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The Hunt for Red October (NES) artwork

The Hunt for Red October (NES) review

"Basic mechanics really help keep a game afloat. All it takes is for one or two mechanical elements to be out of place for a game to sink like a torpedo-shot submarine. Its hull smashed in, it sinks to the bottom of the gaming sea where it may not be seen or heard from again. Only in passing memory is it ever mentioned, and usually not fondly. Down there, the scavengers will pick it apart. Its various degrading pieces will be food for the bashing beasts. "

Basic mechanics really help keep a game afloat. All it takes is for one or two mechanical elements to be out of place for a game to sink like a torpedo-shot submarine. Its hull smashed in, it sinks to the bottom of the gaming sea where it may not be seen or heard from again. Only in passing memory is it ever mentioned, and usually not fondly. Down there, the scavengers will pick it apart. Its various degrading pieces will be food for the bashing beasts.

The Hunt for Red October is just such a game. The idea of taking a movie that wouldn't by any stretch make a good game is intriguing, much like the idea of a submarine-based side scroller. They're two concepts that can't honestly make good bedfellows. Judging by the product that came from such a courtship, they should have gotten an annulment. The game is plagued by the same problems that sink other sub par movie-games: jarring controls, questionable mechanics, and poorly developed hit detection.

It didn't feel like the developers could or wanted to commit to one type of side scroller. They couldn't seem to make up their minds if this game should auto-scroll like an arcade shoot 'em up, or if it should have manual side scrolling like most every other game. They did a strange fusion of the two where the game slowly auto-scrolls, but you can also advance through levels manually. This results in awkward situations where you wind up dying by no fault of your own. Scenes that would be effective in a manual scroller thus become butchered by the auto-scrolling, and vice versa. The first level is a good example of this. There is one part towards the end of the level which demands perfect timing. A group of vice-like traps are heading toward you, and you need to move through them at just the right time or be crushed. It's needlessly difficult to time because the game is slowly auto-scrolling. There is also a wall that will pop out from the background and try to crush you, so you can't dawdle when you really should be allowed to. This forces you to either clumsily sail through the traps and hope you don't get caught, or hang back and get crushed by the wall.

On the converse, there are scenes where the game would have been better off as full blown auto-scroller. There are underwater turrets that pop out at not-so-fixed intervals. Since you have to go halfway across the screen to be able to advance the level, you almost always wind up either crashing into them, or not expecting them. In the case of the latter, you wind up in the line of fire and unable to correct yourself or dodge their projectile.

Since the controls are so wonky, you cannot dodge most projectile. This demeans the possible shoot 'em up value that the developers also couldn't fully commit to in the first place. Most shoot 'em ups rely on stellar control response and controls that stop on a dime. The sub builds momentum too quickly, going from sluggish to breakneck in an instant. This also causes the sub to slow to a halt rather than do so on a dime. That's understandable as it is realistic, but that's also why you don't see a lot of shoot 'em ups with submarines. This results in jerky controls that cause you to drive into things quite often. To make matters worse, your sprite is awkwardly shaped. You cannot plausibly dodge the speeding bullets that are coming at you, or even one of them. Getting hit once stuns you. You get hit by one, then three, then several, and you die. If you don't die, you come out with almost all of your armor depleted, and that's just from one turret. The game also puts you in situations in which the quarters are tightly closed. Combine that with jerky controls and I think you know what happens.

Smacking into walls, especially in the second level, results in damage. With the poor mechanics, you sometimes get stuck in the wall. All the while, you quickly take damage and eventually die. This can happen to you even when you're at full life. Again, by no fault of your own would you have died. You made one little mistake, the game glitches, and you're out one life.

You get five lives in the game. Lose all of those and it's game over. No continues, no passwords. You have to play all seven extra-cheap levels not only in one sitting, but in one actual game. Also take into account that you not only have to mind your armor, but your fuel and a time limit. Doesn't the fuel already act as a time limit? It's like this game wants you to beat two clocks, especially since you get very few fuel power ups.

Even the action of the game is demeaned by poor mechanics. You can shoot missiles directly in front of you or above you. Most enemies appear at a slant. This means you either need to position your sub in front of them, underneath them, or angle your sub and fire away. In any case, your missiles will miss most of the time because of the faulty hit detection and because most of the enemy sprites are really tiny. You have to be absolutely precise down to the pixel when hitting enemies. Your ammo is also quite erratic. Sometimes it shoot straight forward and off the screen, other times it prematurely explodes, and once in a while it'll home in on a target. All the while that you try to position yourself, the enemies are sending heat-seeking missiles, torpedoes, and depth charges at you. You could use your EMP to send them away, but you can only use it for so long before it's depleted. You also cannot simply sail into a situation and mash the buttons to pour torpedoes on the enemies because you have a very limited supply of ammo+. Torpedoes are necessary for defeating the boss, so running out is pretty much not an option. Because of all this, you wind up avoiding battles. The all around action aspect of the game is horribly demeaned, and the game is reduced to dodging tightly-closed obstacles, enemies, and projectile with clunky controls. It doesn’t help that the only music your hear is the a droning, deep thrum over and over again. It’s the same two notes played in succession that give you Desert Falcon flashbacks, and it reminds you that there are better games to play.

In short, this game is a wash.

To say that this game is a loose adaptation of the movie is a huge understatement. I don't seem to recall any scenes that involved giant walls that try to crush the sub, or vice-like traps, or underwater missile turrets, or giant underwater fortresses. Yet, because there wasn't enough substantial game-oriented material in the movie, the developers had to contrive a lot of nonsense. This makes you wonder why they even bothered to call this game The Hunt for Red October, or even associate it with the movie, when they could have plucked out the scant movie references and just made it a stand alone game. It wouldn't have made the game any better, but it would have certainly pinpointed their audience more effectively. Thing is I don't see many HFRO fans going out and buying this game, nor do I see people getting more hyped for the HFRO movie after playing this game.

The Hunt for Red October is just another forgettable movie-game with a steep difficulty generated by poor game mechanics. The mechanics seem to stem from the developers indecision in what kind of action game to make this. They took what could have been a very solid idea and turned it into a clunky mess filled with glitches. One even wonders who the target audience was with this game, as the movie and novel it's based on don't seem like the type that would attract many to buy a game adaptation. In short, The Hunt for Red October is best left where it remains at the bottom of the gaming sea.

Rating: 2/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 05, 2010)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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