The Silent Service. The phrase conjures up several images: sleek submarines slipping beneath the waves; torpedoes knifing through the water at unsuspecting targets; men silently praying that the next depth charge doesn't find them. SSI manages to capture all of these elements in Silent Hunter, their new World War II submarine simulator.
One item that immediately stands out is the variety of options available to the player. Do you want to play a campaign or single mission? Do you want dud torpedoes enabled or disabled? Do you want your crew to be green, veteran, or elite? Silent Hunter gives you a Realism Panel to select the options that fit your abilities or desires. You can make things as simple or difficult as you like.
Once you've selected a mission, the game places you in the control roomthe nerve center of the submarine. From here, you can use the mouse to jump from station to station. SSI cleverly lets you access common controls (navigation, torpedoes) from several different stations to prevent unnecessary navigation; when you do need to check out another station, you can use keyboard shortcuts to jump around the ship quickly. I recommend sticking to easy missions when starting out so you can get comfortable with the control interface.
A trip to the bridge or a look through the periscope, reveals some of the finest graphics I've ever seen in a submarine simulator. The sun rises and sets, the moon goes through phases, and cloud cover reduces visibility. Coastal cities even show distinct buildings, lights, and docks. Enemy ships are rendered in great detail, but do pixellate even in a close-up view. Sinking ships burn and smoke realistically.
Although Silent Hunter's graphics are excellent, its sound is even better. Sonar pings from enemy ships vary based upon distance and depth. Depth charges can rattle your teeth. You can even tell if a ship is close by listening to his propeller sounds. In addition, your crew offers digitized responseswhich are always appropriate and professionalto many of your commands.
Silent Hunter offers great depth of play. Randomly generated campaign missions, realistic settings that have you swearing at your crew, and sounds that place you IN a submarine are the great strengths that set this product apart from its competition. While the enemy AI will make you scratch your head in puzzlement at times, it offers an acceptable challenge for a wide variety of skill levels. In the end, Silent Hunter is one part game, two parts simulator ... but entertaining through and through.