Submarine Sabotage

by Garry Francis profile


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
PunyJam #3: Submarine Sabotage, March 18, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: PunyJam #3

Deep beneath the frigid waves, a plucky submariner is in dire straits: “The USS Ibis is currently on a training exercise in the North Atlantic, just off the coast of Alaska. You were doing some routine maintenance at the aft end of the submarine when the sirens sounded. You thought this might have been a training exercise until you noticed a whitish-coloured gas approaching you from the aft bulkhead. Training and instinct took over. You couldn’t get to a gas mask in time, so you dived into the nearby airlock and closed the air-tight hatch behind you.” That’s right, things have gotten really bad: somehow the submarine has wandered off-course and ended up in a completely different ocean! I guess that’s why it’s called a training exercise. Well, you’d always been hoping to do a tour in Hawaii…

Before we can attempt to convince US Pacific Fleet that this submarine has definitely always been here, we first need to deal with the minor nuisance of a saboteur who has poisoned the crew and planted a bomb on the hull. And I do mean a minor issue, as our plucky submariner doesn’t seem particularly concerned: “You know from your basic training that it takes about 4 hours for the sub’s filtration system to clear the air of toxic substances. You’d better settle in for a long wait. Maybe you should have a snooze. / > snooze: There’s nothing else you can do to kill the time, so you settle down to have a snooze. Zzzzz…” Stuck in a metal tube careening towards the ocean floor while poison gas kills everyone onboard, you are reminded that you had to wake up at 4am for maintenance. Why not hit the snooze button a few times? Not like the captain’s still around to chew you out.

So yawning awake, hair a little tousled from four hours cuddled in an airlock, we’re ready for some morning puzzling. We’re immediately given signposts, with a door that won’t budge and a grille covering a service duct, teasing you with forward trajectories that are inhibited by emergent short-term goals that invite you to explore the current playspace. We sift through the remnants of life aboard the submarine, finding bits and bobs, each one an opportunity to brainstorm solutions to your obstacles. To prevent this possibility space from expanding too quickly, the game is always keen to provide some railings, guiding you back to what matters: “This is a highly complex and technical area - way above your pay grade. You think it best to leave everything alone, as you don’t want to cause any damage that will prevent you getting back to the surface.” Alas, I’m not the only one who’s way below pay grade, as we find the corpse of Petty Officer First Class Nelson next to a can of WD-40. It’s a shame, of course, but in these difficult times England expects every man will WD-40.

Protected by such railings, the game bounces you from goal to goal, as most puzzles are meant to be solved upon the encounter. If you do a good enough job searching each room as you go through, then you don’t really need to backtrack, although the railings sometimes dissonate with our need to seek out hidden objects: “The storage lockers only contain clothing and personal items. Your sense of decorum tells you to leave them alone.” Oh thank goodness my sense of decorum, it’s returned, was wondering where it went while I was rifling through corpses to snatch whatever they had.

It’s a well-oiled frustration-to-lightbulb-to-satisfaction pipeline, and the parsing is pretty seamless, if sometimes a little ungainly in its specificities, as when we need to “>unscrew screws with screwdriver.” While there are plenty of red herrings strewn about, we’re kept on target by the affable if utilitarian tone, which straightforwardly highlights what’s important even when it nods at you with a grin: “It’s a magnetic bomb that’s attached to the submarine’s hull by a very strong magnet. There’s no way you can remove it. A red LED is lit. You presume this to mean that the bomb is armed. You can see two wires exposed outside the body of the bomb, one red and one green. Those colours don’t conform to IEEE standards. That sounds like a safety violation!” So long as you pay attention to wherever the spotlight flicks, you’ll solve your way swiftly through a puzzleset that feels satisfactorily packed because of all the red herrings’ implied possibilities without becoming a needle in a haystack headache. Each room is just detailed enough to breathe some life into the playspace, but as soon as you get too curious and wander off the beaten path, a friendly nudge keeps you on your way.

This attention to player experience helps this puzzlefest feel breezy and goodnatured, with enough ahas to brush aside the few uhwhas (really I just, just like take the fuse?). Although the style can be pretty spare, it does make an effort to flick some color onto the canvas, with a tense intro and even a twist ending that’s implied in an earlier section if you pay close enough attention. So maybe there isn’t some complex multistage puzzle about fixing the pump system or a frenetic timed sequence about firing a torpedo, but honestly so much the better: this is a game very keen for you not to miss the point, and the point is that I had fun trying to rub soap on a hinge to see if it would come loose.