Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hostile Waters (PC)

Hostile Waters title screen
Today I'm taking a brief look at real-time action strategy shooter hybrid Hostile Waters, released in the first half of 2001 for the sole benefit of PC gamers. Sadly this one didn't get a console release, which is a shame because it really could've used the extra exposure. Critics seemed to love it, but it just didn't sell all that well for whatever reason and so it sunk into semi-obscurity.

But hey, I bought a copy! I did my part! I have vague memories of enjoying this one in my youth, but it's possible they've been warped by the dark corrupting influence of nostalgia. So I'm going to give it an hour or so to show me if it's got what it takes to win me over all over again.

I can say right now that the theme music won me over in about 20 seconds: youtube link.

(Click the pics to view the screenshots at resolutions unimaginable to those in the ancient times of the early 21st century.)

The game is actually called Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising in the US, to differentiate it from all those other games called Hostile Waters I guess. Antaeus in this case being an old aircraft carrier from the Great War of 2012: the war to end all wars. I mean seriously, it ended all war on the entire planet, for 20 years anyway.

Though without anyone left to shoot at, humanity didn't have much need for advanced Adaptive Cruisers like Antaeus anymore. So they scuttled them all to the bottom of the ocean, where they have rusted in peace ever since... until now.

But an omniscient narrator informs me that the dictators, warlords and assholes of the past never went away, not entirely. Instead the remaining monsters of the 20th century have all been hiding out together on a remote Pacific island and they've been scheming in secret all this time. It's now the year 2032 and the mighty Antaeus has been resurrected from its watery grave to go sort them out.

By the way I should mention that the game was written by The Authority/Nextwave/Transmetropolitan/Planetary author Warren Ellis and has mad Time Lord Tom Baker reading out his lines, so there's a serious amount of gravitas to this opening narration. I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Sadly the visuals can't quite match the quality of the audio. This particular cutscene features a pair of mannequins in the roles of Walker and Church, the people responsible for saving the world, or at least having long serious discussions about it while I do all the hard work.

They're voiced by Paul Darrow and Glynis Barber of 'Space 1999' fame... or perhaps it was 'Blake's 7'. What's important here is that like Tom Baker they're both veterans of a classic British sci-fi TV series and it turns out they're pretty good at reading lines into a mic themselves. Which is just as well considering the fact that their models are incapable of showing emotion.

There has been a situation involving missiles that has the pair very concerned, but they're being very vague about what's going on.

They do explain though that they'd noticed a suspiciously large amount of materials being shipped to an island chain in the Pacific and had sent a spec-ops team in to investigate. Two weeks later and there's been no word from the team, they've entirely vanished. So now it's time to bring in the big guns.

The trouble with that plan though is that everyone got bored of war years ago, so they don't actually have any big guns. So instead they've been given to go-ahead to restart... the Antaeus program.

Unfortunately there's apparently no one alive qualified to crew the old vessel, so they're using dead crewmen in their place: vets of the 2012 war who died in combat and had their personalities and memories backed up onto a memory card. They've even got cool holographic portraits on them so you can tell who they are!

I noticed something written on Walker's personal computer screen as it flew past the camera, so I scooted off to a youtube video so I could pause the cutscene and see what it said. It turns out that it's a news report, with the headline: "Missiles hit London". So that's one mystery solved I guess: the bad people have been attacking cities and it's up to us to shut them down.


LEVEL 1.


Alright, those two have monopolised enough of my game time, it's time for me to... sit through a long (optional) tutorial where they explain the basics of the game.

Okay this screen here is my command center which gives me an overview of the entire level (what I've explored anyway). Time is frozen here and I can return to this map whenever I feel like it, so it seems like I'll always have the opportunity to see an overview of the situation, order people around, and think through my next move.

Right now though there's apparently only one thing I can do and that's to pilot my Pegasus transport helicopter over to the Scarab vehicle sitting on the front of Antaeus and pick it up with a cable.

The game has a joystick option, but I'm not having much luck with that (my chopper keeps performing pirouettes in the air), so I guess I'll be steering this with the mouse and WASD keys instead. Not that this is a problem.

Carrier Command Amiga screenshot
Hey it's a screenshot of Carrier Command!
Right away I can't help but notice that the game bears a slight resemblance to classic action strategy game Carrier Command, but already I can tell that the two games are going to be very different. For one thing Carrier Command is about driving your carrier around a large archipelagos, deciding which islands you want to try to capture, claiming their resources, and chasing a rival carrier who is doing the same.

In Hostile Waters on the other hand you can't drive the carrier at all. Each island seems to be its own separate level and I have to play through a mission taking place on each of them in turn.

