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Video Game / Cold Waters

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Cold Waters is a Cold War-era submarine simulation game released on Steam for PC and macOS in 2017.

The player takes command of one of several classes of nuclear-powered fast attack submarines in the U.S. Navy in a hypothetical World War III that occurs in 1968 or 1984 (vs. the Soviet Union) or 2000 (vs. the People's Republic of China). It is a Spiritual Sequel to Microprose's video game adaption of Red Storm Rising and Tom Clancy's SSN.


Provides Examples Of:

  • All for Nothing: It's possible to completely wreck the Soviet Navy, only for NATO to lose the war if you don't successfully hunt down the Soviet boomer in the final mission.
    • The same is true for the South China Sea campaign in 2000; fail to sink the PLA Navy's Xia class boomer, and the US will be held hostage by it's nuclear missiles at the negotiating table.
  • Alternate History: There are three campaigns, each being a different alternate timeline.
    • The 1968 campaign has the war start when the Soviet Politburo perceives the Johnson administration's lack of response to the Prague Spring and resulting Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia as a sign of weakness, and decides to invade West Germany while America is focused on Vietnam.
    • The 1984 campaign has the Soviet regime perceive Reagan's anti-communist rhetoric and concurrent military buildup as a threat, leading them to choose to strike first.
    • The third campaign is set in West Pacific in 2000, and features China as the opposing force, who start a war over Taiwan following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which hits China's economy harder than it did in real life and leads the Chinese Communist Party to look for an external crisis to focus its population on. As well, Taiwan declared independance at least a year before the financial crisis, which fed into the PRC's increased belligerence, and said belligerence caused the British to indefinitely delay the hand over of Hong Kong. The Russians were also hit harder by the financial crisis, leading them to sell large amounts of military equipment to the Chinese, including a fair number of naval vessels and submarines, as well as provide them with military advisors to help train them in naval combat.
  • America Saves the Day: Played with. You command a U.S. Navy submarine and the outcome of your missions affects the dynamic campaign, but the in-game news releases mention other NATO nations doing their part. Just how well they do can depend on your performance if your mission was connected to that theater of the war; for example, if the Soviets invade Norway, their invasion goes a lot smoother if you failed to stop their subs from landing Spetznaz teams to disrupt the Norwegian army around Andøya. The war also depends on NATO's ability to bring more troops and supplies across the Atlantic from the USA.
    • Played straight in the 2000 campaign; the contributions of Taiwanese and other forces are minimal compared to the US military; this is realistic given the tiny sizes of their militaries (especially their navies) compared to the US and PRC. Arguably, it is a case of "The Submarines of the United States Navy Save The Day", because the various airforces on your side (including the USN and USMC aviation) seem to be completely absent, even for major events like a PLA invasion force showing up off the coast of Taiwan.
  • Anachronism Stew: The gameplay itself averts this and has realistic equipment for each campaign, but the background photos for the campaign's news reports make it clear that the 1984 campaign was completed before the other two. Many of the ships and helicopters shown were not yet designed or built in 1968, and some of them had been retired or mostly retired by the year 2000. Specific examples include:
    • The SH-2 Seasprite helicopter was designed in the late 1950s, and so is relevant to the 1968 and 1984 campaigns, but was withdrawn from active US Navy units by 1994 and only a few remained in the Reserves until mid 2001, while it can be seen in news reports in 2000.
    • The SH-60 Seahawk was not introduced to the fleet until 1979, but still appears in news reports set in 1968.
    • The first Spruance class destroyer was commissioned in 1975, but can be seen in 1968. Similarly, The first Ticonderga class cruiser was commissioned in 1983, but can be seen during the 1968 campaign.
    • The last Permit class submarine was decommissioned in 1996, but it can sometimes be seen as the background image for the briefing screen in 2000. Likewise, the last Skipjack was decommissioned in 1990.
    • USS Narwhal (SSN 671) was decommissioned in 1999, though it's possible to justify her availability in the 2000 campaign by arguing that given the clear warning signs of the war in the game's alternate history, the Navy may have opted to keep her in commission longer than it did in real life.
    • Despite the China campaign being set in 2000, the second Seawolf-class submarine, USS Connecticut, is not in sevice, despite it being commissioned in 1998 and completing its shakedown operations in 1999.
  • Ascended Fanboy: The crew voices were provided by members of SubSim website, where Killerfish had done a lot of promotion for the game.
