Dangerous Waters reminds me just how far I’ve drifted from my roots as a PC gamer, when some of my happiest gaming moments were practicing pop-up attacks in Gunship, researching force packages for Harpoon, and mastering TWS mode in F-15 Strike Eagle III. Modern gamers (and I’m including myself here) no longer seem to have the patience for 500-page manuals and an hour’s worth of gaming for a few seconds payoff, but I remember that payoff being all the sweeter for having been hard earned.
Watching a “systems simulation” like Dangerous Waters over someone’s shoulder is somewhat akin to watching an old lady knit, only far less dynamic and involving. System sims are a unique niche of military gaming, focusing on the individual stations, sensors, weapons, and technology that drive modern warfare. Such things tend to make military fetishists such as myself moist, but leave gigantic swaths of the gaming population utterly cold, largely explaining their demise.
Without time compression, a single short mission would easily take a couple of hours, with approximately two minutes of that time involving something most reasonable people might classify as “excitement.” The rest of the time involves thinking like a modern force commander: evaluating contacts, making decisions about when and how much to use your various sensor packages, choosing weapons.
But for devotees of military tactics and gear, the very process of thinking like a commander is a powerful lure. I can’t imagine it appealing to someone without a passion for modern fleet combat. This is not a crossover game. Unlike Rome: Total War, which can readily appeal to a strategy gamer regardless of their knowledge of ancient Rome, Dangerous Waters is too specific, too demanding for a wide audience.
Coming back to a game like this, at this point in my life, has been an illuminating experience. It’s been a long time since I’ve dug into a hardcore game and really spent time with it. Ten years ago I would have had out my Jane’s books and Hughes’ Fleet Tactics and been researching approaches to the more complex scenarios. I’d have spent hours, long into the night, dissecting the missions and trying different approaches. I would have waded in hip deep and loved every moment of it.
That was before kids, and a house, and all the responsibilities of parenthood and early middle age. Dangerous Water reminds me how much my gaming muscles have atrophied after years of RTS and action titles. That 500-page manual looks a lot thicker than it used to.