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Part adventure and part submarine simulator, this Sierra adventure puts you in the shoes of a multi-qualified Commander in the United States Navy, during the late stages of the Cold War. A hostage situation at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia threatens to flare up into open conflict with the Soviet Union, enough to merit taking a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine from Hawaii into the Mediterranean, only to bring you (supposedly a part-time CIA operative or somesuch) ashore for a rescue operation.

The story begins in Tahiti, where your character is taking a leisurely vacation. The game's copy-protection requires you to follow precise CPR procedures to rescue a drowning woman. You later meet and spend a night with a beautiful American woman who later turns out to be a CIA agent.

You are called back from vacation to the Pentagon, where a briefing reveals the basic plot. You're then flown directly to Hawaii to board the submarine. The majority of the game is spent on the sub, and you'll be required to handle a great variety of functions on board:

  • Piloting the submarine in real-time, as well as operating its sonar, weapons, and stealth systems.
  • Plotting a suitable course from Hawaii to Gibraltar under the polar ice cap.
  • Decoding several encrypted transmissions, another copy-protection for the game.
  • Repairing a faulty torpedo tube, manufacturing replacement parts using pretty much every piece of machinery in the boat's engineering room.

The underwater journey requires playing several long minigames, some of which are devastatingly hard to complete. This includes a battle against Soviet cruisers, battle against a Soviet Alfa-class Submarine, and piloting the sub between icebergs/stalactites underneath the north pole.

In addition, the game requires you to win several games of Yahtzee against a fellow shipmate to win a bottle. The designers were particularly devious with this one, as saving and reloading too many times during this game will cause you to lose the match automatically (apparently, your opponent is quite Genre Savvy). Doing this makes the game Unwinnable. In fact, there are at least two other places in the game where a wrong action does not immediately cause a Game Over, but rather lets you play on for quite some time, oblivious to your Dead Man Walking status.

After reaching Gibraltar, you will disembark from the ship using scuba gear, evading shore defenses by creating a diversion. The actual assault on the embassy at the end of the game is possibly even harder than the rest of the game, and requires quick thinking and reflexes.

This is possibly one of the most difficult Sierra adventures ever created, mostly due to the many difficult mini-games as well as the general obscurity of its puzzles, leading to Guide Dang It. However, the plot and writing, as well as its relative innovations at the time it was released, made it either very worthwhile or simply a piece of crap. Unfortunately, the multiple copy protection techniques (most of them requiring the original manual or a reasonable facsimile) as well as unexpected bugs render this game virtually unplayable today.

Tropes used in Codename: ICEMAN include:
  • Cold War: It came out in 1989.
  • Guide Dang It: Oh so very much. Simply put, everything in the game that can go wrong, will go wrong unless you explicitly check for it. For instance, the submarine will malfunction unless you, the captain, perform maintenance work. The worst example is that, at CIA headquarters, you are given the wrong ID card. Unless you double-check it, you'll get through half the game before noticing this mistake made it Unwinnable.
  • Luck-Based Mission
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Several.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: "By not getting the Blackhwak under the USS Coontz in time, you lost your cover. Mission aborted."
  • Save Scumming: There's an odd punishment for it, actually: the opponent deletes your save game.
  • Text Parser
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: If you refuse to help the arbitrary drowning woman at the beach, the game kills you for being an asshole.