Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising

Blending good strategy and action.

18In the year 2032 a group of disgruntled power mongers intent on regaining control form a chain of Pacific islands and launch an assault on humanity. The world’s only hope rests with the “adaptive cruiser” Antaeus, a super aircraft carrier in drastic need of repair and refurbishment. This plot may sound like the quintessential shooter cliche – and to be fair it sort of is – but it’s given a needed boost with the help of comic book writer Warren Ellis. The development team clearly devoted attention to the storyline, giving it many twists and turns.

Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising is a game you have never played before. It’s an odd mix of third-person action, where you control various vehicles, and real-time strategy, somewhat in the same vein as Battlezone. Each of the 21 level takes place on a distinctive island map with varying objectives.

Usually you focus first on creating a stable and secure beachhead for supply and repair operations. After beginning with simple resource-gathering salvage missions for the materials you later use to construct additional units, you proceed on to more complex combat, escort, and reconnaissance missions, some of which have time limits. Later on you will have AI units do the harvesting of resources, but at first you have to see to tit. You do end up commandeering several different types of vehicles, not just harvesters, either directly or indirectly, to accomplish your tasks.

Another interesting concept is that of the “Soulcatcher” chips, where you may equip any military unit you construct with an electronic chip containing the knowledge, skills and personalities. Every vehicle created by the Antaeus can incorporate one Soulcatcher, enabling them to carry out your orders to the best of their abilities. Ransom, for instance, is a crack chopper pilot who performs poorly if you stick him in a tank, while the aptly named Patton is only happy in a tank. Vehicles with chips installed can be given a complex series of instructions from the strategic map and will execute them autonomously unless destroyed. Better still, Soulcatcher-equipped vehicles without specific orders will spontaneously attack enemies that enter their radar fields, demolish nearby hostile buildings, or perform salvage operations, all without your intervention.

13_1Like other RTS games, Hostile Waters incorporates resource gathering into its design, but with a significant twist. Scarab vehicles are capable of scanning wrecked enemy vehicles or buildings, converting them into energy, and transferring that power back to the Antaeus where it is used to fuel the nanotech creation engines. Badly damaged vehicles can also return to the carrier for energy recycling. Alternatively, a properly equipped Scarab can repair them. Another added plus is that every vehicle you build can be customized to suit your tastes, with weapons and armor of various cost and power.

This is, in a way, equivalent to acquiring artificial intelligence for piloting a vehicle to relieve you of the burden of constantly telling it what to do. Once having installed such a chip, you can communicate combat strategy in the war room before each mission to be carried out when the mission commences. If you have a vehicle without such a chip, you have to control it yourself. You never accumulate an excess of Soulcatcher chips, so you have to allocate them carefully.

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One of the implications of the way the Soulcatcher chips are implemented is the entrance of strong personalities into the gameplay, with characters having a unique and colorful way of expressing themselves and communicating with each other. It is ironic that you become more attached to dead people in Hostile Waters — and learn more about their personalities and past exploits — than you do to most live people in traditional real-time strategy offerings. This component of the gameplay gives it special depth and represents an extremely clever design decision.

6_1In constructing vehicles, you have access to special nanotechnology to create helicopters, buggies, hovercraft, recycling units, planes, tanks, and special equipment. You may also improve existing military units by adding armor plating and special armaments. Because the Antaeus begins in bad shape, you have initially only primitive systems of vehicle construction available. While your choices are limited in this regard early in the gameplay, later on you research new technologie. You obtain resources from your Scarab vehicles, that seek out scrap metal to recycle into energy for the units you constructed.

You have a fascinating choice throughout the game about whether to give tactical commands to your units to undertake certain tasks, or to execute these combat tasks yourself by jumping into the action and assuming direct control over units. To make intelligent decisions about what to do, you have to study game maps to determine the right vehicle and weapon for each purpose; study day and night cycles and weather conditions which can directly affect your success; and consider carefully your always limited resource picture. The range of options available to you expands dramatically as the game progresses, matching the increased level of challenge encountered.

Fans of strategic battlefield mayhem will definitely want to give Hostile Waters a look. The concept behind it is pretty slick, and were it released today, it would probably receive a wave of praise for its originality.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, 500 MB HDD, Win98

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