensor contacts, weapons ranges, and the like are continually recomputed. The game is extremely stable on either Windows or Mac machines. For more information go to, or to purchase the game or download a demo go to Yes, nukes ARE enabled. Good hunting!

About the Author

Ralph Benton is a free-lance writer living and working in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, near Boulder, Colorado. He started reading about World War II when it was still a recent memory, and started playing computer games when you had to know your config.sys from your autoexec.bat.

In addition to twentieth century warfare, Ralph also studies ancient and medieval military conflict, as well as astronomy and civil engineering. He continues to be survived by a long-suffering wife and two patient children. The dog is patient by nature.

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