Okay I've airlifted the Scarab vehicle over to the island and dropped it next to these ruined sea defences like I was told. It seems that my dead crew aren't up and about just yet, so I have to switch over to drive the thing myself. Fortunately the transport copter doesn't just drop straight out of the sky when I leave the cockpit.

I guess I'll go follow the blue dots on the scanner and click on bits of scrap metal then.


TIME PASSES.


How much of this crap do I need to recycle anyway? I've been driving my little scavenger around for so long now it's gotten dark. Though to be fair, days don't seem to last a whole lot of time in this.

Alright and that's the last bit of metal I need. Now that I have my 3500EJ of energy I can finally... acutally that's it, the end of the level. I zapped some metal beams, mission complete!

By the way if you're wondering what an 'EJ' is, it stands for 'exojoule', which is equal to 1018 joules. To put it into perspective, the United States in its entirety consumes about 94EJ each year, and this harvester's somehow delivering this energy wirelessly to my carrier in minutes.

After all that action and excitement it's time for a SCIENCE BREAK, hosted once again by our omniscient narrator Tom Baker; only this time he's explaining how Antaeus' creation engine works.

Nanomachines, basically. Untold trillions of them in fact.

But what even IS a creation engine and why should we care? It's actually a construction device built into carrier that will let me build brand new vehicles in seconds. Though first it needs schematics and most of them have been lost to time, so we're running considerably below the ship's original capabilities here.

In fact the ship is a rusty old wreck right now as you'd imagine, considering it probably wasn't in top condition even before it was sent to the depths of the ocean floor for two decades. Fortunately the engines still work, so the ship is being sent to a wet dock at the end of this island group for essential repairs. I just have to keep the poor thing together for the next few islands until it gets there.


LEVEL 2.


Awesome, it seems that we've got the Soulcatcher device working now, meaning that the dead Antaeus crew can come out to play. Though so far I only have Borden and Patton available to assign to units.

I've put Patton in the Scarab and I've given Borden orders to pick him up from the carrier deck and place him next to all those energy-rich blue objects on the map. With any luck Patton will notice the junk himself and go over to harvest it for energy, leaving me free to sit back and watch Borden continue with her work. If I've set these way-points correctly she should fly over to the fortress, collect the wrecked helicopter, and then carry it back to the carrier for analysis.

That just leaves one goal on my list: 'destroy radar'. Which is kinda hard to do when I don't have any weapons.

Oh this is better! Analysing the wrecked chopper gave Antaeus's computer enough info to piece together its lost schematics. So now can I use my stored energy to create light attack helicopters with infinite ammo miniguns and I even got a free pilot in the bargain called Ransom.

(The game earns 15,000 bonus points by the way for letting me rotate the camera here and look at the creation engine sitting behind me. This feature serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever and that makes it awesome.)

Like in Carrier Command I can load up my vehicles with any extra gear I can fit into its slots, but it'll cost me more of my resources. I think I'm happy enough for him to travel light for now. In fact, I'll stick Borden into another attack copter so I've got someone to keep an eye on my poor defenceless carrier while I'm out hunting radars.

Well that thing didn't exactly put up much of a fight. Though they did actually send some helicopters after my ship while I was out, for all the good it did them. Borden might not be my best pilot, but it seems that in a fair fight one of my guys will destroy one of their guys any time.

I don't have to just sit back and watch my units carry out my orders. I can take direct control of any vehicle at any time. Though this does mean I have to put up with the pilot grumbling at me. They're actually surprisingly chatty; often complimenting each other on good kills and complaining about being bored.

The enemy are pretty chatty too and I can eavesdrop on their radio messages to hear what they're up to. It's nice to know exactly what my actions have done to their operations. After this I won't be hearing "Hostile unit on radar!" for a while at least.

With the second island complete I've earned another cutscene, this time showing the death of ace chopper pilot Ransom during the final days of the war.

I wish I could say he died in the process of earning a decisive victory against overwhelming odds, but the truth is he just kind of flew too close to the anti-air turrets on that fortress where I found his wrecked helicopter, and that was pretty much it for him.

Still, he's not actually too bothered about it, as he always knew that one day he'd end up dropping out of the sky. My dead crew all have their own personalities and specialities, with Ransom yelling obscenities at his foes, Borden complaining every time she gets a compliment, and Patton whining whenever I put him into a vehicle that isn't a tank.

Well I'm sorry man, but I don't have any tanks. So you're just going to have to put up with driving the recycling truck for now. 

