It hardly seems like any time at all since I was diving into the deep blue sea amidst the crack of thunder, the roar of displaced water shaking my command room as the U-Boat rocked from side to side in Ubisoftís Silent Hunter 3, one of the best Submarine sims to grace the PC in a long time.
We gave the 3rd full 3d instalment a whopping 9/10 because it was truly one of those games that deserved it. It had something for everyone and the sales figures as well as the modding community proved time and time again that there was always something new to play with.
Now itís the turn of Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific (Yeah, I dig that title) to go under the periscope. After such a success with 3, have Ubisoft cracked the genre wider than ever before with number 4?
Ubisoft have taken a long hard look at the various feedbacks from established sim fans, from all over the gamer-world. Theyíve listened to a lot of the concerns that many people at the Subsim website
raised from the previous version, and also made sure the game is more accessible to the non-submarine sim gamer too.
Now you might just think that Iím talking cavitations here but Iím not. I had the help of Serpent on this one. Serpent isnít a sub sim gamer; I donít think heís played a single submarine simulation ever Ė so he was the perfect (stooge) accomplice for this particular test.
Serpent was able to dive into the game after a few control explanations by me, which took about 5/10 minutes and in a quick MP session we co-operatively sank several Japanese merchant ships.
So it meets the accessibility criteria for a good game for definite. The GUI and controls have been tweaked since the last game; itís now fairly easy to navigate through the various control stations via mouse or keyboard shortcuts. Double-clicking on a particular icon takes you to that station or function and in combination with the keyboard you can very smoothly control your submarine.
The World War 2 theatre is back and this time youíre in charge of US Navy submarines as they sneak around the Pacific and sink various Japanese vessels and assets in a War Patrol, Quick Mission or a dynamic campaign that builds on the same living world system as the previous title, but does it so much better this time around.
Crew management and general boat management is slicker, thereís less emphasis I think on the whole micro-aspect and the whole thing functions in a tighter manner. I have to admit I love the fact that you can tailor the gameís experience to your own personal preferences Ė taking down every single realism option if you just want to get a feel for the game at first and slowly increasing the options until youíre playing the game as the hardcore sub-simmers will surely do.
I also have to say that I was impressed to see such excellent after-sales support, since a patch followed the gameís release by a short time and addressed some of the issues I already had Ė if you want to see those issues then check out the patch notes on the Silent Hunter website. I wonít go into them here and Iím also pleased to note that a lot of those issues were kind of cosmetic and the game out of the box was playable enough for me.
You crew earn experience as you play the dynamic campaign and you can save at any time, saving replays this time around too. A quick note on the replay feature, you can also take control of your sub at any time during that replay and re-do a fatal mistake or change a course heading that may have led you into trouble in the first place.
Silent Hunter 4 has all the navigational tools on the main map, you can plot your angles and if youíre into maths, then you can use these tools to get fairly accurate firing solutions without the aid of an officer or other methods. Moving crew around the ship has also been streamlined.
To summarise the game plays like Silent Hunter 3 only far superior, with all the niggles of the original smoothed out (not as though I found the original lacking really)
The gameplay isnít the only thing thatís been tweaked/refined and polished, Silent Hunter 4 is graphically slick and when you rack up every option to the top it delivers an intensely atmospheric experience. It has some of the best water effects and weather effects in a game to date.
The attention to detail on the submarines, of which there are numerous types including the Gato, Balao and Salmon to name but three is superb, you can see the water cascading off the hull when the boatís running on the surface and the tiny whispers of cavitations as the propellers push it through the water.
There are rust marks and other features prevalent on the textures for the subs and other vessels in the game, the Japanese merchant ships have big funnels that belch out smoke as they churn on across the surface.
The lighting, the shadowing and the various other graphical features are all combined to bring the Pacific Ocean and the world of Silent Hunter 4 to life. The sea is suitably murky the further you go down with the full 3d external camera and you can even see algae as the sub whispers on by under it, the periscope breaking the water in a slow or fast wake.
Raise the camera up from the water and itís as though you have actually dipped a TV camera into the sea, the water drips from the screen and the camera blurs. Itís a simple effect but one that is totally solid and even lends to the atmosphere of the game rather than breaking it.
The event cameras are back and they are smoother than before, they capture the critical moment as a torpedo either hits or misses the target and the aftermath. And what an aftermath this time, with all the graphical features stepped up the explosions and damage effects in Silent Hunter 4 are superbly done, the fire roars and the physics kick in as the ship is decimated, rocked from side to side by the vicious impact.
Its movie like in execution and quality, the whole thing is pretty flawless, you might even shed a tear as the vessel leaves cargo floating and sinks to a watery grave almost peacefully.