Over the past couple of weeks we have been putting Ubisoft’s U-boat sim Silent Hunter 2 through it’s paces diving to murky depths around the globe. Silent Hunter II is the latest title from Ultimation where you take control of German U-boats during the second World War to cause chaos on the Allied shipping lanes. So did it sink or swim?As soon as Silent Hunter II kicks to life you may be put off by the basic menu system in the game. The menu interfaces are not the prettiest you’ll see in a game that’s for sure, it sort of reminded me of some of those old shareware titles. The menu offers up single player missions and the campaign mode with the training missions tucked away inside the singe player menu for some strange reason.Anyone who has played a sub sim before will know its pretty complex and new gamer’s to the genre can find the whole experience rather dull and confusing. Here comes my first gripe with the game. For some reason the training mission has to be followed with the manual as a guide , no visual or audio aids. This just makes things seem more confusing than they really are and it’s a real shame training has been implemented in this way, it may turn gamers away before they get right to the heart of the game. Being a bit rusty a couple of us settled down an opted to figure it all out for ourselves and after about an 45 minutes we pretty much had the game sussed.The campaign mode is by far the most rewarding experience, the better you perform the better U-boat you will get a*igned and the more shiny the medals you can pick up for outstanding performance. The campaign is split into separate missions, all varied and all take place in different geographical locations around the globe. Once the mission briefing is out the way you take control of your U-boat and its crew.SH2’s gameplay is split into various sub-screens onboard the U-boat. There’s the sound room, radio room , a screen to check damage, the periscope room, engine room and navigation station, access to all these areas of the U-boat are via buttons at the bottom of the interface and also via a mini pop-up menu which you can access via a key press. This pop-up menu is probably your most useful tool as it gives you access to key U-boat functions like torpedo firing, speed and depth no matter what screen you are on. For example if you spot a ship on the periscope and want to fire off a torpedo you don’t need to switch to the torpedo room, just bring up the mini menu and fire. As missions can take some time, ships are not the speediest of targets, you can speed the game up with the time control indicator at the bottom right. The game can be sped right up to over 2000 times normal speed if you need to travel a long distance but should you be spotted the game automatically slows down to 8x normal speed. It’s at this point you can decide on your action and reduce the speed even further.U-boat warfare is a tricky business, not having total visibility is always a problem when hunting down the enemy. SH2 has made things as easy as possible with the periscope targeting system. All you need to do is set the U-boat to periscope depth and when the target comes into view you will see a small red arrow beneath the target. Once that arrow centers on the periscope it’s time to unleash the torpedo. All this sounds very easy but you have to take into consideration the ocean’s choppiness as well as ship movement and heading. The enemy in Silent Hunter II are no slouch. If an enemy ships detects you, that’s it, the hunt is on. They will circle and do their best to find your position and if found you’ll be in a whole lot of trouble. To make things even tougher the enemy have aircraft that will seek you out and launch an attack, time to dash to the surface and take control of the mounted gun turret or dive out of sight.The game is all about tactics and control. The later missions are particularly tough as the stakes get higher. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve come up with all sorts of sneaky tactics which has been a lot of fun. One of the favorites is to destroy the first ship then hide underneath it while the other boats circle the damaged vessel. When their backs are turned move slowly out and let off a barrage of torpedoes. This works pretty well but we did get unstuck as the ship we were hiding under started to sink damaging the sub. Not very clever. SH2 will stretch the old brain matter, it’s a game of cat and mouse and its tough.Silent Hunter 2 does feature a 3D engine which comes into operation when you use either the external view or take control of the placements on top of the U-boat. Up top there’s a pair of binoculars to help spot ships and a pretty powerful mounted gun turret which is always useful when finishing off damaged ships and your torpedo tubes are waiting to be reloaded. Although the external views are there, and do look good with some tasty looking ship models and scenery, you’ll find most of your time spent in the navigation menu maneuvering and outwitting the enemy.The navigation menu features a drag and click waypoint system so it’s easy to move the U-boat around. Another essential feature is the navigation zoom function which brings you right down close into the war zone. With this you can see ship movements a lot clearer and for the ultimate in satisfaction you can watch the torpedoes speed towards their targets and disappear of the screen when they make the hit.The game features some good sound effects, the crew shout and confirm orders when you issue a commands which adds a sense of realism to the proceedings. The sheer panic on the crewman’s voice when you order an emergency dive is excellent. You can hear the ocean moving around the U-boat, enemy gunfire splashing into the sea, torpedoes leaving tubes, it’s all here and very nicely done.Silent Hunter II will not appeal to everyone, the learning curve is steep, but on the other hand, if you have the patience and are willing spend time learning the game you’ll find it rewarding. It would have been good to see an improved and more polished training system and there are a few bugs that crop up, but as far as sims go we thoroughly enjoyed Silent Hunter II, it’s a great tactical strategy title that recreates U-boat warfare brilliantly.
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