  • Armored Coffins: If your submarine's hull integrity is reduced to zero, or flooding progresses to the point where the boat is no longer able to gain positive buoyancy and rise even after conducting an emergency blow of the ballast tanks, you can attempt to abandon ship. However, if the submarine is below 400 feet, your attempt will always fail and your sub will be listed as "lost with all hands", ending the campaign. Diving sufficiently below test depth and causing the boat to implode will also lead to this fate, and that may even happen at a shallower depth if you have hull damage.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missiles. They are very fast and excellent ship-killers, but they are susceptible to enemy air defenses and, unless you launch from well beyond the visual horizon, the smoke plume will tell every enemy surface ship and aircraft on the map exactly where you are, and you don't want that. They can be good for taking out landing ships in invasion convoys once the escorts have been sunk.
    • To a degree, targeting capital ships. Sure, they may be heavily armed and a major threat to ships, but, regardless of campaign, the war will primarily be won by you sinking enemy shipping (preventing resupply of ground and naval forces), invasion forces, and submarines (preventing the enemy from targeting your convoys or inserting special forces teams). In turn, escort ships are usually a bigger threat, as there are more of them and you'll usually have to deal with them when going after invasion forces, resupply groups, or convoys.
    • Using the submarine's radar mast. Sure, it gives you an accurate course, speed, and range for every surface contact on the map in a few seconds, much more quickly than using passive sonar. However, it won't identify those contacts for you, and it also basically erects a giant sign saying "submarine, this way!" to any platform with an electronic surveillance system installed.
    • Active Sonar has the same problem as radar; it can quickly get you a targeting solution on an enemy contact, but your pings also loudly announce your presence and general location to anyone with a sonar set.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: As mentioned under Awesome, but Impractical above, radar and active sonar can be very effective in locating a target, but also very quickly give away your position to the enemy, so they rarely get used by the player. However, if you wind up in a battle during a storm, the wind and waves can generate enough ambient noise that it might be impossible to detect an enemy ship or submarine without being right on top of (or below) them. In that situation, pinging with active sonar or sticking up the radar mast might be the only way to get a detection at all. Doing so comes with a high probability of the enemy instantly reacting with torpedo fire... but hearing a torpedo launch will also tell you where they are, allowing you to use your own torpedoes on them.
  • Damage-Sponge Boss: Most ships and submarines can be sunk with a single torpedo hit. The Typhoon-class ballistic submarines and the Kirov-class battlecruisers can survive at least two.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: Ideally you'd never be detected at all in any of your missions. However, as mentioned above, sometimes ambient noise in the water will be so loud that the only way to detect the enemy at all will be to do something incredibly overt, which will give away your position but also manipulate your opponents into giving away theirs.
  • Final Boss: The last mission of 1984 campaign will always be against an SSBN with escorts.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sound of a torpedo homing in. And then, once the crew voices were added in, "Conn, Sonar. Torpedo in the water, torpedo in the water!"
  • Hot Sub-on-Sub Action: A frequent-enough occurrence, though you'll probably face more surface ships.
  • It's Up to You: It appears that yours is the only friendly submarine in the entire North Atlantic (or West Pacific in 2000) given how many times it's said no other NATO forces are available to stop Russian (or Chinese) incursions.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Enemy ships and subs will use this when firing snap shots down the bearing of an incoming torpedo. With the addition of the 688i and Seawolf, you can also pull this off using actual missiles from the twelve-tube Vertical Launch System or Seawolf's eight forward torpedo tubes.
  • Mad Libs Dialogue: The crew voices have this when announcing numbers. Less jarring than most, since the voice actor seems to have taken pains to keep his voice flat while announcing, and also becaue in actual naval protocol the numbers are pronounced slowly and separately.
  • Misguided Missile: Hoist by His Own Petard: This is why it's advisable for you to have a good fix on the enemy's location lest you find yourself being targeted by your own torpedo(s), since torpedoes with severed wires will home in on the very first ship or submarine they detect. On the other hand, it's possible to pull this off on the enemy, either with a MOSS torpedo, or if you're close enough, your own submarine, á la The Hunt for Red October.
  • Mutual Kill: Once an enemy vessel detects an incoming torpedo, they often fire a large spread of snap shots, IE torpedoes fired down the bearing of the incoming attack, even if they haven't actually detected the player's sub. The idea is to either force the player to break the wire to their own torpedoes, thereby giving them an increased chance to dodge the attack, or to hopefully kill the player with their parting shots. This is a valid tactic in Real Life and the player can also use it for the same reasons, but sometimes still gets sunk anyway.
  • Non Standard Game Over:
    • If your submarine takes fatal damage but you manage to abandon ship at a shallow enough depth, there's a good chance you and your crew will survive. In that case you may be picked up by NATO units and continue the campaign with a new sub. However, if there's a lot of hostile units still afloat in the area, you will be captured by the Soviets and imprisoned in a gulag for the rest of the war, ending the campaign then and there.
