Silent Hunter III
World Exclusive Hands-on Preview
by Neal Stevens, original art by Torplexed
Oct 29, 2004
Silent Hunter III has a good sonar station but is not the same as the one we praised in SH2. Basically, you have the map with the ships laid out as hand-drawn icons (looked very good) and the U-boat sporting a blue "cone" that represents the direction the hydrophone is pointing. Using the < and > keys, you can rotate the cone and get a better fix on the target. The sound is quite good and it was easy to close my eyes and tell the type of ship and relative range from the pitch of its screws. The ship icons do not update in real time, they update in intervals ranging from 20 to 40 seconds. This is favorable and brings to mind an officer marking the bearings on the chart as called out by the sonar technician. (The dev team tells me this is still a work in progress).
We would really like to see an option at higher realism where no icons are drawn on the mapóthe player has to listen and judge the bearing, range, and heading by using the sonar and listening for screws grow louder or fainter and tracking them. Thatís how the real U-boat men did it and it would cement Silent Hunter IIIís reputation as the most realistic WWII subsim ever.
Speaking of maps, there are several handy tools available including a ruler to mark tangents and distance, a compass to draw range circles, and a waypoint marker. Simple things like this are handy and a lot of fun to play with when plotting an attack. These tools would be great at high realism settings to actually mark ship positions in place of AI drawn icons, as by using sonar when submerged as described above and using the TDC tools when surfaced.
Silent Hunter III has two modes of gathering target data, "Casual Targeting" and Expert Targeting". In Casual mode, the Torpedo Data Computer is managed by the weapons officer (it is so cool! You can actually look over and see the guy!). You, as the captain, simply lock the periscope onto the target and the solution is generated for you, ready to fire at will. Thatís the easy method. SH3ís "Expert Targeting" is something like a dream come true to the crusty U-boat fanatics who patrol the Subsim forums.
With Expert Targeting you amass the data you need for a good firing solution one piece at a time. First, you have to know what youíre shooting at so you have a look in the Ship Recognition Manual. Once you have the ship IDíed, you know the top speed and mastheight. Then you take the range by adjusting the stadimeter from the waterline to the top of the mastóa tricky thing to do when the boat is moving. The TDC will punch in the range for you, then you get the angle on the bow, enter that, and finally determine the speed by using the stopwatch. Finally, I suppose (and pray) in the final version of SH3 you will also have to make sure you are not shooting at a friendly or neutral, so you donít shoot until you can see the fluttering flag or positively ID the shipís nationality. Itís all very complex and satisfying and since the enemy AI is coded to detect a periscope that is continually raised, very exciting. So, after working up a four part solution in a U-boat that is affected the surface waves, water blurring the lens occasionally, raising and lowering the scope repeatedly to avoid detection, managing the crew, navigating to a favorable attack position, maintaining a watchful eye on the escorts, and getting positive ID, you launch your eels and mind your stopwatch. Whew! Life doesnít get any better than this!
The French Knight Saves the Day
We've been through a lot, you and I. Back when Subsim Review first appeared on the web, we had graduated from primary color subsims like Silent Service and Das Boot to Grey Wolf. Aces of the Deep was at its prime and an upstart named Silent Hunter was on the horizon. Jane's 688(I) swept past the multiplayer threshold. Expect-ations ran high. Who could deny being giddy with anticipation for great things ahead? Aces of the Pacific. Silent Hunter II. Wolfpack II. Ah yes, those were heady days for cyberskippers.
High hopes were brought low with the collapse of Sierra support for an Aces Pacific-theater game. The announce-ment of Wolfpack II was abruptly followed by its cancellation. Players pinned their hopes on the darkhorse Silent Hunter II. It was a longshot as SH2 underwent producer shakeups, dev team changes, and a seemingly unending series of corporate transfers, ultimately ending up in French gaming giant Ubisoftís lap.
When SH2 was finally released, while interesting, it failed to meet players' expectations and critics roasted it. Despite turning out some formidable sales numbers, anguish and disappointment gushed from the forums. Alas.
Well, throw down your crying towel and get out your North Atlantic charts, mate. Sales of the noble but flawed SH2 moved Ubisoft to undertake a do-over. I argued in 2001 that if enough people bought SH2 despite its lame AI and crippled multiplayer, there would be an SH3. Thankfully enough of you felt the same wayóSH2 sold big. Now comes the payoff. Silent Hunter III appears to have every aspect of a U-boat sim that a subsim fanatic could hope for. The hunt matches the hype. And the best partóyou earned it. Now, hereís to a successful SH3 that could lead Ubisoft to Destroyer Command II.
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