copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

Silent Hunter III



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Impact: Relatively memorable


GAMEPLAY


Silent Hunter 3 is the name that strikes fear in claustrophobic people. If you think about it, there’s really a lot to explore in the submarine business, especially in the times of World War 2. Releasing the third game in the submarine simulator series, Ubisoft does its job very well, delivering a detailed simulator just like before, but this time it’s a lot prettier.


Starting as a novice captain, you choose the time to enter the war. First you might want to complete the naval academy tutorial. The key-binds in this game are endless and the geometry of different systems will drive you crazy. According to the period of war, you will then choose out of the available submarines. Sailing from a port, as women and sailors are cheering your departure, you will be the hope and the pride of the Third Reich, sent to make stealthy and much needed kills along the allied naval supply routes. Just like in the real life, the allied forces aren’t ready for what’s about to hit them. However, later in the war, they will be, and your job will become significantly more difficult. On the other hand, as times grow desperate, a lot fancier technology will be available to you like better torpedoes or faster and bigger submarines. The available subs will vary, not only depending on the time, but also depending on the docking base you choose. The missions of some bases concentrate on a small area; therefore they do not have to drag as much fuel and torpedoes with them as the long-range subs.


SH 3 is a game that pushes the boundaries of your patience. On the highest difficulty level, you will be doing the job of each member of your crew, calculating many parameters, while cautiously sneaking pass the convoy ships and gradually bringing your sub into the striking position for that one critical shot. One shot because there might be four or five more cargo ships following, and reloading is realistically time-consuming. Everything is realistic in this sim or at least can be, since the amount of realism can be adjusted in the game options. Realism gives birth to an enormous amount of detail in SH 3. You can interact with so many things like the maps, gauges and you can even rest in the captain’s bed. Because of this level of realistic detail, there’s a huge amount of things to think about, like for example, calculating the fuel consumption for your trip and the angle of attack on an enemy ship.


Many things can be earned in this game. As you sink more and bigger enemy ships, your men gain experience. Their moral also improves or worsens depending on your success. You will have to manage the crew seriously as many of them can specialize in specific functions. When they get tired during the trip, they have to be replaced if the performance of their functions is to be kept. It’s like a big family that you can grow attached to in a small cozy sub (don't take me wrong). A known crew, a bed to sleep in, sausages hanging in the command room...the sub is like a second home. At times you forget you’re looking at a screen on dry land which makes SH 3 a nice way to forget the revolting reality. In addition, you can earn medals for yourself and receive medals which you can assign to the crew. For sunken enemy ships you also receive renown with which you can hire better officers, request upgrades for your sub or a better sub. If you want to move on to the new grounds, you can also ask for a transfer to a different base. Also, depending on the sunken tonnage, your name gets a place on the list of submarine aces of that time.


If you’re looking for a hardcore firefight then walk away from this game. A wrong move in some areas and a whole enemy fleet is soon hunting you like a pack of hungry dogs, throwing depth charges all over the place. You will have to deal with ships of all sizes as well as airplanes. To your surface defenses are available: the antiaircraft gun as well as an 80 mm cannon. The cannon is good for finishing off undefended cargo ships but trying to take on a large battleship with the sub’s weapons is like throwing stones at a tank, and for defense the best strategy still is hiding. Later in the campaign the submarines don’t even have guns anymore due to their uselessness. Enemy ships can also be reported to the base and airplanes or other subs might take care of them, although often that’s not to be counted on.


One bad thing about the game is that it might be a little too long and a little too boring, even for a simulation fan. During traveling a player can speed up time, but even when you speed it up to maximum, it still takes quite a while real-time to get around a continent. There isn’t an option that allows you to just skip the trip, probably for the sake of realism. Although the missions are never really the same, you aren’t doing anything else but taking down enemy cargo ships. The game’s difficulty options can play a large part in keeping the game exciting. You will want to keep the simulation detail at maximum. However, increasing difficulty by taking out some things like the outside view (so you can no longer see how far below you the bottom is) will cause the game to loose some of its visual fun. If single-player bores you, there’s also a multi-player for up to 4 people, although single player is still the center of the gameplay.


VISUALS


Silent Hunter has some fancy graphics. Since there was barely any land involved, Ubisoft could focus on the water and the ships. There’s a lot of next-gen shadowing implicated, especially inside the sub. Here another thing can be admired: the detail of things. Every pipe, valve, gage, button and lamp is well modeled. As we climb outside, we see a dynamic environment that changes significantly depending on time of day and the weather. In the calm you won’t be hunting ships, you’ll be too busy checking your hair in the mirror of the sea, and in storm you’ll be too scared to stand outside, as the top is battered by the dark-grey masses. The sky is also weather dependant and has some really soft colors involved with a sun that can make you forget the one outside your window. The surface ships, although could’ve been more detailed, still look well, especially when they go down. They do so in different ways, depending on how you hit them. Some take hours to sink after a hit to the tip of their kiel and some are blown to smithereens after their fuel tanks are struck. When your own sub gets hit, the damage is not just on paper. Pipes realistically let off steam and the sub shakes violently.


SH3 allows the player to take all of the beauty in by giving him a close up camera view on launched torpedoes, sinking ships and own sub. It usually appears in a small window in the corner, not to bother the player too much, and can be expanded. The fire and smoke of destruction can, by the way, strain your system. Generally however, I hadn’t much of a problem with the rest of SH3 graphics on my low-end P 2GHz machine.


SOUND


When you’re listening to the enemy’s sonar and the hull of your sub is squeaking as you dive deeper into the abyss, while your officer nervously whispers different information, it can feel pretty tense. The detailed sound of SH 3 certainly deserves attention. Voices are done well in both German and English. In particular, they are good because they are loud and clear. Officers whisper or shout depending on your orders. The orchestral music is very atmospheric and changes according to the situation. The sound is in superb harmony with the visuals and helps provide a breathtaking experience.


CONCLUSION


Of course it takes a special breed to like a game like SH 3. A load of patience and some interest in math are highly desirable requirements. If you are not to take the manual tasks of each crew member, the continuity of sinking same cargo ships over and over again, can cover the otherwise exciting action of the hunt. Nevertheless, the game looks awesome, sounds awesome, and for a simulator fan this game is an absolute must, even if you've never thought about submarines.


Personal thoughts


There's no hiding that I like simulators, but this one went a little too far for me. The thing is that a simulator of a submarine captain's work would consist of receiving important info, giving a few orders and pushing the red button. The navigation and the weapons control are jobs of other officers, and being a ghost that enters each of their bodies to do their work is not really realistic to me. Therefore I often played with settings set on auto and after a while, of course, I got bored. If you eliminate the whole calculation stuff, then you're just left with the same models of cargo ships that you have to sink in different parts of the ocean over and over again.


The cozy atmosphere in the radio room where your little warm bed is at and the dynamic crew really gives a sense of a second home. I liked that. I think they should've gone further and added history to the officers' lives and some personal dialog or even characters. Make it really personal!