    • If you sink too many neutral merchant ships, you will be relieved of command and sent to a court martial, also ending your campaign.
  • Nuclear Option: Once the dynamic campaign goes decisively against the Soviet Union (or People's Republic of China), they will sortie their ballistic missile submarines and threaten to launch missiles. If you fail your final mission to take out one or more of them in the Arctic (or Pacific) Ocean, NATO (or the president) will decide that calling their bluff is too risky and will agree to Moscow's (or Beijing's) terms.
  • Oh, Crap!: Enemy ships and submarines will have this reaction once they detect torpedoes homing in on them. Their usual response is to go to flank speed and try to run. Which leads to Run or Die below.
  • Reds with Rockets: Both of the first two campaigns pit the player against the Soviet Red Banner Fleet. Post release, the developers added a third campaign set in the southwest Pacific in 2000, with the Red Chinese PLA Navy as the opposing force.
  • Run or Die: The standard response to an incoming torpedo, with a lot of ducking and weaving, to create knuckles, thrown in for good measure. You probably won't be able to actually outrun the torpedo, but you just might be able to dodge it long enough to burn out its fuel supply.
  • Shout-Out: An extremely bizarre one. Some of the cargo ships you can run into will bear the company name of Kiki Delivery Service. Yes, really.
  • Shown Their Work: The Red Banner Northern Fleet's and People's Liberation Army Navy's wide variety of surface combatants, submarines, support ships, and aircraft, as are their weapon systems and associated tactics. Each campaign features period-appropriate ships with appropriate capabilities. The same level of detail goes into the American submarines, helicopters, and surface ships.
  • Spiritual Sequel: To Microprose's video game adaption of Red Storm Rising. It's description on Steam even says so.
  • Stealth-Based Game: A naval one, but still. Generally, the idea is to detect and sink enemy ships and subs without them detecting you. Whoever gets the drop on the other side first is usually the winner.
  • Super Prototype: In the 1984 campaign, you can use the USS Narwhal, which was basically an experiment in ultra-quiet submarine propulsion. It had a nuclear reactor that was cooled by natural circulation, meaning that it took advantage of convection (hot stuff rises, cool stuff sinks) to allow the reactor to work even when the coolant pumps were shut off. It's as slow as the 1960's Sturgeon class hull it's built on, but it's also the quietest submarine available in the time period and can dive significantly deeper than the Los Angeles class. As the only ship of her class ever built, if you get her sunk but survive, you can only transfer to another class to resume the campaign.
    • USS Seawolf is functionally this in-game, as at the time the South China Sea campaign is set her sister ships Connecticut and Jimmy Carter had not yet been builtnote . As with Narwhal, if you lose her, you're forced to pick another kind of submarine to continue.
  • Technology Marches On: In-Universe. In the 1968 campaign, the player can select a Skipjack, Permit, or Sturgeon-class SSN armed with powerful WWII-era Mk-18 straight running torpedoes for dealing with surface ships and newer, weaker Mk-37 wire-guided antisubmarine homing torpedoes. The Russians have a similar level of technology. In 1984, you get access to the Los Angeles class sub, the experimental one-off USS ''Narwhal'', the more capable Mk-48 wire-guided torpedo, and UGM-84 Harpoon and UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Russians get their own new toys, including Typhoon, Delta, Sierra, and Kilo-class submarines, Kirov-class battlecruisers, Sovremmeney-class destroyers, and cruise missile-deployed antisub torpedoes. And in 2000, you can get the Los Angeles Flight II and III class subs, USS Seawolf, and the improved Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo, whereas the Chinese get both the latest Chinese and Russian submarines and surface shipsnote .
  • Too Dumb to Live: The activities of some civilian trawlers can feel like this. Who the hell goes fishing in an active war zone?
  • Waist-Deep Ocean: Downplayed. The ocean does get deeper than your submarine can dive. The deepest-diving player sub in the (unmodded) game is USS Seawolf, which has a test depth of 1650 feet, and it's possible to go deep enough to crush her. However, the ocean floor seems to often bottom out at 1914 feet even in places where it should be much deeper. In the year 2000 campaign, your home base is at Guam, and you can easily drive over the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest spot on the planet at 35827 feet (10920 meters) deep. But if you go there in-game, sometimes your fathometer will still read 1914 feet.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: The December 2017 update added neutral civilian ships and oil rigs to the battlefield. If you sink too many neutrals you will be pulled from duty by the Master-at-Arms pending court-martial.