The gameplay in Silent Hunter 5 is something of a mixed bag to me. Part of the problem lies in some of the unique features added to the game and some of them are simply because of bugs found in the game. In some instances the bugs are minor but other problems are just plain frustrating and should have been corrected before this game shipped. Other issues are personal preference and may or may not affect what you think of the game.
As most of you know by now Silent Hunter 5 models one type of U-boat in the game, the Type VII series. This was the primary boat in Kreigsmarine service at the beginning of the war and bore the brunt of the combat in the early years of the war. The first models of the boat had only an exterior rear torpedo to which an interior tube was added later.
The idea of using the Type VII and not include the Type IX was something of a controversial decision within the naval combat community. There has been speculation as to why the Type VII was the only model in this game. Personally I think the developers only had so much time to create the interiors and trying to create two interiors in the time allotted would have been too much development work, so they went with the one Type VII interior. I would suspect that an add-on utilizing the Type IX will be upcoming — presuming the game sells well enough.
The other controversy is in having the game end in 1943. There are a couple of reasons for this but the biggest reason was simply because the Type VII was in the process of being phased down and phased out of Atlantic service by the end of 1943. While the Type VII was a very good boat, it was somewhat dated when compared to the Type IX or the boats fielded by the British and the U.S. forces. In reality, the Type VII wasn’t much bigger than the older U.S. “S” class boats and those were considered obsolete early in World War II. In the Atlantic and Mediterranean the Type VII was adequate, but borderline. It did the job but it only had four front tubes and one rear, was cramped and had a limited range.
The developers had a big challenge returning to the Atlantic. Silent Hunter III was such a success that any game made would have to be an improvement in several ways to bring in the fans. There has been several big changes in the makeup of the game, although to me it seems to be something of a mixed bag.
The first is the virtual submarine that tries to turn the game into more of a true simulation. In this game you basically are a single person on the boat; albeit the most important one as its Captain. For the first time in the series, Silent Hunter 5 models all compartments in the U-boat. In addition, you physically move around real time in the U-boat. There is no teleporting to different stations like there was in the previous versions. You climb the ladders. You walk the decks.
In theory this is an excellent idea and I love this aspect of the game. In execution the concept is only mildly successful. One of the big problems is that most buyers of this game probably have played Silent Hunter II through Silent Hunter 4, and have used key commands and quick clicks to get to different stations. The concept of having to actually walk some place to do something could seem a little bit irritating. The other issue is that many of the things that we came to expect, like being able to just click and get a sound to the bottom reading, is difficult to figure out or almost impossible to do in-game.
I understand that the developers were trying to create a truly realistic virtual world and they succeeded — to a point. But it doesn’t seem too far out-of-the-question to ask for a sounding to find the depth. Many of the key commands that are missing from the game are still moddable and have been added on. The other issue with the “virtual” world is there are times when I need to get somewhere but can’t because I am not placed correctly on the ladder or positioned in the right spot near the bulkhead hatch.
One of the worst examples of this is when you are on the bridge and want to crash dive. If you order any kind of dive, the boat will not do it until you come down into the conning tower. No offense, but if I see an enemy destroyer bearing down on me, I am going to yell for a crash dive and then run for the hatch, not jump down into the boat and call for a crash dive.
I have had two campaigns ruined because I got caught on the surface and haven’t been able to dive until I could get to the hatch and into the conning tower. It takes time for a boat to dive. If you don’t make it because you’re fumbling around in a dexterity test on the bridge the career will end right there. A simple fix, and one that needs to be corrected.
The other reason for the virtual boat is so that you can talk to your crew and raise their morale and their efficiency. Good idea. Great actually. This would turn the game into a role playing game as well as a combat simulation. If done right this could really turn the game into a gem. You would get to know, and learn to care for your crew and your attitude should rub off on your crew. That was the concept.
Unfortunately, again, this idea just didn’t make it to development reality. The first problem is that you have a somewhat inane bunch of interactions with your crew mates. You get a background on them but only a few questions you can ask. You also get the generic“keep up the good work” statement. The other problem is that you can only communicate with officers and select crew. It is said that the Captain of a boat would only communicate with his officers and high enlisted men but in a cramped boat like the Type VII it seems that all crewmen would interact with the Captain.
