1914 Shells of Fury Review
It takes a lot of work and plenty of talent to take something that features long hours of mind-crushing boredom in real-life and turn it into an exciting game experience. Unfortunately Shells of Fury manages to capture all of the boredom of the real world experience of submarine combat circa World War I while simultaneously managing to make its brief moments of excitement boring as well.
The vast majority of your time with the game will be spent on the map screen with the time compression set as high up as you can crank it. The lack of any kind of intuitive or usable waypoint system forces you to steer your sub manually from this screen to keep it in its patrol areas or headed to its destination. So there you will sit for hours, looking at a dull blue map of the sea and the little black line that represents your sub and holding out hope that you'll eventually make some sort of contact with an enemy ship before your eyes go blank and you doze off.
When you finally do make contact any ounce of adrenaline you've managed to muster is quickly drained by the fact that the game manages to make the combat boring. Well, I'm not giving it enough credit; it does manage to make things frustrating as well. The first problem is that after a sighting the game will drop you back into real-time while you're still a very long way from your contact. You'll be able to speed up the clock slightly while pursuing a target, but by only a mere fraction of what you could before. So there you are again, staring at a couple of icons on a dull blue map and waiting for them to get closer to each other. After you close the distance by about a third, things manage to get more tedious because you'll have to dive to avoid being seen by your target. This is the age before sonar and also apparently before ships' navigators could plot an approximate course for an enemy ship, so as soon as you dive you'll lose contact with your target. Unless you want to go completely blind you'll need to pop up your periscope, but unfortunately for you the enemy merchant marine has the uncanny ability to spot a periscope over a kilometer away approximately 100% of the time. So there you'll sit, spending an eternity looking at the dull green water under the surface through your periscope and occasionally popping it up for a look as you patiently wait to close within firing distance.
Once you're in range and if you're lucky enough to not have been spotted, you'll finally have the chance to fire your torpedoes. This involves moving to another screen, pointing a line from your submarine's icon to the enemy ship's icon, and praying that your torpedo will be somewhere near its target by the time it gets there. The first time you fire your torpedo you'll be introduced to one of the most inane and annoying interface issues you've probably ever seen in a game - after pressing the fire button the game pops up a confirmation dialog. Seriously. You line up your shot in a real-time battle, wait for just the right moment, and then the game moronically asks you if you're sure that you want to fire. Yes I want to fire, that's why I pushed the fire button! You probably think that I'm making this up, but I assure you I'm not.
As bad as the combat is when stalking merchants, it gets even worse when facing destroyers. These were the days when rudimentary depth charges were just entering service and actually taking a submarine out with one was a stroke of fantastic luck. In World War II, which had the benefit of thirty additional years of weapons development, U-boat U-427 survived a battle in which 678 depth charges were used against it. And yet in Shells of Fury destroyers have the amazing ability to nail your sub close to 100% of the time. When you see a destroyer in the game, the only practical thing to do is turn around and try and run.
The dull gameplay is wrapped with some equally dull graphics. The game has you jumping between several of the submarine's stations which are screens covered in dials and knobs, only a few of which actually do anything. You can pretty much play the entire game with just the steering, dive, and speed controls, and the fire button.
Shells of Fury is a game that won't appeal to anyone. Sim fans will be appalled at how poorly the game simulates World War I submarine combat and submarines in general. Those looking for a little naval shooter or arcade action will be beaten down by mind-numbing boredom punctuated with brief periods of extreme frustration. Sign up for the army or air corps instead.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 40%. Shells of Tedium would be a more appropriate title.