Silent Hunter III
World Exclusive Hands-on Preview
by Neal Stevens, original art by Torplexed
Oct 29, 2004
The Stage is Set
October 16, 2004: On the eve of the Sub Club’s Second Intercontinental Meeting, Subsim Review asked Ubisoft if we could demo a build of Silent Hunter III for the members. After all, when you have guys flying in from Europe and across the US you want to treat them to something special. Between group shooting practice and touring the Battleship Texas, they needed some entertainment. Ubisoft graciously sent Subsim Review the first external beta build of Silent Hunter III to be released to the media. As the packed Subsim media room darkened and the opening menu came up, the joking and noisy chatter ceased. All eyes were riveted on the splashscreen, a collage of U-boats, captains, menacing destroyers, and a subtle inscription in German, "Gott mit uns!" One of the Dutch members said it stood for, "God be with us." Another member said that was the Silent Hunter II creed. Nervous laughter followed, about what one might expect for a joke uttered during a depth charge attack.
Many of the Sub Club members in attendance were battle-weary veterans of the Silent Hunter II campaign. You remember that one; the rumors, the long, drawn-out wait, the endless release date pushbacks. The angst over features such as the dynamic campaign, multiplayer, and empty harbors. It didn’t end with the game’s release, either. These same players were called on to fund and test Subsim Review’s Projekt Messerwetzer multiplayer upgrade (programmed by Duane Doutel, he of the magazine fame). Testing, tweaking, and translating into seven languages, these guys had stood their ground, tested their mettle, and were back for more. Ubisoft’s Silent Hunter III is all-new from a crack team of Romanian artists, programmers, and naval enthusiasts. These diehard, loyal players had seen the trailers, the screenshots, the marketing. Now in sessions of eight or ten at a time they would see the simulation.
Silent Hunter III
Within moments of loading the first mission one aspect became clear—SH3 breaks new ground with utterly stunning graphics. While Silent Hunter 2 graphics were good at the time, in SH3 the overall appearance of each ship and sub is one big step closer to photorealism. Details abound. Railings, masts, cargo, port holes, anchors, and rust are smoothly rendered and lifelike. Whereas SH2 ships had details they appeared to be painted on the skin. SH3 ships and subs are so sharply rendered that they fully earn the term "3D". The edges and curves don’t draw attention to themselves, they merely are part of the ship. The water surface doesn’t just shine and shimmer—it holds the reflection of the vessels. These are graphics that make no excuses about being in a subsim.
Easily as impressive are the physics and object motion. The fluid motion of the ocean waves, the ships sailing and turning, and the subs diving and rolling under depth charge attack all possess that elusive true-to-nature quality. This sim has a lot of replay value in simply watching the vessels sail on the ocean. It’s a great joy just watching your sub slip beneath the waves bow-first. Equally impressive is seeing a destroyer tearing down on you with a "bone in the teeth", the tell-tale bow wave that signifies he is running at high speed.
But the crown jewel of SH3’s graphics set is the addition of a fully detailed 3D crew. This truly groundbreaking component sets Silent Hunter III apart from all subsims that came before it. In Wolfpack, Aces, Grey Wolf, SH1 and 2 you sailed alone. Silent Hunter III surpasses the traditional 2D stations and puts you in the U-boat with a 3D control room, bridge, conning tower, and radio shack. You serve in the company of a lifelike Navigator, Chief Engineer, helmsmen, and other personnel. You can interact with them and give them orders and they respond. They move and react well, gesture, even glance at you occasionally. On the bridge, your lookouts scan the horizon for enemy ships, wipe their binoculars, and point out targets. When in heavy weather or under attack they will crouch and brace themselves. Having these guys on board adds a lot to the immersive aspect of the sim.
In addition to the fleshed-out crew in the control room, on the bridge, and in the radio shack, SH3 adds an extensive level of crew management. Sharing space with the damage control screen, the crew management system allows you, the Captain, to assign individual crewmembers to the compartments where you feel they’re needed, including assembling a damage control team. For additional efficiency you may choose to include a petty officer or an officer. Each crewman has a name, rank, and status for health, fatigue, and morale. Take your boat through heavy seas or rough combat and some can be injured or killed, compelling you to keep your crew’s welfare in mind. You can assign them for rest, recommend them for medals; about the only option not included is delousing.
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