Review by Neal
With assistance by Drebbel
SH Franchise Flash intro was crafted by
March 13, 2005
was the last time you played a subsim that included a fully
interactive 3D crew--guys who would turn to you and answer your
orders? In a detailed 3D control room, bridge, and sonar shack? What
about a subsim that allowed you to manage your crew--to hand-pick
the best men while ashore and award medals after a successful
patrol? What was the last subsim you played that had graphics you
didn't have to make excuses for? When was the last time you began a
patrol in a U-boat pen, with nurses and other U-bootsmen
cheering you on like a scene straight from Das Boot! As you
started out on a dynamic campaign across the Atlantic that
replicates the phases of hunting and being hunted throughout the war
? You know these are rhetorical questions--there has never been
a subsim with these features right out of the box. There is now.
Silent Hunter III is a do-over of the
Battle of the Atlantic attempted by Silent Hunter 2. Unlike its
predecessor, SH3ís development has not been plagued by corporate
disruptions. It has been lovingly crafted by a large, talented team,
Ubisoft Romania. I recall in the very early stages some
industry insiders expressed uncertainty about a Romanian dev team
doing a full-blown sim. Well, they now have the opposite opinionóyou
want a sim done right, start speaking Romanian.
Starting with the basics: Silent Hunter
III includes five training missions, ten single historical missions,
multiplayer, a sturdy mission editor, and a very dynamic career
campaign. Big Hint #1: When you begin to play SH3, do it
right, take the Naval Academy course. Those five missions are
a great way to get the basics down, familiarize yourself with the
SH3 interface, as well as packing a little renown in your
pocket to begin your career with. Becoming more familiar with how
SH3 works will make your subsequent missions much more enjoyable.
This is a new subsim, youíve been itching to get in it and look
aroundóthe Naval Academy is the place to start.
Some things are better for morale than others.
The ten Single Missions are recreations of
significant historical battles, such as the cornering of the
Bismarck, Operation WeserŁbung, Scapa Flow, the
capture of the U-505, and a session with the Type XXI. They are
scripted--orchestrated for maximum playability. I found them
enjoyable and they serve as good practice missions. The mission
editor is the same tool that the devs used to create these missions.
It provides random inclusion, waypoint setting, minefields,
ASW nets, aircraft, shore defenses, script validation, and it all
works. The Bill Nichols of the SH3 world should have a
library of custom missions filling the Subsim.com server over
the next few years.
The Dynamic Campaign
Now the good stuff, the dynamic career
campaign (I love saying that!). As most of you know, SH3
was set for an October 2004 release with a branching, semi-dynamic
campaign but the subsim community convinced Ubisoft to go for it
all. Ubi postponed the release and the result is the first true
dynamic campaign since Silent Hunter 1.
I spent a considerable amount of time playing the
career mode: starting a career, playing a mission, replaying it,
observing the shipping patterns, types of ships, encounters, playing
a new mission, starting a new career with a different name,
repeating the process, etc. I came to the conclusion that even under
focused scrutiny you will be playing new missions, getting assorted
patrol zones, coming across an endless variety of targets and foes.
You can play through the entire war, start over in 1939 again, and
the campaign is a whole new game.
number of encounters you experience in a campaign mission depend
heavily on which realism options you select (more on realism
options later). On Easy mode you may run across five solo
ships and a couple convoys and use up all your torpedoes before you
reach your patrol zone. At the Realistic level, your number
of encounters will vary but you will usually get to your assigned
grid and need to hunt out the enemy.
ships out there but with the "Realistic sensors" and "No
map contact update" realism options selected you will not encounter
a steady, predictable stream of targets thrown in your path. As the
screenshot shows, the dynamic campaign layer has a large number of
ships and convoys throughout the world but if they do not come
within 20 km of your position, you may miss them. You want instant
action? No problem, back off the realism or play a Single Mission.
