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.

Test Drive review

Sometimes gamers ask where does certain game mechanics and aesthetics began at. A lot of them actually began as simple computer games that revolutionized the genre in such way that they became immediate classics. It’s always fun to look back and see the origin of a certain mechanic or genre.

This week, we’re going to revisit one of the games that revolutionized the racing/driving simulation genre and introduced a lot of the mechanics commonly found nowadays in this genre. I’m talking about Test Drive.

Test Drive was developed by Distinctive Software and published by Accolade. It was originally released in 1987 for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS. It was re-released a year later for the Apple II and in 1989 for the PC-98.

And the cover shows immediately the first reason why this game was successful:

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Gee, I wonder who made this game…

Yup, in this game you can drive five iconic sports car of the time and this cover shows them all. There’s also a car key to emphasize the driving aspect. One curious fact is that although this game wasn’t Accolade’s first success, they made sure everybody knew that it was their game. How? By slapping its name four times in the cover!

Also Accolade’s name is first thing you see on screen after booting it:

The intro is pretty simple as you can see, although I do like the animation of a guy smiling at the screen before taking off.

The story is also very simple: you choose between five sports cars and take one for a test drive from the bottom of a mountain pass to the top of it where there’s another car dealer.

The sports cars are: a Lamborghini Countach, a Ferrari Testarossa, a Porsche 911, a Lotus Esprit Turbo and a Chevrolet Corvette C4. You can even look at very detailed stats about each car before choosing one:

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OK, I have to confess: I don’t understand half of these!

And although the inside of each car is different, they all drive more the less the same. As far as I know, I haven’t detected any difference between each individual car’s handling.

And the driving tries to be as realistic as possible, with a first person perspective behind the wheel (which was new at the time) and a manual gearbox. Yes, that’s right! Unlike most arcade racing games where the gear changes can be automatic, in Test Drive you have to change the gears yourself while accelerating. But be careful! If you rev up your engine too much, you end up breaking it (and the windshield too for some reason).

The game only has one course, the aforementioned mountain pass, with a cliff on the right and a sheer drop on the left. So, that’s all you see while driving apart from the rest of the cars on the road.

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Yup, this is pretty much what you’ll see in the game.

The game is divided in five stages and your objective is to avoid all the traffic and reach the gas stations at the end of each stage. Seems easy, right? Well, you have a time limit for each stage and you have to go beyond the speed limits to reach it. But the Highway Patrol is always on the lookout for speed infractions. Luckily, you have a radar detector in your top-left corner which will sound every time you pass a radar.

And then you have the option to either reduce your speed to avoid the radar (which might penalize you after you reach the gas station) or try to out run the patrol cars. But if the patrol car overtakes you, you’ll end up with a speed ticket and lost time. Too many tickets and/or crashes and it’s game over. Also the faster you drive, the more points you earn at the end.

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How much gas does a Lamborghini consume?

The controls could be better. Sometimes they’re a bit unresponsive and other times, they’re overly sensitive. It’s possible to turn too much while in a curve or not turn enough while avoiding other cars. Using a gamepad is slightly better than the keyboard, however.

Graphically speaking, the DOS version isn’t very colorful, despite using EGA graphics. The Amiga version’s graphics are a lot better.

Apart from the title theme, which isn’t bad, there no more music in the game, so get used to hearing the engine’s sound while playing. Which gets grating really fast!

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Not to be confused with that Marco!

But Test Drive was groundbreaking when released, because of the array of choice in cars and the behind-the-wheel POV, which were all new features at the time. It had an enormous success by being praised by critics and sold more than 100,000 copies. It solidified Accolade’s name in the computer game industry to the point of becoming synonymous with quality simulations.

And along with Sega’s Out Run, Test Drive would inspire other driving simulators like the Need for Speed series and The Crew, among many others.

Still, because of subsequent driving games building upon Test Drive, it was quickly surpassed by its own sequels and other driving games.

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If you want to experience the grand-daddy of all computer driving games, then go here to experience in your own browser. It even received a fan-made remake by Anton Gerdelen here, based on the CGA version.

Lastly, some parts of the Rocky Pass course in Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit were inspired by Test Drive’s course as a homage.

So, there it is. Did you enjoy this review? If so, like and comment below. Next week, we’ll take a look at a title among many, many others in a very big franchise that begun outside the videogaming realm and defined a very popular genre.

Till then, put the pedal on the metal and keep on playing!