Back in ’98 when I was a wee boy of 15 years, I bought my usual local gaming mag. In it, there was usually a CD-ROM with a ton of demos, and occasionally a free game. This time, the free game was called Sub Culture.
Released in 1997 by Criterion Games (you can probably guess how successful it was when you could get it for free 1 year later), Sub Culture was a 3rd person Action/Adventure game. You take the role of a tiny humanoid submarine pilot, the only survivor of a discarded can of soup destroying your home city, and your objective is basically to survive and prosper. To do this, you could take on mining or salvage missions, trying to recover bottle caps, cigarette butts, pearls and various other commodities that could be sold in the cities. This was where one of the game’s best mechanics came into play. Since just about any valuable item was almost as big as your sub, you couldn’t exactly put them into your hold, so you were equipped with either a magnet or a grappling hook, depending on what you were salvaging. As soon as the magnet hooked on something, it would weigh down your sub depending on its weight, which made controlling much more difficult. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except that between you and the nearest city, there were almost always a bunch of enemies which would range from giant fish to pirates that want you dead.
Now, fighting without dragging anything behind you could be a bit challenging but when you were carrying a bottle cap that was as heavier than your sub, things could get… interesting. This game had physics, so anything you carried would have an effect on your sub. You would always move slower, and if you stopped, you would slowly sink. Stop too fast and the item would shoot forward, dragging you with it. This could make combat tricky, since you would constantly have to battle not just enemies, but also a heavy haul. You could of course just drop it and come back for it later, but occasionally you would be above a deep trench, and having to go all the way down for it again was not really an option (in the deepest trench, reaching the bottom could take a couple of minutes).
Once you got tired of hauling things, you could take on missions for either of the two warring nations, the Bohines and Procheas. The missions consisted of fighting off pirates, navigating minefields, dropping depth charges and destroying a giant walker. Eventually they decide that peace is the only option if they want to get rid of the pirates, and they send you in to destroy the pirate city and go out in a final blaze of glory.
Honestly, the story isn’t what made this game great. It was the atmosphere and gameplay. There was a simple market economy, so hauling that bottle cap over to a distant city could net you a bigger profit, than if you just sold it at the nearest port. You could equip your sub with everything from depth charges to lightning guns, shields, strobe lights and an escape pod.
The lights weren’t just for show either. You know how in most games, night means ‘slighter darker than day’, right? Now, it was pretty much the same here except for when you went exploring in one of the trenches or caves. It wouldn’t get dark, it would get black. You couldn’t see anything without lights, which made for some scary moments when a hideous angler fish-like monster would attack you. The graphics were, for the time, really good. You would see sea turtles swimming around, minding their own business, colorful fish and other subs going about their daily routine. Very cool game and I highly recommend it.
If you find it and try to run it in Vista or Win7, you’ll probably run into some problems, but you should be able to find a fix here
Oh, and as a side note, I remember playing this on my Orchid Righteous 3D Voodoo 1 card (the first 3dfx card ever, if my history is correct). It was a pass-through card with no 2d support, so you needed a 2d card, and had to bridge the two cards with a cable. Anyway, it had a mechanical relay on it that would actually make the card produce a fairly loud ‘click’ when it was accessed. That was an extremely scary sound the first couple of weeks I had the card, since no one really expects their computer to sound like that :)