Ubi-soft and Ultimation hope to capture the scope and sensation of the role destroyers played in WWII with Destroyer Command (Disclaimer: this reviewer served as a consultant and beta tester). Created as a companion sim to Silent Hunter II (for more on the development history, see the Silent Hunter II review), Destroyer Command can be played as a first-person simulation. You have hands-on control of many of the ship’s stations including the sonar (active and passive), radar (when equipped), engine room, damage control, depth charge, torpedo, main battery director, as well as the individual 5-inch gun turrets, AA, and machine gun stations. Of course, when not manned directly by the player, the simulation handles most of the chores, updating contacts on the map, and engaging targets when instructed.
DC may also be played as a third-person strategy wargame, with the player commanding the ships from the top-down CIC map view, but who wants to give up the chance to manually adjust depth charge settings, track contacts on sonar, and execute firing solutions? Just being in the stations as the action is unfolding is reason enough for most hardcore simulation hacks for their existence. The map is too real-time for my tastes (the norm in simulations) but very friendly to newbies and more casual players. Convoy reports will indicate the last known position. You play in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Med.
The interface is a carbon copy of the agreeable Silent Hunter II version, complete with the bottom tool bar and sliding panels. Each station looks very good and detailed with thought given to keeping the player in touch with the game. For example, in the depth charge station a small map is included so the player can access the information being fed to plot from sonar, radar, and lookouts.
In addition, the player can give orders to most other ships in the group, directing them to waypoints, targets to attack, and change formations. Utilizing the other ships in your battle group is very important; quite often you will encounter superior forces and every ship counts. When your ship takes critical damage your flag will be automatically transfer onto another destroyer. The player does not have control of the convoy ships and there are times when he sure could use it.
The player tracks his ship’s systems in a typical damage control screen that allows prioritized itemizing. The engine room and helm screens are nice additions. While not absolutely vital to playing the game, their inclusion offers greater suspension of disbelief and immersion in the simulation.
The sonar and radar stations work reliably but there are times when you do not get the readings you expect. This dovetails into realism well, since the real gear (which was cutting edge at the time) does not always function flawlessly and sea conditions played a part in getting accurate returns. I found that some attention has been paid to the relationship between sonar performance and the ownship’s speed. At full to flank it seems you are less likely to get and keep contact and once you get within 300 yards of a target contact is lost, as it should be. Regaining contact is not a certainty and the player will need to increase to full speed before dropping ash cans to prevent damage to his DD.
Destroyer Command ships with two campaigns, set in the Atlantic and Pacific, which is a welcome bonus when compared to Silent Hunter II’s sole campaign. Each campaign is composed of 20 scripted missions that range in latitude from night attacks, convoy duty, and battle group escort. The Pacific campaign is the one to start with; it offers more immediate action and intensity. The Atlantic campaign is a little more understated, necessarily so. The U.S. destroyer forces found scant surface engagements in the Atlantic and while U-boats are present and do (should) seek out the merchant ships you protect, you are on the defensive.
Furthermore, DC contains 14 single missions, five valuable training missions, and a mission generator that adds replay value. As of this writing, a mission editor has not been released. Check Subsim Downloads for custom missions and other mods and add-ons.
As with SH2, all DC missions are tightly scripted and have primary objectives that must be completed before you can proceed to the next mission (to turn this off, check Subsim DC Tactics & Tips). The missions play out very much the same so a supply of new missions is necessary to keep DC on the hard drive. Without a mission editor the scripting is done by hand.
Visually, Destroyer Command has a lot going for it. While not as lush as the top flightsims, DC stands out nicely from previous naval sims. Ship models are very good. Zoom in on a destroyer and you can make out portholes, ladders, railings, and lifeboats along with the K-guns, machine guns, and depth charge stations. The ships are very realistic looking at close range and there are a lot of them. The German, American, Russian, Japanese, French, and Italian navies are resplendently covered. The artists at Ultimation are to be commended for their work. Ocean textures are nicely rendered and the interior art is fine. Smoke wafts realistically from the stacks. Max resolution is 1024x768 at 32-bit color. With a high-end EMBM-enabled graphics card you are treated to very nice light reflections from the surface of the water. The ocean movement is varies from calm to heaving seas that cause the deck to pitch vigorously.
The weather effects are the same as SHII. Storm and rainsqualls do not actually show rain, they decrease visibility and cap the sky with a dense layer of clouds. Seas are very rough and high waves will cover the lower decks. (There is a rain add-on effect in Subsim Downloads). During night battle starshells can be launched at the foe. They do not generate much light but they add some ambiance to the playing field.
Acoustically as well, DC has all the bases covered. Crew voices present the flow of information with good emphasis over the background generated by the engines. Some crew reports are a little flat but most are acceptable. I liked the ones that sounded like they were radio transmissions. The guns and cannons are a little quieter than their real life counterparts but the tone is good. Secondary and magazine explosions have a punch that will cause you to jump. Engine sounds differ from compartment to compartment. Depth charges crash into the ocean and produce deep, resonating booms. Tracking a submerged U-boat by hydrophones is a thrill--you can hear the screws and electric motors as the sneaky devil tries to crawl into the deep
While playing DC missions the player will encounter just about every type of war platform imaginable, from dive-bombers, U-boats, and patrol craft, to Japanese battleships, tramp steamers, and US forces. Surface battles boil down to gun and torpedo engagements. The AI can and will target you effectively. Battleships will appropriately make short work of destroyers. AI ships do not seem to employ much in the way of maneuvers, though. In many cases, as the two battlefleets or squadrons approach, the enemy will hold fire until you engage them as if this were a game of chicken. Once the shooting starts, the action is much the same as with SSI’s 1998 Fighting Steel. When you engage enemy surface combatants, the mutual destruction accumulates until one side is left standing, albeit in reduced numbers. There seems to be a real problem in producing good AI in both SHII and DC, which keeps them from attaining their full potential.