Anyway, while I'm making slow but steady progress to the wet dock, the Council of Evil makes plans to cancel Christmas and murder puppies in front of sick children. They're basically super villains who would be blackmailing the world right now for 1 billion dollars if humanity hadn't evolved into a post-scarcity society without the need for money. I mean they literally say that if they can't control the world they might as well just end all life on the planet, so the developers aren't exactly going for moral complexity here.

Right now though they're still hoping that their world domination schemes work out, though they admit they've got a lot to do. It seems that without the corrupt establishment holding them back, the world was very quickly able to banish conflict, poverty, hunger and pollution, and mankind is all one big happy family now they're no longer unnecessarily divided into different countries. It's all very Star Trek.


LEVEL 5.


The tutorial has been in full effect for the last few missions, so I've jumped ahead a little. I couldn't skip this screenshot though, not with that sunset.

I've learned a few handy things in the meantime, like how to issue unit commands when I'm outside the map room with a handful of keypresses. Very handy when I want to order my posse to form on my wing and follow me into battle. Three missile launchers are always better than one.

Also I've learned that there are functional enemy bases around and they're able to use resources to create new units the same way I can. Though they use oil derricks instead of harvester trucks to obtain their energy, like those two under the sun on the right for instance. If I can blow up all of the derricks, their production line should eventually crawl to a halt because they can't replace structures.

Man, my new missiles pods are so much better for taking out anti-air turrets than that old minigun I used to have. If Ransom had one of these back in the war then I bet he wouldn't have gotten shot down so embarrassingly quickly. He's definitely holding up a lot better this time around, though that might have something to do with the fact that I'm steering his helicopter.

Once I've gotten these defences down it should be safe enough to airlift a Scarab in to recycle the wreckage, Total Annihilation style.

Oh that's interesting, seems like the enemy have something worth my attention sitting in this fortress. I'll have to remember to check that out later.

Right, I think I'll leave Ransom behind to guard the Scarab when it arrives, send the other helicopter back to base for recycling to free up the Soulcatcher chip for another unit, and take Borden's chopper out on recon to explore the rest of the island.


SOON.


I found a much bigger base on the south side of the island, complete with its very own air factory (which might explain why I've been harassed by infinite helicopters). A barrage of missiles per chopper should clear my skies for a bit, then I can get on with the tedious business of blowing up the enemy structure.

Actually I'm bored of firing missiles at that hangar now, so I've decided to blow up this transport plane instead, seeing as it's one of my mission goals.

It turns that out a fully fuelled plane goes up much faster than a concrete building, so that worked out pretty well I reckon. In fact it doesn't seem like I even need to blow up the air factory now, I can happily sail off to the wet dock and finally get this boat of mine fixed up.

WHAT... THE... FUCK?

The plane just exploded into a tentacle monster! Who invited aliens into my military real-time strategy shooter?

I bet this thing's a real bastard to kill as well. That seems to be the typical rule of video games when a mysterious outside faction joins the fray mid-game.

Yep, these plasma shots are absolutely wrecking my Hornet. Plus I've got enemy helicopters to worry about as well because I got lazy and didn't destroy the air factory first.

Maybe I can retreat behind the hills and fly around until I find their oil derricks. If I blow up their energy production I'll cut off their ability to produce any kind of unit, permanently. Well, unless the aliens can build new ones. Who even knows what those things can do, they're aliens (probably).


SOON.


Alright, I've come up with a new plan. Attacking those three alien turrets with the units I have would be suicide (well, a waste of resources anyway, seeing as my pilots are already dead). But there's another enemy base here with far weaker defences and a whole lot of metal around for me to scavenge. I'll take down the turrets, airlift the Scarab in, and then send my wounded back to the carrier for new Hornets.

With the energy I get from this base I'll be able to fill every free equipment slot on my Hornets with armour; let's see those aliens punch through that in two shots.

Oh shit, the aliens just punched through my dude's armour in seconds! I thought that was the turret exploding for a second, but nope that's the flaming wreckage of one of my precious Hornets raining down. Good try whoever it was who was piloting that thing, you'll always be remembered. I mean that literally; I've got their brain on a chip, so it's going to take a lot more than their utter destruction to get rid of them.

You know, I think that must have been the Russian character, Korolev, who just went down. I guess piloting helicopters might not have been her strong point. Or maybe it was, I haven't got a clue! If there's a way of looking up the strengths and weaknesses of my crew, I haven't found it yet.


EVENTUALLY.


My scheme of bullying the turrets with my whole game was eventually successful though, and the battlefield is now mine! Ignore all those enemies running around on foot, they're entirely irrelevant. All that's important now is that I analyse this unknown object from the core of the alien organism and then I'm done here!

Uh, why haven't I won yet? Oh shit, was I supposed to airlift that alien gem to the Carrier? Have I just failed the level? I'm honestly confused here.

