Video Game / Harpoon

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Harpoon is a Long Runner series of computer wargames based upon Larry Bond's naval miniatures rules. Originally released for DOS in December 1989, Harpoon is a game of modern naval operations, and was critically acclaimed by PC gaming magazines for its playability, depth, and accuracy. In 2013, AGSI, the latest developer, ceased development for the series.

It is composed of the following titles and addons:

  • Harpoon (1989), containing the first BattleSet set in the Norwegian Sea.
    • With three BattleSet expansions, set in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf. They were released from 1990-91.
    • Three Harpoon Designers' Series scenario packs were released from 1992-93.
    • Was upgraded and re-released under the titles Harpoon Classic (1994), Harpoon Classic '97 (1996), Harpoon Classic 2002 Gold Edition (2003), and Harpoon: Commander's Edition (2007).
  • Harpoon II (1994), featuring increased detail and complexity over the original title, but such changes meant that it did not have the appeal of its predecessor. The base game included the BattleSet Global Conflicts One. This title was re-released as Harpoon II: Deluxe Multimedia Edition (1996) and Harpoon II: Admiral's Edition (1996).
    • BattleSets for this game include Global Conflicts Two, Global Conflicts Three, Cold War, Westpac, Regional Conflicts One, and Regional Conflicts Two.
    • Harpoon 3 (2001), an enhanced version of Harpoon II.
    • Harpoon 3: Advanced Naval Warfare (2006), adding multiplayer and many significant changes to the simulation.
  • Harpoon 4, a totally new iteration featuring a 3D engine and dynamic campaign. The game was canned in 2003 after years of development team turnovers and changing publishers.

The game series has you commanding naval and air forces in scenarios stretching from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf. The original Harpoon focused on Cold War-era NATO vs. Warsaw Pact confrontations on the world's oceans, but subsequent releases have included more modern scenarios. In particular, Harpoon Classic '97 included a campaign series featuring a war between the United States and European Union in 1996. An old players' scenario favorite is "Dawn Patrol", depicting a battle between Norwegian and Soviet missile boats.

The games' ships, aircraft, weapons, and sensors are all depicted in excruciating detail and drawn from real-life data. In fact, some of the games are accurate enough to be considered naval simulations—the original title was described by Tom Clancy as the best unclassified simulator out there, and modified versions have been used by real-life navies as training tools.

In spite of its Long Runner status, Harpoon's graphics have not evolved since 1989. Not going for the flashy graphics of modern strategy games, the game is played on plain map screens similar to the Combat Information Center displays on modern warships. The canceled Harpoon 4 would have had a 3D mode as a display option.

Harpoon has a mod community that's as old as the series itself; the earliest user scenarios date from 1990! Nowadays many scenarios are available on multiple fan websites. You can create your own scenarios and also make your own databases via a (free) request-able editor. Harpoon 3 has been a popular platform for custom datasets (a file containing unit parameters); the PlayersDB is particularly good, covers the 1960-2030+ period, and is constantly updated with community requests to cover new additions. It is considered the most functional and user-friendly of all current Harpoon 3 databases. The DB2000 covers the 1980-2015+ timeframe. There are databases for earlier time periods.


This game series contains examples of:

  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Averted. You want to recreate an assault by the combined North Korean, Chinese and East Asian Russian forces against Japan, South Korea and the U.S.? Go for it. Although it's already been done. Expect to be playing for a long, long time, almost all of which will be spent in 1:1 (realtime) or 2:1 if your computer can't handle it.
  • Bombers on the Screen
  • Construct Additional Pylons: Each ship, each helo, each plane, each base is a unique and irreplaceable unit.
  • Cool Plane: The North Atlantic Convoys BattleSet introduces the Tu-22MP, a fictional variant of the Backfire bomber configured as an air-to-air "missile truck" and long-range AWACS hunter.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Averted in the case of most ship units, as almost any ship will carry at least a naval artillery gun, and even the smallest gunboats can sink the largest ships if they get lucky with missiles. About the most you get into this, are subs with torpedoes only capable of hitting other subs.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted. Ships take realistic damage, lose sensors and weapons if hit where those sensors or weapons are located. They can catch fire or flood. If you hurt an aircraft carrier or airbase enough, it can balloon aircraft ready times to 2 or 3 times the usual time. Ships can sink due to fire or flood damage. Likewise, occasionally a ship that takes a pounding can come out with 97% damage, but otherwise unharmed.
  • Easy Logistics: Air units have fuel to go their missions, while ships don't have to worry about range.
    • Occasionally ships will breakdown and lose the functionality of the broken system.
    • All units have a limited supply of weapons that cannot be replenished (at least in the original versions of the game), except that any air units are able to land and re-arm no matter what.
  • Escort Mission: This is NATO's main task in the North Atlantic Convoys scenarios. Convoys filled with war supplies from the U.S. to Europe will have to sail through a Soviet gauntlet of Backfires and ambushing submarines. Other escort tasks can range from a 3 ship convoy hiking fuel from England to Norway, or a 40 ship assault flotilla being guarded by multiple carrier groups.
  • Fog of War: If you don't have a sensor lighting it up, or someone listening on a sonar, or watching it with their eyeball or a passive detection (ESM) system, picking it up you have no idea what's there. You also have areas of vagueness with passively detected units. In subsequent game iterations, you cannot communicate with your own subs below periscope depth unless you have a certain setting turned on.
    • You also may not be able to fire at a unit if you don't have a radar from the specific ship locked on it.
    • Like real life, there are "Anti-Radar" weapons, which are missiles that used to shoot back at ships, missile batteries and radar installations. If the target isn't using active radar the missiles can't be used.
  • Hero Unit - Various Cool Ship units, such as Soviet "Kirov" BCGN or "Oscar" SSGN, U...S Iowa BB or various carriers.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: What happens when a large force of aircraft unload their missiles on a naval or ground target.
  • Mook Chivalry: Sometimes you get lone AI aircraft having a go at your task force before being blown out of the sky. The "conga line of missiles", however, is a tad more threatening.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The SS-N-19 Shipwreck/P-700 Granit missile carried by the "Oscar" submarines, the "Kuznetsov" aircraft carrier and the "Kirov" class battlecruiser. It lives up to its name. Anything smaller than a carrier or Iowa battleship will be sunk in one hit, and those two types of ship would be lucky to withstand more than a handful of hits.
  • No Backwards Compatibility in the Future: Averted for direct successors of the original game. Later game versions on Windows 7 and newer are usually capable of running user scenarios written as early as 1990. However, there is no guarantee of an identical playing experience due to game engine changes since then.
  • Stop Poking Me!
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: The only "resource" is your units, and their weapons. The only "renewable" resource are aerially delivered weapon (i.e. by planes that rearm).
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The scenarios for the original game assumed that the Soviet Union would be around after 1992. In the North Atlantic Convoys battleset, the Soviet Union attacks NATO in 1996 after a successful hardliner coup against Gorbachev.
  • Videogame Caring Potential: Towards especially lucky or effective units.
  • Video Game Long-Runners: Since 1989. The Harpoon devs appeared to have called it quits in 2013. Commander's Edition development continues under a volunteer group.
  • The War Sequence: While there are many low-level missions, there are still a lot of full scale war recreations, some of the biggest being an theatre wide war between North Korea, China & Russia against South Korea, Japan & the United States.


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