688 Attack Sub review

Like I said before, most genres started as computer games before being made for consoles. In fact, due to the limited fast action in favor of a slow, methodical gameplay, most simulations thrived in the computer realm in comparison with consoles. However some companies did try to port them to consoles, but most console players in the 80s and 90s preferred a more action-oriented approach to gaming. Today’s subject although more known in the Sega Megadrive/Genesis’ library, begun its existence as a computer game.

688 Attack Sub is a submarine simulation (or subsim) developed and published by Electronic Arts and originally released in 1989 for DOS. It was re-released a year later for Amiga and ported in 1991 to the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and PC-98.

But first, let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

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Man, this envelope went through a rough patch, hasn’t it?

The first cover isn’t bad in theory, with a simple vanilla envelope with the word “CLASSIFIED” stamped on the front. But it doesn’t say anything about the game itself, except that it might be a military type game of some sort.

The consequent variants were a lot better and my favorite is this one:

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A bit better, right?

With a simple image of two Navy boats, it gives a better idea of what the game is all about, but I still don’t know if this a subsim or a Battleship videogame based only on the cover.

But the Megadrive/Genesis cover is totally different:

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Confirmed target destroyed!

Now this is a great cover! You don’t need anything else to tell you about the game.

But let’s launch this boat, shall we?

As you can see, the title screen shows nothing more than the image of a submarine resurfacing featuring an adequate theme music. It’s not bad and the theme sets a good atmosphere for the game.

Then we have the mission selection screen, where we can choose between 10 missions to play. We can take control between an US 688 class sub or a Soviet ALFA class, except in the first mission, where we can also take control of a 700 class (but it’s identical to the 688 sub).

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I just shot an E at the B!

The lighting icons next to the missions’ name mean that those missions can be played with another player, each one controlling a different sub. However I have to apologize because I couldn’t play any multiplayer match. These matches could only be played through a modem direct connection and this game was released before the existence of the Internet and I lack the necessary knowledge to configure it in modern computers. So consider this a single-player review only.

After choosing which mission to undertake, you then have access to the configuration panel, where you can dial up your modem for multiplayer matches (if available) and/or choose your difficulty level.

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Is the guy on the left smoking a pipe in a confined closed space?

As you can guess, this game occurs during the height of the Cold War and the majority of the missions are between the US and Soviet forces. The missions, while being only ten, are very varied, ranging from training to surveillance to open naval battles.

At the start of every mission, you’re required to go to the radio room to receive your orders and objectives and then you can properly start your mission.

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“So, where’s comrade Sean Connery?”

From a screen called the CONN (Conning Tower) depicting the inside of the sub and its crew, you can go to six control panels in which you have access to the different functions for operating the sub:

  • The aforementioned radio room, where you can review your mission orders and objectives. Also at the end of each mission, you always end up here in case of whether failure or success.

  • The status panel, where you’ll see all the damage done to the sub.

  • The control panel, where you’ll basically drive the sub, controlling depth, speed and direction.

  • The weapons panel, where you’ll have access to the torpedoes, missiles (only in the 688 class) and noisemakers.

  • The periscope panel, where you can use the periscope to take a look at the surface.

  • The navigation room, where you can trace routes to navigate through using the auto pilot function.

  • And the sonar room, where you can use sonar to detect and analyze your targets.

And during battles, if the panels suddenly turn red, that means you have a hull breach and you need to resurface before your sub sinks!

In almost every panel, you’ll also have access to a map where your sub is depicted by a square in the middle of it and all the other ships are depicted by color-coded letters. But using your controls at the left bottom, you can also have access to a rough 3D vision of the ocean’s bottom, but it doesn’t depict any ships. Which is great for navigating slowly at the bottom of the sea, avoiding any rock formations and other environmental dangers.

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“Luckily we won’t hear Amerikan pigs singing this time, comrade kaptain!”

There is basically no difference between the American and Russian subs, only cosmetically. The only big difference is the lack of missiles in the ALPHA class, but then again you only need to use the missiles in one mission.

There are no limits to what you can do while controlling the sub, whether it is to sail away or attacking your allies, but of course, you’ll fail the mission. I do like the little portraits of your crew almost every time you do something, like raising your periscope or arming and firing a torpedo. Usually it takes two torpedoes to sink any ship, but sometimes they might miss the target, luckily you can guide them remotely to any chosen target.

At the beginning of every mission, any targets you detect are unidentified and to properly identify them, you can either use the periscope (if they’re at the surface) or use your sonar analyzer, which will reproduce their sounds and no, nobody sings the Russian National Anthem in this game.

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No, this isn’t the mission success screen.

Due to this strategic way of playing, the game isn’t very action-packed and it might look very slow-paced to most gamers. But if you prefer this kind of gameplay, then 688 Attack Sub is right up your alley.

