Like Tuesday night spaghetti, games involving the world’s military forays show up often. Almost absurdly so, it seems at times. And it isn’t very often that they deviate from the standard formulas set by other game developers in the genre. When I first got my hands on Enigma: Rising Tide, I expected it to be very much like others I had played. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I began my first patrol. Hearkening back to the old days of Novalogic, this title gives the player the perspective of a captain who is standing on the bridge of his/her ship/sub. Some may be somewhat alarmed to find themselves alone to guide the ship. Let those concerned minds be at ease – nearly every element of captaining the ship can be done by the game’s invisible A.I. crew.
This game is made for control freaks and couch potatoes alike; command options can be controlled by the A.I. or operated by the captain him/herself. However, the more controlling types may find that using the A.I. can be most helpful. For instance, in full manual control, the captain must assign targets to groups of guns, such as AA or deck-guns. But in auto-defense mode, these weapons will track the target currently closest to them and open fire. And let me tell you, manually targeting individual planes in the middle of an air raid can be most difficult. The captain can hop into a first-person view in almost any shipboard weapon and rip the enemy a new one. These range from machine guns, to anti-air flak cannons, to huge deck guns. The controls are also fairly intuitive. Those who played games like Novalogic’s Wolf Pack will find themselves very much at home with the managing of their ship. However, those who have never played anything like this might take a little time getting used to the unusual control scheme. Rising Tide can be played with either the mouse or the keyboard. Some may find, however, that a combination of both yields the best results.
Now, in an absolutely fascinating twist, Dreamcatcher includes complete voice control. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can play this game with only a microphone if you so choose. An in-game manual gives you access to Rising Tide‘s vast voice recognition database, with which you can operate the entire vessel. It includes such famous lines as, “ahead full,” “hard to port,” and of course, “dive, dive, dive.” The voice control is generally quite responsive. Without deviating much from your normal tone of speaking, the ship’s A.I. crew will carry out your orders to the letter as well as repeat the order back to you. The game comes with its own voice recognition software that is installed immediately after the product. After a quick calibration on the desktop and an in-game mic test, it’s ready to go.
In summary, the controls are reasonable tight and can be used quite effectively after a little practice. This game can truly be called a simulator, simply because of the amount of control that is exerted by the player over the ship. The gyros on torpedoes can be adjusted to make them turn. They can be sped up to decrease a ship’s chances of dodging them. And even the depth at which depth charges go off can be changed.
Graphically, the game looks good, but cannot fairly be compared to the recent visual accomplishments of titles like Half-Life 2, or Doom 3. The ships are nicely rendered, and the water looks nice, and moves realistically. In fact, much of the game solidly abides by the laws of physics. Boats will lean to one side as a sharp turn is entered. Ships will roll with waves, rising and falling in a believable manner. Also, Dreamcatcher includes realistic weather conditions, including fog, rain, and even choppy seas, and the difference in these weather types can be felt in the game. Poor visual weather will impede the player’s or the crew’s aim. Rough seas will roll the ship about as if a deranged child were beneath the waves, knocking the boat to and fro. While the ships and sea look nice, some of the other graphical effects could have been improved. Weapon fire and explosion effects are rather weak, as it often seems the muzzle flares are rendered two-dimensionally and explosions are rarely seen. Mostly there is just a lot of smoke. Oh and there will be much smoke in this game. Often, hits taken from enemy ships, planes or submarines will result in fires on various shipboard places. However, the captain rarely needs to be concerned with fires, as the crew will put them out in a timely manner. However, the smoke from the fires can drastically hamper efforts at drawing a bead on an enemy plane.
Explosion effects aside, the shipboard weapons are realistically rendered, and their movement is convincing. Machine guns rattle the screen slightly, while the barrels of the large deck guns recoil in an almost delightful manner. Another interesting inclusion is of a spectator view. It is not a true external view, because the HUD is lost in the change. But from this view, the captain may circle the entire ship, and zoom in and out at leisure. However, in this transition, control over the ship with the keyboard or mouse is completely lost. Voice commands still work, though, and it is quite exhilarating to give the gunners a target then hop to spectator view and watch every turret track to it, then open fire at once. There really isn’t much in the way of damage effects. The only indication you get of the vessels status is a hull bar displayed on the HUD. While the caliber of the effects has been reduced, their numbers make up for the loss. Water rockets into the air as depth charges go off. Torpedoes skip over waves as they speed toward their targets. Ships take on water where they were hit. This last one seems somewhat obvious, but it is still a nice effect.
Also, in trying to include more realism in the title, Dreamcatcher make all captains more aware of the limitations of their craft. Limited fuel and ammo add to the excellent simulated feel of the game. On average, the sound is good. But some sounds can come across as a little fake. Gun sounds can be a bit shallow, lacking the boom of the real thing. Engine noise is fairly true to form, creating both the grinding chug of the diesel engine, to the hum of electric motors. What little voice acting there is, is good. Mostly only the crews are voiced, announcing damage, incoming torpedoes and repeating orders.
Ultimately, Enigma: Rising Tide is well worth the $30 price tag. It is nice to see that small publishers can still produce a quality product in a world of video game giants. Once the slight visual and aural shortcomings are overlooked, this game is plenty of fun, and offers an excellent amount of variety.