The idea was that the crew would improve and function better with this direct supervision. Well that is all fine and good but here is where one of SH5’s largest bugs reared its head. The game right now loses all of the crew improvements when you save a game. This is irritating but what is really frustrating is that these same crew members won’t man guns or do anything extra with low morale. Essentially this means that any work you do with the crews morale means nothing. There are hacks to at least get your crew to man guns, but this bug eliminates any desire to actually improve your crews standing. Any improvement in crew abilities is wasted. There should be a patch for this soon, but this should never have been released with the game.
To be honest, currently the crew tends to be a distraction. If I was the CO of a boat and I called for general quarters I would be pissed looking at the crew of this boat. I mean, half of them just lie around and do nothing, the rest stand around and do nothing. Some reload torpedoes and other functions associated with their jobs, but then they just stand there. It almost feels like the crew doesn’t care. I found myself ignoring the crew which is a shame because you should be utilizing the crew. But with the current bugs in the game, this is impossible.
Some of the bugs in the game are somewhat befuddling. For example, as far as I can tell, rudder commands for some reason are non-operational. It is very hard to change direction short of resetting the entire waypoint system in the Tactical Menu. This works, but if you aren’t on the ball quickly enough you may find a depth charge on your deck. Another blooper that should never have made it out of beta testing.
I mentioned the lack of key commands. Some of these are fine. SH5 is supposed to have more interaction — and less of a keypress based game — but some key commands are missing and they shouldn’t be. For example, if I hit the rudder command then my ship will automatically stop following the set waypoints. In Silent Hunter III and Silent Hunter 4 there is a “return to previous course” command, but that isn’t present in the SH5 release. Matter-of-fact, many of the simple commands that any boat commander would give are not present and have to be added via mods.
I can’t review a game based upon what mods are out, so out of the box, Silent Hunter 5 definitely needs some help.
As far as game play goes this is as good as it gets for us simulation junkies. The game ships with about eight single missions and a mission editor that should allow the bold to create all new scenarios. The missions that ship with the game vary from simple convoy intercepts to attacking warships, to just navigating past Gibraltar.
The campaign is the meat and potatoes of the game and is going to be the main focus for the player. Unlike in the past, SH5 tries to incorporate some instructional missions and a little bit of storyline into the game to create a feeling of interaction that has been missing from previous versions. Just like interacting with your sailors is supposed to increase their involvement, the thought is that by drawing you into a story you will feel more involved in the game.
It partially works. The few cut scenes that occur don’t detract from the game but don’t necessarily draw you in. Part of it is the animations, which are somewhat jerky. But it is a noble attempt, and about as good as cut scene transitions in other games.
The campaign structure is fairly simple. You start out as a young U-boat commander in 1939 and you work your way through to 1943, gradually upgrading your boat. Once you get done with the initial campaign around the British Isles, you can select different segments of the campaign based upon your peaked interest, and upon the success you have in the initial setup. It eventually culminates in the disaster that was 1943, when the Allies finally started getting the upper hand on the U-boat threat.
The AI in the game tends to vary, which is probably realistic. I have found that spooking enemy destroyers is fairly easy early on in the game, but as time goes on and as ASW equipment improves, the destroyers get better.
I do think that the AI gunnery on merchant ships tends to be a little too good at times. I appreciate the occasional lucky shot, but I have been drilled with holes several times by dead-eye merchants at night with my sub going 14 knots. It should be toned down a little.
One thing that is different from Silent Hunter III is the way the target data computer works. In the past you would put the info in and then calculate the torpedo path. But with SH5 you actually give the info to your XO and he calculates it for you. This is probably as realistic as it gets in a submarine sim. Let’s be honest here — a captain isn’t the one crunching the numbers. He should know how to do it (of course!) but the XO is the officer responsible for calculating the actual path of the torpedoes. By giving the info to the XO you are essentially doing the same thing, and it just makes it a little more realistic.
I will admit to being somewhat confused by the torpedo calculation. I have the TDC on and I put in the info, but I still get some screwy torpedo paths from time-to-time. I am not sure, but I have to be doing something wrong because I sometimes get paths that are completely off-the-mark of where I intend for them to go. I am doubtful this is a bug and more a function of something I am inputting wrong because other times the path is right on target.
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