Silent Hunter III
World Exclusive Hands-on Preview
by Neal Stevens, original art by Torplexed
Oct 29, 2004
All this takes place, as previously mentioned, aboard a 3D U-boat. Not all of the subís compartments are modeled but the ones that are look great. The control room is fitted out with gauges, valves, and pipes, including the long-sought sausages swinging overhead. (Iím not sure why it took so long to get this feature in a subsim but now that itís here, there are sure to be arguments in the forums--beef or pork). During a severe depth charge attack the lights flicker violently, you hear glass breaking, and water and high-pressure air lines are prone to breaking. For the first time you can enter the conning tower and man the attack scope (which in this build was the same as the navigational scope). On the bridge your U-boat throws up a marvelous bow wave with spray while the diesels bellow out their stately hymn.
Life aboard a U-boat was spartan and rigorous. The small 700-odd ton boats pitched and rolled with the waves. Silent Hunter III suitably recreates the sensation of standing on the bridge or in the control room of a moving U-boat. Using the binoculars (the UZO was not implemented in our build) requires constant compensation for the movement of the boat. One feature I found appealing at the May 2004 E3 showing was the way water would run off the periscope lens as it was raised, giving the view a blurry, out-of-focus appearance for a few seconds. The guys in the Subsim Media room agreed that was noteworthy.
The build we previewed had most menu items disabled so we could only sample a few general convoy missions. According to the Readme, the realism settings were on "Easy". The external camera view allowed us to examine the battle from both sides of the waves. This really helps when trying to evaluate the AI. And believe me, after the Jekyll and Hyde AI of SH2, AI in SH3 is a top concern so we ran a few tests. Running submerged with the phonograph tooting "J'attendrai", the boat running at full, and otherwise making noise, the nearest escort charged right at us and dropped a string of well-placed ash cans all around our hapless U-boat. Interestingly enough, by using the external cam to watch the pattern, we observed some of the bombs were shallow, some deeper than our U-boat, and a few right on target. So, even though we gave the DD a good target, his aim is not perfect (though two more passes did us in).
Then we replayed the mission and this time observed the highest order of stealth. We put the boat in front of the convoy, submerged, kept a zero bow angle on the nearest escort, ran at slow, and kept the periscope in the well. No music, not joking, just silent sweat and concentration. One escort passed by, not detecting us at 1800m range. After we torpedoed a merchant another escort spotted our periscope. How do I know this? Because it started shooting at the scope! In Silent Hunter III if you spend too much time focused on the target youíll end up hearing high speed screws fast approaching and when you spin the scope 'round, youíll be face-to-face with a hard-charging destroyer. We crash-dived to 120m and again employed the external cam to measure the escortís accuracy. By maintaining silent running we soon managed to slip away with minor damage.
Thatís a sample of the AI but bear in mind, SH3 is not finished and we were unable to ratchet up the realism settings. A thorough evaluation of a gold copy will determine the true nature of the gameís AI but at this point I feel a lot better about it than I did SH2.
Convoys are well-stocked with an ample variety of shipsótankers, generic merchants, troop ships, and Liberty ships were seen in our preview. SH3 does not appear to have issues with large convoys. We saw nine merchants and five escorts in one large mission and the game ran smoothly. Collision avoidance seemed to be working, too. I did not see any examples of ships crashing together and locking up like was the case in SH2. When torpedoed, ships sink in a range of ways. The Readme points out that the AI ships have working compartments and specific areas of the ship that can be damaged so the manner and rate of sinking depend on where they are struck. I saw some roll over and sink quickly, others broke in halves, and one sank evenly, very slowly, and I had to wait for the convoy to leave him and finish him with the deck gun.
The escorts appeared to vary their search techniques, stopping at times or sailing at slow, as if listening for U-boats. Other times it seemed that one DD would sit off while another made a depth charge run, mimicking the tactics that made Captain Johnny Walker, one of the great heroes of the Royal Navy, so successful. And as for "headhunting", well, good luck. These DDs arenít as easy to hit as the ones in SH2. Launch a torpedo and the AI escort is likely to spot it or hear it and evade. Payback is hell. Again, these are just first impressions but they lend a great deal of confidence to the eventual gameplay.
There is an "action camera" that pops up when something significant is about to happen, such as a torpedo about to strike or an escort rolling depth charges off the stern. You can switch to it or disable it at anytime.
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