Well I sure picked a shitty time to hit the quick save button I guess. Now it seems I have to replay the entire mission from the start and this time keep my Scarab from automatically disintegrating the mission critical item.


SEVERAL MINUTES LATER.


Okay, it turns out that I am an idiot. Yeah yeah, I know you've suspected it from the start, but now I can officially confirm it.

Remember a few screenshots ago, when I saw that object in the fortress and said I'd go back for it later? It turns out THAT was the unknown item I had to bring back to the carrier for analysis: a hovercraft to add to my vehicle collection. So I just replayed the entire level for absolutely no reason. Joy.

Actually I have to admit, the level actually was a joy to play all over again. I have no regrets!

Plus this time I got to play through it using my shiny new hovercraft instead, with my bros ordered to follow my lead and provide air support. It seems that that anti-air turrets aren't so great against a land vehicle.

You know it's a shame this doesn't have a drop in co-op mode, or even pvp multiplayer. The game really is crying out for it.


LEVEL 6.

 
Well I've finally reached the wet dock, but now I have to defend my ship for eight minutes against waves of enemies while the repair arms do their thing. Fortunately I've got a new unit to put down... manned turrets! I've never been a fan of tower defence games, so I think this provides me with an excellent excuse to stop playing here.

Hey, I got the ship to the wet dock, I've achieved everything I set out to do. Getting the ship fixed up afterwards is a whole other problem. Though I am kind of curious to see what happens if they manage to blow up a carrier with 2500 times as much energy in the fuel tank as the biggest nuclear bomb ever detonated.


Okay here's what I think about Hostile Waters now that I've had a chance to go back and revisit it: I think it's pretty awesome. Sure it's visually dated now, the interface could be a little slicker, and Hostile Waters 4 would probably make it utterly redundant. But they never made a Hostile Waters 4, or even a Hostile Waters 2, so right now I imagine this has to be one of the best games in its depressingly narrow genre.

The combat hasn't been all that amazing so far; my tactic in most battles was to fly into missile range, unload my magazine, then dart back again before they can hit me. Then I'd hold back for my missiles to recharge and repeat if necessary. Attacking buildings in particular has been tedious work, but then that's what the AI is for. Borden loves blowing up factories, so I let her handle those jobs, while I jumped between units to choose the one that's doing something interesting at the moment. At the very least I could always do some recon while I waited.

I haven't really had to use my brain so much so far, but I remember the levels getting trickier as they went on, to the point where good reflexes alone wasn't going to cut it. On the other hand, the AI probably isn't up to completing some of the schemes you have to pull off later, especially when the stealth buggy is introduced, so you do have to go hands on from time to time. There's no difficulty settings so some players are going to find it gets frustrating while others find it a cakewalk, which is a bit annoying.

Overall though I greatly enjoyed it, I want to play more of it and I want to play sequels to it. I think that's enough to earn it a trophy.

    


If you'd like to leave a comment about Hostile Waters, the words I wrote about it, my site in general, action-strategy hybrids, overlooked video games of the early 21st century, or whatever, then please do so! I demand it of you.

4 comments:

  1. May I suggest memorial journey to Max Payne 1 and 2 (maybe also 3 if possible)? I sense that you have fond (or at least vivid) memories of it just like me, as you qoute it quite enough in various places.

    And I think that game of such significant importance definitely deserve more than just mention of its simplified port for Game Boy Advance. ;)

    P.S. What happened to mecha-neko? His last post is more than 3 months old. I like his distinctive style, so I hope he didnt quit because I have prepared few classic FPSes for his FPS friday.

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  2. I was kinda hoping I could get away with what I showed of it in the GBA post, so I could move on to playing exciting new video game experiences instead! But honestly it doesn't take much to talk me into playing Max Payne again (the first game anyway, as it's the only one I own right now). So I guess you can look forward to that some time in... early 2014 I guess, once I've gotten a few more requests and suggestions off my plate.

    Also what happened to mecha-neko is that he got sick of writing about games and quit. It would've been cool if he'd stuck around as I think he added a lot to the site with his own perspective and writing style, but hey 126 games isn't a bad run. That's a new game every week for two and a half years straight, I think he's earned his rest.

    I blame Daikatana though. Anyone would've walked away after having to play through that.

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  3. If you want to play a game that does that same "jump into a vehicle to control it directly" without having any fun, I recommend Incoming Forces. I know, you can thank me later.

    Too bad about Mecha Neko, his posts were great!

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure I must have gotten that one with a graphics card at some point. Maybe I'll go on an expedition down through my game boxes and see if I can spot it.

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Semi-Random Game Box