You may be sent to the same patrol grid occasionally but thereís
a reason for that: thatís where Doenitz sent his boatsóthatís where
the shipping traffic is the highest. In 60+ hours of playing I was
assigned patrol zones in the North Sea, off the coast of Venezuela,
the middle of the Atlantic, within sight of the tip of South AfricaóCapetown,
here we come! A trek across the Atlantic will take somewhere
around 25 minutes in real time so be sure to have a book handy. Just
as in Aces, you set your course, ramp up the time compression, and
plow the waves, taking the occasional trim dive to listen for
convoys. You can save the game anywhere and as often as you
choose. Overall, SH3ís campaign is a clone to the campaign from Aces
of the Deep. Except itís better.
Getting to know
The dynamic campaign is wonderfully augmented by
the gameís period awareness. In 1939 Ė 1941, the escort AI is
present but not as dogged and mean as the period after 1942. Air
attacks increase in number and severity throughout the war until by
1944, you canít surface to have a smoke without the Yanks and Tommy
picking you up on their radar and hurling their planes down on you.
Once off the coast of Ireland I was attacked five times in two days
by aircraft and on two occasions, while submerged and making
internal repairs, my sonarman detected warships looking for
You may begin a career anytime from 1939 until
1943. The flotillas, U-boats, and equipment available are very
faithfully accurate to the time periodsóthereís even a flow chart
that highlights what was available and when. U-boats came equipped
with a remarkable variety of gearódifferent radar sets, radar
detectors, diesels, conning tower configs, AA ordnance. It appears
Florin and Co. tried to cover it all.
Your Crew is Ready, Captain.
As soon as the game starts every old Ace of the
Deep vet will notice one huge enhancement right away: Silent Hunter
III has a 3D control room you can move about in, a bridge you
can man, and a fully interactive 3D crew. The 3D crew is greatóno
more "ghost subs", no more 2D pictures of a control room that
require imagination to create the experience you are aboard a sub.
This is better on a bicycle-to-space shuttle improvement scale. I
have a feeling many of the
Subsim Radio Room forum guys will disappear, choosing to form
bonds of friendship with their crew and officers.
The animated crew members replicate logical poses
and motions, they effectively articulate when they speak, they even
scratch their chins, wipe the lens on their binoculars, and blink.
The bridge watch changes into rough weather gear during storms. Itís
been a long time coming and the 3D crew makes the sale on this game.
Crew management is another one of the big leaps
forward by SH3. Not only do you have an interactive 3D crew to look
at and admire, you are responsible for their safety and overall
assignments. Morale is crucial. Play the game stupidly and
your crewís morale plummets, resulting in poor performance. SH3 is
built around the concept that you want to simulate life in a U-boat,
not a Hollywood equivalent of a U-boat. Play like you mean it and
the game returns the favor.
As Captain, you have to deal with the crew, rest
them, assign the best guys where they are needed, etc. Itís a
lot of fun and gives you something to do during an approach. The dev
team included a useful shortcut menu of standard crew
configurations. Just one click and you have guys where you need
them. You may not have that really good machinist Karl in the engine
room so it's your prerogative to tweak the crew assignments. But if
you're too lazy for that, remember the crew management shortcut
Anther novel element SH3 brings to the table is
player renown. Renown is like rep, street cred to my
skater friends. If you build a successful career, sink ships, and
bring your crew and boat home in one piece, you will become known as
a top aceóyou will gain more renown. Being known as a good commander
will allow you to go to the barracks between patrols and say, "Hey!
You lazy bastages, who wants to sail with U-702?" If you have
enough renown, the skillful guys who also have renown will
want to join you. This rewards the smart player who plays SH3 like
he was really putting his balls on the line as opposed to the player
who goes through missions like Quake on water. Renown also
permits the captain to persuade the dockworkers to help him get the
best gear on his boat. I really like this renown system, itís
well-implemented and adds yet another cool aspect to this sim.
How Much Realism Can You Take?
All subsims include options
to make the game easier or more difficult. Generally,
items such as
unlimited fuel and battery capacity, realistic sub vulnerability,
fast reloads and repairs are the norm. SH3 brings a full slate of
realism options; all the standard stuff plus two delightful
additions: "no map contact updates" and "manual targeting system"
(TDC). Big Hint #2: Donít overestimate your abilities. You
would be wise to start off your first mission with these two options
I playtested the game extensively in two modes:
with all realism including these two options enabled and with all
realism except these two options (disabled).
