gbrading's Silent Hunter III (PC) review

Requires patience and skill, coupled with a dash of good luck.

So, I'm sailing through the North Atlantic on a cold, clear evening. It just so happens to be 1941, and I am a fearless and intrepid Nazi U-boat captain, prepared to strike hard at the Allies. My goal: to sink as many enemy ships as possible, without loosing my own boat. Sounds quite interesting from first principles, doesn't it? It's not often in a computer game that you get to play on the side of what are typically classed as 'the enemy', but Silent Hunter III places you in exactly such a role, and couples in a highly realistic submarine simulation. Although it is not without some minor problems, Silent Hunter is an effective and interesting tactical submariner game.

There is no preset 'story' to Silent Hunter, but instead the main 'Career' mode leads you through the course of the Second World War, from the days of relatively easy pickings in 1939, to running for your life in the highly dangerous waters of 1945. On top of this, there are also a number of real life historical missions to play through. The war follows real historical events, and so naturally leads to the inevitable outcome of Axis defeat. However, your crucial part in the war can be played out to the best of your ability, and will have repercussions to your influence and importance within the Kriegsmarine (Germany Navy). You can then select which Flotilla to join, and will be allocated a home port and U-boat. This boat can be continually updated and advanced as the war progresses, and you can also make adjustments to the naval staff that operates the vessel.

Each mission is of a relatively similar basic setup. You are allocated a square grid of water to which you must sail, and then patrol that grid for 24 hours before returning to base. Along the way, you can and should attempt to sink as many enemy vessels as you can. It is important to realise from the outset that there will be quite a bit of time spent doing nothing more than twiddling your thumbs if you play this game at real speed all the way, as it can take some inordinate 'realistic' time to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, there is a handy time compression device, which can be used to ramp up time as high as 1024 times normal. I must admit, I would have preferred it to go slightly higher, as even at that speed, you still might need a book handy sometimes. You can also try your hand at completing one of the interesting historical missions. Luckily, the excitement always happens when you encounter another vessel.

Depending on whether you are surfaced or submerged, you will receive a message informing you that a vessel has been detected or sighted. Now is the time to act fast. You must quickly determine what the vessel actually is; it's course, speed and likelihood of being able to take it down. Then you have the enviable task of calculating the torpedo solution, so that you may fire and have the torpedo explode at the right time. You can either do this all the easy way, by getting the Weapons Officer to do it for you, or take on the complexity of the Torpedo Data Computer. Either way, the sense of victory you get from seeing a successful torpedoing is truly fantastic. Navigating and general management of your boat is relatively easy; thanks to the assistance you receive from your officers. The Chief Engineer runs the engines, the Navigator can help you plot courses, and the Watch Officer will allow you to move crewmen on deck if an attack is in progress. Everything has an appropriate keyboard shortcut as well, so that you can act quickly and effectively during an attack.

Whilst Silent Hunter III is great when the excitement occurs, you do need quite a bit of patience with it. For example, I was once just cruising along towards a grid of water out past Ireland in 1942, and I thought stupidly that I could sneak through the English Channel, and shave loads of time off the journey. I was sadly mistaken. When I was nearby to Dover, a little torpedo boat spotted me. I submerged and went along in Silent Running mode for a bit, but along came a big English cruiser, which nastily started Depth Charging me. Finally, as the interior bulkheads were failing and I was flooding fast, I blew ballast to surface the boat... and collided directly with the English cruiser, instantly destroying my U-Boat and killing all on board, resulting in a similar situation happening on cruiser as well. It was infuriating after travelling all that way to lose. However, it was a great story in getting to that point, and I must admit quite exciting, in a nerve-racking way.

This being a tasteful and high-class submarine simulation that was released both in English and German, all of the flags, logbooks and uniforms have been stripped off all identifying Nazi symbols, to meet German law, so the Swastikas are out. Graphically, the game is quite up to standard, having nicely decorated U-boat interiors and exteriors, very cool looking water effects, and a generally nice variety of character models (although some look too familiar), who upon gaining medals will proudly wear them. Music is perfectly adequate, although you will mainly only want to hear the 'action' themed music, and may want to put on the gramophone in the radio room, from which mp3 files can be streamed. General sound effects are very good, with radar pings, shuddering, engine hums and many others. The character voices can be given in both German and English, although it is infinitely better to have them in German, even if you can't understand it (you can have subtitles), because it really adds to the atmosphere. Having them speak English with American accents makes you forget that you are in command of a German boat.

With Silent Hunter III, it is actually possible to never complete the same mission twice. This adaptive campaign forms the main section of the game, as is easily its strongest asset. The game is still right at the front of the submarine simulation genre. If you are interested in the Second World War, submarines, or have just watched 'Das Boot', then this is most certainly the game for you.

Now, "Tauchen zu fünfundzwanzig Fuß Kommandanten!"

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