Titanic, as you’ll doubtless recall, was the name of a big ship that sank. It was also a blockbuster movie that definitely didn’t sink – albeit that it left this reviewer itching for a fast-forward button to bypass Jack and Rose’s interminable romancing and Celine Dion’s schmaltzy warbling. Trouble is, that button didn’t exist because we saw the film at the cinema…
Not only has the story of the Titanic been committed to celluloid, it has also become the subject of a number of computer games, the latest of which comes courtesy of Excalibur. This effort, however, isn’t set in 1912 as the liner steamed towards its ill-fated appointment with an iceberg, but in contemporary times, with the player piloting a mini-submarine on a dive to the most famous shipwreck there ever was. The idea is to guide the sub, which has a detachable remote camera robot for exploring inside the wreck, on five missions with multiple objectives.
Each mission schallenge the player to locate and snap pictures of objects of interest, such as the Captain’s bath (the rubber ducks are long gone), or loot – pardon us, ‘retrieve’ – items including White Star Line plates and pocket watches. Photos and salvaged pieces of history can then be sold at auction, to provide funds to kit the submarine out with better equipment. All this sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is, the reality being that there isn’t much choice of what to spend the money on.
Initially, diving down to the shipwreck is very atmospheric. The Atlantic ocean’s icy depths feel suitably isolated and unwelcoming, and an undeniably powerful sense of history hits home when your sub’s headlamps first cast light on the Titanic’s rusting steel hull. Swooping slowly over the angled deck, twisted metal railings, pipework and gaping black portholes beneath you, Dive to the Titanic gets off to a promisingly moody start.
Unfortunately, from there the experience plummets downwards faster than the Titanic itself. Once you’ve travelled around inside the hull for a few hours, the rough edges of the graphics become more obvious. The same small palette of objects – desks, cups, jugs and so forth – are repeated over and over.
Worse still, the clipping detection is very inaccurate. Your little camera robot gets stuck on railings and detritus that it clearly isn’t anywhere near. When objects are picked up using the robot’s grabbing arm, they clip badly, even through the floor. We managed to nab a delicate piece of china through a porthole that was only half the width necessary to accommodate our robot arm. Much like the 1,500 or so ghosts who are possibly down there, it seemed we had no trouble passing through solid walls.
All of this might be tolerable if the core of the game weren’t quite so turgid. The missions themselves are plodding, and hamstrung by a hugely irritating navigation system. You’d think that, being in a high-tech submersible, you’d have some form of radar or map to guide you around the various cabins, but no. Instead, there’s a bloke on the surface ship above (who sounds like a Scandinavian Stephen Hawking) radioing down infuriatingly rubbish verbal directions. All he offers is basic instructions such as “Go forward”, “Head east” or “Dive down”.
Your navigator rarely mentions the rather crucial matter of depth, so you’re often left floundering around in circles, unsure of whether you need to rise or dive. Directions are so hopelessly vague that finding waypoints becomes a tedious matter of trial and error, made worse still by the fact that you can’t travel very fast. Gun the engines at any speed and the battery runs flat too quickly, meaning the mission is an automatic failure.
So, joy of joys, not only do you get to trundle half-lost down endless repetitive corridors, but you get to do it at a sea snail’s pace. And for an extra helping of fun, our Scandinavian tormentor on the surface ship even gave us completely wrong directions at one point, sending our camera to the next objective, rather than back to the mini-sub where it actually needed to go. Real smart.
The one small bright spot at the bottom of the dark ocean of this gaming experience is the frequent historical information passed on via your PDA. These educational snippets are quite interesting, but we suggest you look up some Titanic articles on Google instead, and bypass the suffering that this particular virtual submarine will inflict on your sanity. Dive to the Titanic? We’d rather watch the film again in its three-hour entirety – and that’s saying something.