The story begins in Tahiti, where your character is taking a leisurely vacation. The game's copy-protection requires you to follow precise CPR procedures to rescue a drowning woman. You later meet and spend a night with a beautiful American woman who later turns out to be a CIA agent.
You are called back from vacation to the Pentagon, where a briefing reveals the basic plot. You're then flown directly to Hawaii to board the submarine. The majority of the game is spent on the sub, and you'll be required to handle a great variety of functions on board:
- Piloting the submarine in real-time, as well as operating its sonar, weapons, and stealth systems.
- Plotting a suitable course from Hawaii to Gibraltar under the polar ice cap.
- Decoding several encrypted transmissions, another copy-protection for the game.
- Repairing a faulty torpedo tube, manufacturing replacement parts using pretty much every piece of machinery in the boat's engineering room.
The underwater journey requires playing several long minigames, some of which are devastatingly hard to complete. This includes a battle against Soviet cruisers, battle against a Soviet Alfa-class Submarine, and piloting the sub between icebergs/stalactites underneath the north pole.
In addition, the game requires you to win several games of Yahtzee against a fellow shipmate to win a bottle. The designers were particularly devious with this one, as saving and reloading too many times during this game will cause you to lose the match automatically (apparently, your opponent is quite smart). Doing this makes the game Unwinnable. In fact, there are at least two other places in the game where a wrong action does not immediately cause a Game Over, but rather lets you play on for quite some time, oblivious to your Dead Man Walking status.
After reaching Gibraltar, you will disembark from the ship using scuba gear, evading shore defenses by creating a diversion. The actual assault on the embassy at the end of the game is possibly even harder than the rest of the game, and requires quick thinking and reflexes.
This is possibly one of the most difficult Sierra adventures ever created, mostly due to the many difficult mini-games as well as the general obscurity of its puzzles, leading to Guide Dang It!. However, the plot and writing, as well as its relative innovations at the time it was released, made it either very worthwhile or simply a piece of crap. Unfortunately, the multiple copy protection techniques (most of them requiring the original manual or a reasonable facsimile) as well as unexpected bugs render this game virtually unplayable today.
Codename: ICEMAN provides examples of:
- Anti-Frustration Features: There are some comfortable features that haven't been seen before in an SCI 0 game which are mentioned in the manual under "New Features". For instance, typing just "look" gives you the description of the object directly in front of the player character (rather than the room), or making them walk up to the object when you type in a command related to it instead of just giving the message "You are not close enough".
- Bound and Gagged: The ambassador, once you find him. You also do this to a caterer in the Tunisian compound after taking his clothes as a disguise.
- Codename Title:
- Copy Protection: The CPR portion at the beginning of the game and operating the submarine are this, requiring pamphlets included explaining just what to do.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: You have to save a woman from the surf early on in the game, and you have to perform CPR. Afterwards she just stands up and walks it off.
- The Cameo: The man sitting at a table in Chi Chi Bar's dance room is Chris Hoyt, a fellow Sierra developer who was the programmer of King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella and The Colonel's Bequest.
- Fireworks of Love: As Westland and Stacy spend the evening together in her hut, talk to each other, and kiss, the game cuts to fireworks exploding in the sky once the tension reaches its peak.
- Guide Dang It!: Oh so very much. Simply put, everything in the game that can go wrong, will go wrong unless you explicitly check for it. For instance, the submarine will malfunction unless you, the acting captain, perform maintenance work. The worst example is that, at the Pentagon, you are given the wrong ID card. Unless you double-check it, you'll get through half the game before noticing this mistake, rendering your game Unwinnable.
- Luck-Based Mission
- The Main Characters Do Everything: Several examples, all interconnected. See also Minimalist Cast and One Riot, One Ranger, below.
- Westland is both a CIA agent and a Navy Commander. This at least has some remote plausibility.
- Westland's reason for being on the U.S.S. Blackhawk is to be transported clandestinely to Tunisia; However as soon as he comes aboard, he effectively becomes the ship's First Officer for no apparent reason. He is given several chances to pilot the submarine himself, and even takes command after Capt. Hawkins injures himself.
- Before trying to cross the polar ice cap (and while serving as the acting captain of the ship) Westland must inspect and repair a malfunctioning torpedo tube. Even weirder, he must measure and manufacture the replacement parts all by himself. Failure to do all this leads to losing a confrontation with enemy submarines later in the game - no one else will discover the malfunction nor fix it for you. Seriously, while it is an interesting challenge for this game, where the heck is the engineering crew?
- Minimalist Cast: The U.S.S. Blackhawk - a U.S. Navy nuclear attack submarine - seems to have a crew of 7 individuals. Including yourself.
- At one point, Captain Hawkins tells you that you can stand down from the pilot's position because your replacement shift has arrived. When you stand up, there's no one there to replace you.
- One Riot, One Ranger: The U.S. embassy in Tunisia has been taken over by terrorists. The United States responds by sending a lone CIA operative from Pearl Harbor to the Mediterranean on-board a nuclear submarine so he can clandestinely infiltrate Tunisia by sea and assault the embassy all by himself. He succeeds.
- Playlist Soundtrack: The Chichi Bar, which plays three tracks when you spend time there: a relaxing one, an upbeat one, and a rocking one.
- Save Scumming: If you save and load too many times during the Yahtzee minigame, your opponent refuses to abet cheaters, takes the important item you're supposed to win from him, and leaves, rendering the game unwinnable.
- Shout-Out: Much like another Sierra property, you get some nice close-ups and portraits of the girls in Tahiti, including Stacy.
- Shown Their Work: This is a Jim Walls game after all. Everything from the CPR in the opening to operating and maintaining the U.S.S. Blackhawk is portrayed very accurately.
- Text Parser
- Unexpected Genre Change: Several, the bulk of them occurring in the submarine: plot a course for the submarine, fight enemy submarines, pilot the submarine to dodge obstacles, and play Yahtzee with a crew member.
- Video Game Cruelty Punishment: If you refuse to help the arbitrary drowning woman at the beach, the game kills you off, quote, "for your heartless attitude".
- Writers Have No Sense of Scale: As the U.S.S. Blackhawk sails east through the Bering Straits, Westland and Hawkins go up to the conning tower to take a look around. With his binoculars, Hawkins spots two ships on the horizon which turn out to be Russian warships, and one starts heading towards them. But when you get to your station a few minutes later, it turns out that the enemy is still about 17,000 yards away (about 15.5km) - which is well beyond visual range at sea level.