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

1914-Shells of Fury – Game Review

By Jim Cobb

“We Build Them Good in Germany.” – Kurt Juergens in The Enemy Below

1914-Shells of Fury has five single missions and four campaigns. Each single mission exemplifies one aspect of the war, from the sinking of three armored cruisers early in the war to a ‘knife fight’ in the fog where visibility and ranges are so short a fast shot is necessary. A hypothetical scenario has the sub cruising off an enemy island base, spotting bi-planes. One campaign covers the entire war, while smaller ones cover the early day, the “Golden Era “of 1915-1917 and the difficult end of the war. Action can take place in the North Sea, North Atlantic, Baltic or the Mediterranean.

Whether it is a single or a campaign mission, a mission always start with orders in the captain’s cabin. Single mission objectives are specific, such as “Sink these ships”. Campaign orders tend to say “Patrol these areas for 24 hours and return home”. After reading orders, players go to the navigational map. Here they can plot automatic courses, mark areas, toggle areas for minefields and shipping and use a very nice tool to measure distances. Once a course has been plotted, a trip to the control room will set speed and the compass is clicked on to start sailing. If a long distance between targets is involved, the first part of the approach should be on the surface to have maximum speed and to save oxygen and batteries. Surface acceleration and deceleration take an appropriate amount of time to accomplish, and even turning appears realistic. Time can be accelerated up to 1046 faster than normal if players stay in the navigation map; otherwise sixteen times normal is the fastest. Regardless of station, time automatically drops to normal when targets, mines or land are spotted. This slowdown allows players to evaluate the situation.

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If the sub is in danger of becoming detected, players may consider diving to periscope depth – “decks awash” is not possible. However, this depth is only ten meters, dive times are realistically slow, and the sub’s outline and periscope seem to be uncannily visible by enemies, even early in the war. Shellfire and ramming is fatal at this depth and the dreaded Q-ships are lurking around for the unwary. Going to twenty meters makes the sub invisible and invulnerable but has its own dangers. Contact will be lost and running aground in littoral waters is fatal. Therefore, stalking a target becomes the realistic routine of guessing a target’s heading, keeping speed at a level where sighting is difficult and quick peeps through periscopes barely clearing wave tops.

Torpedoes have a range of around five kilometers but leave a visible wake so that even the clumsiest trawler can dodge a shot. Torpedo attacks should be made from a kilometer or less with the least possible angle on the bow. Using the “lock” function, torpedoes can be fired from the periscope with angle and speed automatically adjusted. Locking makes “down the throat” shots too easy. If the target is locked from the binocular view, actual launch must be done from the torpedo room. The panels here show target angle, speed and distance along with time to impact. Players who want absolute realism can set their own torpedo speed and angle. Tube reload speed seems a bit fast and no minimum distance for arming seems present, although dud torpedoes are a realism option, and subs can be damaged by being too close to a hit. The deck gun also can be fired automatically with “lock” or manually. Any attack runs dangers from shellfire and even ramming from feisty merchantmen. A mission builder with choices of years, craft, seas and enemies allow players to keep expanding their battles.

The unscripted campaign missions change character as the war progresses. The limited ranges of earlier boats confine them to patrols in the North Sea unless they want to try their luck and fuel bunkers with runs to the English coast. Patrol areas and home base are marked by radii that disappear when the objective time is completed. No crew management is available so players’ attention is focused on the navigational map. Time slows to normal whenever an object is close. Targets will usually be random single ships, easy targets if an intercept course can be plotted. Easy missions don’t earn medals or promotions – ranks are unfortunately US Navy and not Kriegsmarine – but boat handling and stalking can be learned with relative safety. Such safety measures can be seen in the game design as U-boats weren’t completely reliable. Gamers would be justified if a mission suddenly ended with a “Your boat broke” message. However, broaching at periscope and firing depth should have been modeled. Malfunctions and damage should be repairable, but aren’t. Going out on a sub was an adventure in those days even without enemies.

As the war progresses, U-boats improve and campaign missions become longer and more exciting. Orders come to attack Allied supply lanes. Targets become more abundant but so do sharp-eyed escorts. Beginning in 1915, a danger not usually found in these sorts of games appears: minefields. Minefields were the preeminent U-boat killer in World War I. Early on, these fields are not thick enough to be a serious danger but the game makes them annoying by continually dropping speed to normal when transiting through them. As little can be done about them, the continual adjusting of time acceleration is tedious. Sometimes, the player can retaliate by laying his own mines from the torpedo room.

An unfortunate issue is the lack of a “save” function for missions. Many missions require long periods of stalking and setting up shots. Campaign missions where players must go through minefields can be especially tedious. Saving a mission would allow players time to, say, sleep or go to work. Saving a career is even unusual. Instead of a “save” option, players must go forward after a mission as if they wanted to play another in order to save their character. Saving wouldn’t be an issue if the game wasn’t so entertaining.

1914-Shells of Fury is a very nice game. Not as polished as some World War II sims, it still captures well the essence of the early days of submarine warfare. Quite realistic, the unscripted campaigns promise great re-play value. Action is authentic and tense. Word on the Subsim.com forum has it that h2f is making a follow-on. We can only hope they do!

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Game Intel

1914-Shells of Fury

Subsim.com

Strategy First

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