Aircraft generally make one or two passes and can deliver devastating attacks but usually get shot down. Less effective are the game’s U-boats. To gauge the AI I played a lot of missions with the Limited Visual option off. Time after time I watched as U-boats sailed oblivious to the ships around them, actually passing near targets (within 6 miles) without engaging. Clearly the detection circle needs to be increased. When the AI subs did intercept an AI ship, they do perform reasonably. I watched one U-boat launch a fan shot of three torps at a passenger liner. All three missed but the AI sub launched another, which struck the ship and caused major damage. While this is not rare behavior, it is not common enough to invoke awe. I tracked more than one Das Boot that would run submerged at 6 knots where a real skipper would think twice about depleting his batteries while a DD skipper gave chase. Destroyer Command exhibits the same incomplete AI that plagues Silent Hunter II. Done properly, one would expect AI U-boats to seek out and engage Allied ships at close range, while maintaining a buffer from the player’s destroyer. U-boats should pursue and re-engage a convoy until they expend their torpedoes. Destroyer Command’s milquetoast U-boats don’t do the ship models and other features justice.
The big selling point of Destroyer Command and Silent Hunter II was the planned interoperability of multiplay. Originally envisioned as the digital battlefield where 4~8 U-boat captains would form a wolfpack against 6~8 destroyer skippers and their AI merchant charges, the reality is a far, far cry from that vision. As a rule, a 5-6 man game is the most you can expect.
Destroyer Command comes with multiplayer on the menu and allows you to form up co-op and melee games with other DC players. Ubi-soft has released the SH2 multiplayer patch, DC players should get the corresponding DC 1.1 patch and they will be able to go head-to-head against SH2 players. I say should because my experiences to this point indicate the quality of MP you may experience is not up to the level of most contemporary online-capable games.
I have played one-on-one games successfully but have had spotty results with 4 and more players. Drops, disconnects, and freeze-ups are the norm. For any chance of a 4 man MP game to work the host must have a fast, stable connection and even that guarantees nothing. When SHII-DC were being built, the producers secured the rights to use rTime, a leading provider of commercial networking software, as the multiplayer component. According to all accounts, when Sony bought rTime, they discontinued support and Ultimation has struggled to make it work properly. It's a world class shame that a pair of naval sims with the online potential as SH2 & DC are shackled with a third-rate multiplayer component. One can only hope that at some point in the future Ubi-Soft will adapt SH2-DC with MS DirectPlay.
In the few games I did complete with 3~5 players the action is tremendous. It’s a given that due to time limitations all MP games are essentially death matches but before you let the peer pressure-endowed term death match stunt your imagination remember that once a convoy and wolfpack encountered in the actual war, it was a death match. Once the action is settled, a detailed and well-done after action summary and chat are presented (bless you, Ultimation!). It cannot be saved as a text file but the players may elect to take screenshots of it and compare results.
Scenarios can be scripted to separate the combatants and allow the convoy and Destroyer players the historically correct opportunity to evade and trick the U-boat players, except the Destroyer player has no control over the AI merchants, so he has to follow their waypoints! Big problem, the SHII players will know where to go after the first time the scenario is played. If Ultimation could have included player control over the merchants and possibly a random start box for the scenario shell, there could be a lot more diversity to online battles.
Time compression up to 16x is possible and it is sufficient. The players vote on the highest setting and any player can drop it to 1x if he feels the need. Lag can occasionally cause ships to make big position changes. Just like the skipper in Das Boot, you can be watching a DD approach and then a second later he’s right there! With a good connection the lag is generally not bad. If only the same could be said for the drops. Sonar in multiplayer is awesome and you can use the passive sonar in conjunction with the active to track and deliver well-placed depth charges onto your underwater foes.
An ingame chat allows DD and sub players to communicate to each other when ALL is selected. If the DD or sub players choose TEAM, then their messages only appear to their fellow captains. Subs cannot chat if submerged unless they use ALL; therefore any chatting while submerged goes to the DC players as well as the SHII players. U-boats on the surface that send contact reports will generate HF/DF reports to the opposing DC players. The mp chat is a strong point and well implemented.
There are a few addition fluff features, such as some historical data and a vehicle preview. A really terrific 360° interactive destroyer tour of the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is provided and it is nicely done.
No one will argue that good naval sims are far and few between. That doesn’t mean that the few candidates that do make release are excused for missing core features as DC and SHII are in regards to the AI. Destroyer Command provides a good simulation with a lot of great stations and great ship models coupled with scripted missions, insipid AI, and frustrating multiplay performance. This review will not tease you into relinquishing your cash for the only destroyer sim in ten years. SSI reached for the brass ring but came away with a clenched fist full of unfulfilled promise. There is a lot of fun to be had with playing Destroyer Command. Running through the ranks of a convoy at night searching for the U-boat that just torpedoed two of your merchants, or fighting off a wave of Zeroes with a Yamamoto class BB raining 18-inch shells around you could make you forget the shortcomings. Destroyer Command is alone in its class even if it does fall short of what we expected.
DestroyerCommand is available in the SUBSIM Store.
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