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Posted on Jun 21, 2004 in Electronic Games

Harpoon III – Game Review (PC)

By Ralph Benton

There is only one game for a real fan of modern naval warfare. The detail is astounding, the accuracy phenomenal, the user base fanatical. Harpoon III is, without question, The One. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the Australian Ministry of Defense, or the Brazilians, or even the US Air Force. All of them currently use or have used Harpoon for training.

But just glancing at a screen shot is deceptive. Where are the F-14s spiraling through blue skies, and mighty warships plowing the waves? Most important, where are the explosions? There’s just a flat green map with lots of strange icons, colored dots, and variously sized polygons in various shades of red. How can this be exciting?

Imagine you’re in the Combat Information Center of an Aegis cruiser. The core of your universe is a screen on which every friendly, hostile, and neutral ship, plane, sonobouy, submarine, torpedo and missile (at least the ones your sensors have picked up) is visible as a real-time icon. Water depth, sea state, and precipitation are also indicated. You are the commander of these forces, and the battle begins. Everything you know about tactics, weapons, and your adversary’s mind is about to be put to the test.


A skirmish off Cyprus. The icons are the same as used by the US and other western navies. The pink polygons are areas in which a hostile contact might be located. (Click to enlarge).

You will confront wily sub captains, skilled at using the thermal layer to avoid detection. Dozens of missiles will appear over the horizon, and you will be forced to launch counter-missiles, decoys, and go hard over to avoid them. You’ll watch with glee as your combat air patrol engages enemy bombers at long range, dropping them out of the sky.

The game is built with three basic pieces. There is the game engine, which is being continually refined. Then there is a database of thousands of ships, planes, subs, weapons, and sensors. Finally there are the scenarios, which are downloadable on an as-needed basis. This three-part construction makes for a robust structure, as each piece can be independently upgraded.

This game is truly a community effort. The developer, AGSI, keeps releasing new versions of the game engine. Their programmers have been with the game in its various incarnations for years. Then there are several hard core users who have taken it upon themselves to keep the database updated, and maintain a web site with hints, FAQs, utilities, news, and an on-line magazine. Other players contribute new scenarios, information, and fuel the discussions on the message boards.

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