Silent Hunter II Review
By Jimmy Goldstein |
So there's not much that's changed since we previewed the title last month. I liked it then and I like it now. As a simulation of submarine warfare during the Second World War, it's hard to beat. Having devoured at various points in my life books like Run Silent, Run Deep, The Price of Admiralty and Silent Running, I had some firm expectations of this latest edition of Silent Hunter and while the game lives up to my expectations in terms of being a simulation, the game side of things seems to be a bit lacking.
But first, the basics. Silent Hunter II offers a full 3D simulation of German U-boat warfare during the Second World War. Players adopt the role of both Kommandant and crew of a German submarine as they head out to sink merchants and warships. A series of consoles faithfully reproduces the interior of the submarine while a 3D engine renders the exterior of the boat and the surrounding world with an considerable amount of detail.
The impressive engine unfortunately requires quite a system to run at an appreciable level. It seems unlikely that the minimum required spec is going to please anyone. Even on a 500MHz machine with a GeForce 3 it ran with a few stutters here and there. Still, given the fact that most of the effects are pretty tight, the high system requirements are understandable.
The boats themselves are reasonably well detailed and surprisingly distinguishable from a distance (provided you've spend some time trying to recognize the ship profiles in the game's museum section). Lots of arrays and smokestacks and a host of other details really bring the ships to life -- at least at a distance. Weapons effects, explosions and smoke are all extremely convincing. Best of all are the weather and sea effects. While the wave model isn't as detailed as the versions in Wave Race or TransWorld, they're much more impressive in terms of scale. I mean, you've got the whole ocean simulated, right? The squalls and storms that arise from time to time are downright terrifying.
I found the campaign to be pretty spot on in terms of historical accuracy (or at least the simulation of historicity. Missions are mostly of the "find some stuff and sink it variety" but you do get the occasional rendezvous or recon type mission. The campaign lets you grow in ability and rank throughout the entire war, so you'll not be at a loss for something to do. A handy custom mission generator lets you set up the types of engagements you want but unfortunately doesn't let you pick the exact composition of the forces. You can pick your own sub of course but you can only select commercial or military shipping as your target. The chance to go up against and sink a specific ship would've been nice.
There's a bit of wonkiness in the interface. Some sticky controls and small inconsistencies tend to get in the way of both efficiency and enjoyment at some key points in the game. The waypoint system on the navigation map is particularly troublesome. Switching back and forth between the stations was fairly straightforward but since there are fifteen of them, it's not always easy to snap right to the one you want. A few of the less essential ones might have been combined together to form a single screen.
Since you are acting as captain and crew, a few conveniences have been worked in to the interface. Most importantly, you can issue fire and movement orders from any station on the ship. Whether you're on the bridge, looking through the periscope or catching up on some correspondence in the radio room, you can open a few side panels to see small representations of the fire control and helm stations. This lets you steer the ship and fire weapons whenever and wherever you'd like. This makes it really easy to control all of the action on board your boat from the periscope view.
Ubi Soft made a big deal out of the scalable realism model in the game and it seems as if they've delivered. The game lets you get as involved as you like in the finer details of submarining. If you want to plot your own firing solutions for the torps, you can do that. The computer will automate many of these processes if you're a little timid.
But in the face of the success of the scalable realism model, this game has a pretty steep learning curve. And as for the appreciation curve...well, let's just say that submarine work isn't for everyone. A handy time compression feature lets you speed through the duller parts of the job but make no mistake about it: the life of a professional submariner isn't necessarily filled with endless hours of uninterrupted excitement. Obviously Ubi Soft and Ultimation understand this and seem to have tried to position the title as a technical simulation. That doesn't necessarily mean it's not exciting (it is) but not everyone will have the patience to see it through.
As soon as the upcoming Destroyer Command ships, we'll be able to test out the much-touted interoperability of the two titles. In the meantime, there's no multiplayer whatsoever in this title. Given the solitary nature of submarine work, this is more of a design decision than a careless omission but, until Destroyer Command comes out, Silent Hunter 2 is strictly a solo affair.
So I do recommend the game with that caveat in mind. For those of you with the inclination for it, Silent Hunter II is a truly remarkable simulation. It's somewhat limited in terms of presentation and appeal just by nature of the subject matter. Anyone who's already a little interested in naval warfare will definitely find something to love in the title but there's not much chance that non-fans are going to be converted.
-- Steve Butts
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