After the success of the 1984 Tom Clancy novel, a movie adaptation was released in 1990 with many famous actors involved: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones and Tim Curry, to name a few. They obviously had high expectations. Good plot, good acting and good marketing are always a guarantee for success, followed by the video-game adaptations of the movie for various computers and consoles. This game shouldn't be confused with the strategy game of the same name, which is based on the book and is a few years older.
In case you are unfamiliar with the storyline, the Red October is the new Soviet submarine that suddenly heads for the USA, with both sides chasing it.
As in many other games based on movies, the plot follows the usual pattern of exploitation games: "Let's mix something together fast and earn a few bucks using the popular title." It all looks promising at the start, with a nicely drawn submarine, but as soon as the submarine dives, so will your impression of the game.
The levels follow the movie's plot. More precisely, a few scenes in the movie are used for levels, which was a common thing in games based on movies back then. Also, the "levels" or "stages" are sometimes too short or simple and are just there to increase the total count of levels. For example, the first level is just one screen; you see Jack Ryan hanging from a chopper, and a simple button press will detach him from the rope. The point is to precisely press the button so that Jack lands near the American submarine - not on the submarine, as the crash will kill him, but not too far away, either.
The second level is something you can actually play, but you'll hardly have any fun. It's a classic side view of left-to-right action, with your submarine going through various underwater caves and avoiding missiles. Everything looks very amateurish and is too difficult to be enjoyable.
The controls are tricky because of the inertia of the submarine. After you release the UP or DOWN button, the vessel will slowly stop ascending or descending instead of stopping immediately. This feature might fit a simulation game, but in a simple arcade game like this it only manages to be irritating. The only way to beat the stage is to memorize the level completely and manage to control your submarine almost flawlessly. The stage is short, which is fine considering the difficulty. "Short and horribly hard" isn't much fun, and it can make you angry, especially if you had actually bought the game.
The third level is a single screen, where you have to control a mini-sub, going from your submarine and trying to dock with the Red October. The fourth level is similar to the second, with more enemy submarines, and the fifth level is a shoot-out inside the submarine using a cross-hair. I know this shoot-out sounds interesting, but sometimes high expectations lead only to bigger disappointments. Consider yourself lucky if you even reach the fourth level.
The Atari and Amiga versions may yet be okay thanks to better graphics, but this conversion is barely playable. A few small features like the Caterpillar propulsion system for the Red October don't make any difference; play this game only if you really need to play every submarine game, or anything poor and difficult.