Gaming Today Reviews Shells of Fury
I should probably preface this review by saying that the last submarine-based game I played was Silent Service on the NES. And I don’t mean I played it a couple years ago as a ROM or anything like that; I mean I played it when I was a wee lad and it was new. I remember it fondly, but I haven’t touched a submarine-based game since. Basically, submarine simulators are so foreign to me that when I received my review copy of Shells of Fury, my first inclination was to eat it. While the box was tangy and went well with ranch dressing, it didn’t leave me fully satisfied. Then I stopped munching on it long enough to actually sit down and play through the game. What I ended up with was a firm reminder of why I usually don’t play submarine games. Full review after the break.
“Shells of Fury” is essentially a submarine simulator whose biggest strength and biggest flaw is its strict adherence to authenticity. You’ll command a German U-boat throughout the entire span of World War I. These are some of the first submarines ever consistently used in military campaigns, so you can imagine they were a little clunky. Don’t expect fancy targeting systems or even radar to help you complete your objectives. Just like in those days, you’ll need to rely on a pair of binoculars and good old-fashioned math to help you find and hit your targets. While this makes the game almost feel like a history lesson in what conditions may have actually been like for submarine officers, it makes for some extremely laborious gameplay (more on that later).
Besides that, the developers seem to have taken the extra effort to make the player feel the experience of being on a sub, right down to the time it takes you to perform a mission. Luckily, they had the foresight to include a method to easily speed up the game speed; because, otherwise, it would take you literally several hours to just travel to your objective. In most missions, I set the game’s speed to 1000x faster and it still took me a couple of minutes to get where I needed to be.
For all this authenticity though, the sub itself seems stripped down in some ways. You can’t actually walk around the submarine; you only click on icons to send yourself to different “rooms” with different interfaces. Unfortunately, this hinders the effect of being on a sub, since you don’t really feel like you’re a part of the voyage so much as a passenger watching everything unfold.
There is also a punishingly steep learning curve for this game. I had to spend almost an hour playing through several optional tutorial missions just to figure out how to play the game. This is something I usually try to avoid, but I saw no other option, since the manual didn’t provide much help. Even then though, I had to go through a lot of trial and error to even get past the first mission in the campaign.
The graphics look dated to say the least. The box art shows a submarine on fire, planes flying overhead, and explosions going off in the sea. There’s something wrong when the box for a game looks more exciting than the actual game. Even if you got close enough to the action (you won’t) the most you’d see is a few flashes of white for explosions and some smoke trailing into the sky. The planes fall to pieces when hit and glide into the ocean in flames, but that’s about the most exciting thing you’ll see. The textures aren’t very detailed, and all the objects in the game are really blocky
This game gets points for having sound, and that’s about it. Honestly, I’ve played Flash games with better sound effects than this. The game doesn’t have any music except on the title screen, but seeing as that would ruin the whole simulator feel for the game, I’m not going to fault it for that. I will however fault it for having some of the blandest, cookie-cutter sound effects I’ve heard in a game in awhile. Each of the game’s effects sound like they were taken from a bin of generic sound effects and re-recorded underwater. I suppose you could argue that goes with the submarine environment, but they all sound that way even when when coasting along the top of the waves. If I’m supposedly standing right next to cannon when it goes off, a more satisfying boom would be much appreciated. The most prevalent ambient noise is the constantly looping sound of the ocean, which mostly serves to lull you to sleep.
Authenticity is the name of the game here. There’s no homing missiles or advanced electronics or lightning fast torpedoes here. Your best weapon is an on-screen pad of notebook paper. Let me take you through the process of firing a torpedo at an enemy:
1) Locate the enemy through the binoculars/periscope.
2) In the torpedo room, try to match the distance the torpedo is able to travel with the distance to your target. If your target is moving, you may need to get directly behind them and close the distance even more.
3) Fire torpedo.
4) Wait for a few minutes until the timer in the torpedo room runs down and either says “Hit” or “Missed.”
5) If it says “Missed,” repeat steps 1-4.
Firing the cannon is less complicated, but still requires you to match the distances exactly to have a chance of hitting the other ship. The machine gun is the only straightforward weapon where you just point and shoot, though it’s only useful against planes.
The first time I played through the opening mission, I ran out of torpedoes. Since that was my only weapon for that mission, and I had no way to reload, there was no way for me to complete the mission. So I had to restart the whole thing all over again. You can chalk that up to authenticity — since the actual submarine captains would’ve really been screwed at that point — but it was still an annoyance.
But the majority of your time in the game will be spent guiding the sub from destination to destination. Basically, you just point your ship in a certain direction and go until you see something that needs to be destroyed. You remember how people complained about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker having to much travel time on the ocean? Well, at least those people got to listen to a cool sountrack. Even with the time sped up, it can still take a mind-numbingly long amount of time just to get where you need to be. This is probably the game’s biggest downfall, as they require no interaction on the part of the player and just aren’t that interesting at all. I don’t like having to work that hard just to get to the action.
Replay Value: (4)
Once the campaign is over, you’ll probably never want to play through it again. However, there is a Mission Generator, which allows you to choose your own settings for a mission. If you play through the whole campaign and still want more, odds are this feature will keep you entertained for a least a few rounds. The missions you can create aren’t much more than “kill the other ships” objectives though, so that amusement shouldn’t last too long.
In general, Shells of Fury is a game best suited for history classes. It’s commitment to historical accuracy is at the same time it’s triumph and its downfall. The developers have managed to capture a genuine feel for a World War I-era submarine completing missions out on the open seas down to some of the smallest details. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t make for a fun game. I could see some people out there enjoying this, but most gamers are probably better off avoiding this one.