Description of Silent Hunter II
We don’t see many submarine sims nowadays, but they have been around since the very dawn of simming. Some of us still recall when our nights were spent playing Gato behind a monochrome amber screen in the early eighties. WWII sub sims are even more unusual so many people have been following the development of Silent Hunter II with high anticipation. Well, it’s finally arrived – so let’s take a look. The basic game design is straightforward; you are a German U-boat commander during World War II who is assigned missions, gradually progressing through the war and onto more advanced submarine types. Through the periscope There has been a bit of a trend lately to downscale and rush the release of sims that have been in development for a long time – a way for the publishers to cut their losses in a faded simulation market, probably. Unfortunately, Silent Hunter II is another argument for this theory. The problems start with the missions themselves. A submarine simulator should ideally be able to simulate not only the operation of the sub itself but also the experience of going to war in one. This means simulating the dark and lonely battlefield experience of searching for pray and setting up attacks only to find unexpected factors ruining your plans and forcing you into quick decision making. This calls for a dynamic environment; in fact, it is screaming for one, but unfortunately, Silent Hunter II doesn’t deliver. The missions are fully scripted, every vessel coded into the script. I haven’t even found any random events of significance. With the technology available today and a full-price tag, it is really quite reasonable to expect one. After all, it’s almost a standard feature in the flight sim arena. It would be gratifying to at least report that the scripted missions are designed to create the illusion of big theatre war, but sadly, that is not the case either. In one mission, you are tasked to sneak into a British naval base and sink some big ships. When you cross the channel to return to your base, you find that it and the entire Atlantic Ocean are completely void of naval units. Not a patrol, convoy or even as much as a rowing boat in sight! Since the channel was swarming with British warships in the mission before, it makes you wonder if they all took an extended tea break. So, sadly, the missions are well balanced and designed, but completely limited to the area of operations – venture outside your immediate patrol area and you find empty seas. The actual behaviour of the submarine is well implemented. Changes in depth and heading are performed in a realistic manner. When you attempt a crash dive, you hear the sound of running feet as the crew gathers in the bow to get the nose down – just as seen in Das Boot. The weather (or actually waves) affects the sub’s ability to move and dive. Generally, the physics seem spot on. Options are also plentiful, as is the detail in the realism settings. The graphics in Silent Hunter II can only be described as dated. The maximum resolution is 800x600x32, which isn’t exactly state-of-the-art anymore. We see this a lot in games that have been in development for years, where the specs are set too long ago and the task of changing them mid-development is too monumental. This is especially unfortunate in a sub sim, since they’re all about tactics and the plotting map is where you spend most of your time. Detail is critical and the situational awareness suffers from having instruments separated into too many screens – something that is partially remedied with pop-up panels. The 3D engine for outside views is also below today’s high standard and while it is less of a problem, you could say that in a WWII simulator where things are done with simple optical gears instead of electronics, the visuals should be top notch. Having said all this, the screens themselves are clear and well laid out. Audio-wise, you have a choice between “translated” crew voices or to simply get them in German. Unfortunately, the translated messages are delivered in the most ridiculous Hollywood-German you can imagine. “Ze wesser repoortz haf bien zent”. Playing with the translation activated made me feel like I was in a cheesy 70s war movie. In contrast, the actual German voices are excellently recorded and even use vintage expressions that were common in the 40s. At the Helm Another aspect that dampened our enjoyment of the game is that so many things you can do feel… well, pointless. In other words, you can’t see any effect of your actions. This ranges from the radio messages that you can send manually or automatically on interval, weather reports and contact reports. Too many of the available screens feel meaningless as well. The navigation screen (map) is where you spend most of your time. The periscope and guns are essential stations but you will only make brief visits to the other screens. For example, the listening station is fairly useless. You can turn the microphone around and hear noise from ships, but it is just that – noise. What you are actually hearing comes up on the notepad automatically, but the sound itself doesn’t allow any identification. The radio room is about the same since sending messages doesn’t seem to have much effect on anything. The bridge is fairly useless and the UZO station (binoculars) don’t offer any particular advantage over the periscope. So it goes. You can move around torpedoes between the aft, forward and external compartments but the interface is clunky. Speaking of the torpedoes, these can be fired in automatic or manual mode. With the automatics activated, somebody else is setting the torpedo for you and all you do is push the button. With manual mode you have to do everything by yourself. Regrettably, with automatics, you do not even get to aim. No matter where the periscope sight is pointed, the torpedo will go to the “locked target”. I would have liked to be able to do the sighting myself but have the crew set the torpedo up for me. With automatic mode being so “hands-off”, confrontations feel all wrong for a WWII ship, yet setting the torpedo values yourself is a daunting undertaking, especially in the beginning. The artificial intelligence is highly questionable in Silent Hunter II. Pathfinding is one thing that seems to be completely flawed – the surface vessels in the fjords of Norway seem incapable of navigating, for instance. The most spectacular thing I witnessed was when a German cruiser ran straight up on land, five minutes after its escorting destroyer had done the same. The coding behind the enemy destroyers is another letdown; in spite of the manual bragging on how they had a real U-boat skipper as a consultant during the game design, it seems doubtful he was listened to much. It turns out that the best survival tactics when you have three destroyers hunting you is to go to periscope depth, let them close in to about 600 meters, then kill them off with torpedoes. My lack of WWII military experience aside, I seriously doubt that entering a head-on gunfight with three destroyers would be a submarine’s best bet for survival. Playing stealthily, however, almost always ends in your sub being sunk. A general lack of complexity and depth in the campaign also hurts the game. For example, freighters are simply listed as a “merchant”. A more detailed set of ships would make the old convoy attack more interesting as one tries to identify the large troop transports or whatnot. There is an ID database with different types of navy vessels to identify, but the civilian ships remain anonymous “merchants”. On the plus side, Ubi Soft has promised that SH2will be able to cooperate in multiplayer games with its upcoming destroyer simulation, Destroyer Command. When DC is released — hopefully before Christmas — a patch will arrive for SH2. Currently, however, there is no multiplayer in the game. Surface! There is undoubtedly a very sound submarine simulation engine at the heart of Silent Hunter II. This game has some good points and there are times when it is enjoyable but it quickly turns repetitive due to its lack of depth. [No pun intended? -Ed] SH2 would have made a very good front end for a massively multiplayer game, but as a solo game, it just doesn’t measure up. The dated technology and lack of features — most importantly, the unchanging, scripted campaign — kills the longevity of what might have been a breath of fresh air in the simulation scene. The harsh truth is, though, if you want to be a simulated WWII submarine commander, you don’t have a lot of choices. U-boat fanatics should feel relatively comfortable with a purchase, but it would be a good idea for the rest of us to wait until it turns up in the bargain bins, or at the very least, wait to see if Ubi Soft follows through with Destroyer Command and the promised SH2 multiplayer patch.
Review By GamesDomain
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