Codename: ICEMAN (Sierra On-Line) - 1989

This review is part of the “Let’s Adventure!” series. See all reviewed games sorted by rating here.

Codename: ICEMAN is a graphical adventure game made with the SCI engine and published by the American computer game company Sierra On-Line in 1990. The lead designer was Jim Walls, who also created several Police Quest games.

In the beginning of the 21st century, Earth is experiencing a global oil shortage. Surprisingly, Tunisia remains one of the few countries still in possession of large quantities of high-quality oil. USA and Soviet governments race each other in their attempts to purchase as much oil as possible. Finally, the Soviets take a step further and kidnap the US ambassador, hoping to provoke an international incident. Naval Officer Johnny Westland is sent to Tunisia with the order of rescuing the ambassador and preventing further escalation of the conflict.1

Code-Name: Iceman is primarily an adventure game similar to Sierra’s other works in that genre. The player navigates the protagonist in eight different directions from third-person view, and types text commands to interact with the environment. The command LOOK may be typed separately and lead to different text descriptions depending on where on screen the protagonist is positioned. The game is similar to Police Quest series in that it relies on realistic procedures, in this case military instructions, first aid, etc. The player may reach dead ends and resort to restoring an earlier save if some of these procedures are not followed properly. In addition, a considerable portion of the game consists of submarine simulation, requiring the player to navigate a submarine and fight enemy craft.1

I am a huge fan of the Police Quest series, and I had high expectations for this game since it was also designed by Jim Walls. The EGA artwork is beautiful and the text parser is very forgiving when you’re trying to describe how you want to interact with the current scene.

Like other text parser games you need to type out every command, so if you want to pick something up you need to move Johnny close to the desired object and type PICK UP.

Once you leave the first screen and venture off to the left you’ll meet a bunch of people and ask to join their volleyball game. The ball floats off and someone goes in after it … and then almost drowns.

At this point you’re introduced to the first of many many many sequences in this game that rely heavily on following documented procedures laid out in the game’s manual.

You need to perform CPR to save the girl that almost drowned, but this (like so many other parts of this game) needs to be done “by the book”.

Make sure you actually read the manual before playing this game

The story progresses and you’re called back to active duty. There’s been a kidnapping and you need to make your way to Tunisia to rescue the ambassador, which you’ll be responsible for aboard your nuclear submarine.

Though teh story is interesting and definitely held my attention, I have no idea who the actual intended audience for this game was supposed to be. Nothing you do in this game is intuitive, and almost every game mechanic and sequence will require referring back to the manual.

You’ll refer back to this item several times during the game

I’m not sure if it’s copy protection or not, but you find a code book in the game that you need to use to decipher messages the radio operator on the sub gives you. For example he might say something like “Washington: FI-D-B J-C-D”, which you then use the code book to translate too 17-4-8 9-6-4. You then refer to page X, row Y, word Z in the manual accordingly to get the word pair OCEAN RUSSIAN, which you type into the computer in your room to hopefully get the right message to progress with the game.

If you follow procedure and inspect the equipment properly at some point before encountering an enemy ship you’ll be able to fix a broken cylinder, which you’ll have to properly machine first. This requires selecting the right dimensions from a series of prompts to ensure you’ve got everything “just right” before trying to fix the torpedo launch assembly (I think).

If you don’t do this just right you can’t engage enemies and you’ll die when you get to that sequence.

Expect to die often in this game. I’ve played a lot of Sierra Online games and this playthrough likely had the most deaths I’ve ever experienced.

It’s not only because the game is hard, it’s that it’s tedious and the expectation that you’re following instructions perfectly at every given moment sets you up for constant failure.

On the plus side you get different (and sometimes entertaining) failure messages, but it’s so easy to die in this game that it artificially inflates the play time by 3x or 4x.

There’s one minigame that you must play as you need to win a bottle of rum, but to do this you play a dice game that takes forever to complete. It’s sort of like yahtzee, instead of points you just win rounds - and you need to win many many rounds to proceed.

The game allows you to save and restore twice before the sailor claims you’re cheating and leaves - putting you in an unwinnable state.

Since you’re the captain of a nuclear submarine you get to engage in a couple fight sequences throughout the game. You’re armed with a couple different types of torpedoes and decoys which you can use, but your supply is extremely limited so the battles can be extremely challenging.

I almost gave up on this game after the first sequence a I ended up using all my decoys in the first battle and found myself unable to win the second fight without them. I was extremely close to just watching through a longplay video and taking screenshots of their playthrough instead …

If you survive the sub battle, use the periscope and make sure to note down the locations of the island and oil rig, remember to pick up explosives in the sub, properly put on the dive gear and swim to the rig correctly without running out of air - you can place the explosives and blow up the rig.

Assuming you make it this far you can then try to gain entry to Tunisia, which also involves an extremely convoluted sequence of steps.

Death awaits you at every turn, screen and decision you make and the game will continue to be frustrating and put you in unwinnable situations as you muddle your way through to your CIA contact who gives you her apartment keys where you can find supplies to steal a delivery driver’s clothes and van.

If you’ve made it this far without a walkthrough, my hat goes off to you because I was basically just playing the game with the walkthrough open at all times. As a result I was able to make it to the end, kill the ambassador’s kidnappers and save him.

Thankfully you can just press F8 to skip this entire sequence and end the game

The final sequence involves driving a van up a hill to a helicopter while terrorists chase you. I never made it around the first corner, and likely died a dozen times trying.

If it wasn’t for the fact that the game lets you skip this sequence, I might have finally just said fuck it and moved on at this point - but I didn’t and was able to complete yet another entry in this journey I’ve undertaken.

Codename: ICEMAN is not a fun game, and I have no clue who the intended audience for this was. I didn’t really enjoy this experience at all, and found that even using a walkthrough I had a hard time making progress most of the time.

If this were a “sub simulator” title maybe I’d feel a little differently, but it’s an adventure game so my expectation was that you’d be able to explore and discover - but that’s not the case. Keep the manual open - or just use a walkthrough.

Though the music is pretty good, and the story is compelling, the game itself is frustrating and punishing. I can’t imagine anyone actually likes this game and unless you’re a glutton for punishment I wouldn’t recommend it.

Game Information

GameCodename: ICEMAN
DeveloperSierra On-Line
PublisherSierra On-Line
Release DateNovember 1989
SystemsDOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple Macintosh
Game EngineSCI

My Playthrough

How Long To Beat?2.5 hours
Version PlayedDOS via ScummVM
NotesWalkthrough, Manual


See here for a refresher on how we’re scoring these games.

Atmosphere (20)10
Story (25)12
Experience (15)3
Impact (10)2


  1. Description from Moby Games  2

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