Silent Hunter 5 – first look

Good thing there was somebody in the room who knew a bit about submarines: a German games journalist, who’d ask about periscopes like a terminally ill patient asks about how long he has left to live, and who’d punch the air when he learned of the accurately rendered ship wakes, and the now separate damage readouts for hull integrity and flooding.

The Silent Hunter games have always reveled in realism, to the point of accurately depicting the boredom of spending weeks stalking Norwegian fishing vessels in the North Sea. It made actual encounters thrilling as only sims like this can, and the fifth in the series doesn’t stray far from that formula.

Main differences here include a first person captain camera, which Ubisoft Romania claim will enhance the entire “Captain experience”. In previous games you’d teleport from section to section, and having arrived in the engine room, for example, you could merely pivot and crane your neck around in an inhuman fashion that would surely terrify your crew. Here, you’re moving fluidly around your sub, from the fully animated engine room, to the kitchens and the torpedo rooms – all fully staffed by your 3D crew, who’ll amble about, attempting to look busy. You can even seamlessly emerge onto the deck (while surfaced, obviously) and scope the horizon for enemies.

More user aids have been introduced on the easier difficulty settings, making lining up torpedo runs much simpler. To the same effect, your navigational map will display sonar, visual and aural ranges of enemy ships, which contract or expand depending on how deep you are, whether your periscope is up (the tiny wake can be spotted) and the speed of your engines. Successfully remaining stealthy is a matter of slowly moving into position using the engine noise of other ships to mask your own rumbling motor, and waiting until the perfect moment to surface and strike: all tactics which existed in previous games, but until now they’ve been beyond the capabilities of the casual submariner.

Crew management’s also been overhauled. You’ll have a handful of officers directly under your command, your executive officer and chief engineer have their own underlings who can be promoted and demoted, and can have their morale broken by repeated failed battles. They’ll also accrue experience as they carry out missions, which can be used to increase their abilities in highly specific areas. Want to increase the length of time you can run your submarine silently? Have your chief engineer pile his experience points into efficient battery consumption.

And of course, these are the best waves we’ve ever seen. They slosh against your hull exactly as they should, and look appropriately watery. Not that we’d dare point out something so remedial in front of the enthusiastic German man, who by the end of the presentation was a gurgling mess on the floor.

Oct 15, 2009

Steve Hogarty

Steve Hogarty is a London-based freelance journalist covering games and technology. His bylines have appeared in publications including GamesRadar, The Independent, Yahoo, VICE, Eurogamer, and more. He is also the co-host of the pocast, Regular Features.