The Megadrive/Genesis version plays exactly the same, with all the missions intact. And although it has better graphics and the gamepad controls aren’t bad, it also has worse sound and music, even if it has more themes than the DOS version. Also it lacks the crew’s portraits of the other versions.

688 Attack Sub wasn’t the first subsim to appear in the market, nor the most influential and it was followed by SNN-21 Seawolf in 1994 and by Jane’s 688(i) Hunter/Killer in 1997.

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Select your pain!

I haven’t played a lot of subsims to properly compare them to 688, but from a general gamer’s perspective, it might be a bit slow-paced, especially at the start of every single mission, but it grows to a certain level of action at the harder difficulty level and the objectives’ variation gives it a small replay value, but after beating all the missions with both subs, you’ll hardly play it again.

So if you like subsims, give it a shot but it might be a bit complex to serve as an introduction to the genre.

So, what do you think of this game? Feel free to leave your comments below and next time, we’ll take a look at one of my personal favorites, in both genre and theme. Till then, keep it under the sea and avoid the Crazy Ivans.

Low Blow review

When designing a game heavily based in a classic title and it doesn’t have its own proper identity, it runs the risk of being considered a clone or rip-off. Today, we’ll take a look at one such game and decide if it’s a rip-off or not.

Low Blow is a boxing game developed by Synergistic Software and published in 1990 by Electronic Arts (before they became the Eldritch Abomination we know nowadays) for DOS.

And we’ll begin by looking at the cover:

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*bell sound*

I don’t mind using photos in covers as long it looks good and conveys the proper idea of what the game is all about. And in this particular case, it does! How? Well, a boxer being hit below the belt in the cover of a boxing game conveys the notion that this is not an ordinary boxing title.

Here, take a look for yourself:

The title screen is just a cartoon version of the box cover, reinforcing the idea of a non-realistic game and the title theme (composed by the legendary Rob Hubbard) is quite good.

The menu screen shows our 2 selectable boxers: Frankie (with the white shorts) and Hollywood (with the red shorts). Think of them as the Ken and Ryu of the boxing games!

You can either play against a friend 1-on-1 or choose either Frankie or Hollywood and challenge 7 other boxers for the World Championship belt.

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Something tells me he isn’t talking about hygiene.

The AI boxers are all cartoonish versions of famous boxers and each one harder than the former.

Before each match, you can see your opponents’ stats and profile and you’ll also have the choice to train, where you’ll learn the necessary combination to defeat your opponent.

All matches occur in the same boxing arena, called the EA Palace. The game’s graphics are quite colourful (despite being in EGA) and all the characters, ranging from the boxers to the announcer, the referee and even the audience, are all well detailed.

Although the keyboard controls are quite responsive, I recommend the use of a gamepad. The controls are quite simple: the directional pad (or keypad) for movement and defence and 2 buttons for punching; one for jabs, the other for crosses and both simultaneously for uppercuts.

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Is that Mikhail Gorbachev on the top right?

The game uses a 3rd person view but the controls feel kind of isometric. Still, they’re easy to learn and master. The hit detection, however, isn’t always perfect, especially if the boxers are very close to each other, but positioned in a weird angle.

In the bottom screen, you’ll see 2 bars for each boxer. The green bar is the health bar and once fully depleted, the boxer goes down for a possible KO. Every time a boxer gets up, his health bar gets smaller and after 3 recoveries, if a boxer goes down again, it’s an automatic KO.

The yellow bar is the stamina bar. It depletes with each punch and when fully depleted, the boxer can’t throw punches (but you can still move and defend yourself) until it replenishes in time.

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WMDs! Get your WMDs here!

And just like the title says, any boxer can throw low blows, which are hilarious to see if connected. However, since it’s an illegal move, if you are caught doing it 3 times, you’ll be automatically disqualified. You have to be patient and observant to know the perfect time to throw these and not be caught. However, your opponent can also throw low blows (each boxer has its own characteristic low blow) and they never get caught!

If you decide to play fair, the game can get somewhat hard during the later stages but if you decide to cheat combined with the lack of difficulty levels and the infinite continues, the game then becomes too easy.

With just 7 opponents, the game isn’t big and depending on your skill, you’ll finish it in no time.

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How come the newspaper is always of the same day? Are all the fights scheduled for one night?

Low Blow is obviously inspired by Punch Out, down to the cartoonish looks and humour, but it tries to be its own game with its own identity and to a certain degree, it succeeds. If you want to play a funny little boxing game and don’t have a Nintendo console, then try this one! You can even play it in your browser here.

Low Blow aged more or less well and although it’s eclipsed by better boxing games, it’s still fun to play every now and then. Give it a shot!

And that’s it for now! Join us next time when we’ll take a look at a game based on a famous franchise geared towards children. Till then, keep on playing.