If you enable all the realism options except "no
map contact updates" and "manual targeting system" the gameplay is
very similar to Aces of the Deep and SH1. Itís
challenging and itís fun. The ship contacts show up on your chart;
when submerged, you get the familiar bearing lines that track the
targets. You lock in a target and the TDC automatically figures the
solution for good (but not infallible) torpedo shots. You may decide
this is how a subsim should be played. No one here will judge
you. It is fun to play this way and the dev team deserves a
resounding huzzah! for making the game flexible.
However, kick in these two innovations--"No map contact
updates" and "manual targeting system"óand itís
Welcome to Real Life, Captain!
: this option removes
the real-time, godís-eye updates from your map (thank you, Ubi!).
In Aces, SH1 & SH2 when you checked the chart you would be
presented with small ship icons, moving around in real time,
always accurately placed. In SH3, if you choose full realism, the
map only lists the charted landmasses and your U-boat, sort of a
dead-reckoning system. Thatís it. The first ever user-only updated
game map. If your watch officer shouts out he has sighted a ship,
it does not appear on the map. Airplanes do not show up as little
icons buzzing around your sub. Nothing shows up on the map
until you mark it down. SH3ís map has a good set of
drawing tools so itís simply a matter of determining the relative
bearing and estimated range of the contact and marking it down.
You may wish to add a course line and then occasionally update the
map. In this manner you simulate the same actions Schepke, Oesten,
and Prien and their crews took to track contacts.
No Map Contact Update
When submerged you will want to man the
hydrophone to determine the bearing of the closest contacts and
then hop over to the map and mark them down. Range can be
estimated by the level of sound. Course can be estimated by the
marked increase or decrease in volume. This should keep you plenty
busy during those long depth charge sessions. I cannot express
enough my appreciation for this option and the excellent drawing
tools. Many dedicated subsimmers have been waiting a long time
Manual Targeting System: this option goes
hand in glove with the preceding one. Simply put, enabling this
option means you are going to use your wits and world-class trig
skills when determining a torpedo solution to attack an
enemy ship. Well, itís not as daunting as it sounds, the devs
included some tools to assist you (for more details, see the
SH3 TDC Primer).
The main thing that gives this option its appeal is that you
cannot cheat and quickly lock onto a target and bang away at the
shiny, red firing button. You have to get in close, take a few
moments with your scope exposed, and collect the data for a
decent firing solution. Once you send it to the TDC, you lower the
scope and move to the TDC chart for any last refinements.
Here you can determine the spread of a salvo, make adjustments to
the estimated speed and range, and let Tommy have it.
Playing with the manual TDC is great, very
challenging, and just as rewarding. No
red triangles, no 80,000-ton
patrols. Until you get good, expect to miss and have to resume
chase. Manual TDC really puts the "Hot damn! Torpedo hit!"
feeling back into subsimming. Yes, it is hard. At 100% realism
itís supposed to be hard! Remember Big
One of the sore spots in SH2 was the game AI.
Ships hurling themselves onto the beach, frequently ramming each
other. Escorts that would not notice their merchants being attacked
or uber-escorts that would detect your sub at maximum range, run
over and drop one series of charges that would kill you every time.
Nothing is worse for player morale than a game with bad AI.
Fortunately, Silent Hunter III is loaded with
very respectable AI. I did not see any ships ram each other or the
shore. Ships zigzag and try to evade when under attack. Escorts
appear to execute sensible search patterns. I ran the AI through
several tests. First, I made my presence known by surfacing in the
middle of a convoy (kids, donít try this at home) and emptying a
clip of AA in a neighborly fashion into a petrol tanker.
Immediately, starshells went up, the lighting revealed my presence.
Merchants peeled off and a flower-class destroyer came charging down
the columns intent on greeting me. I pulled the plug and by using
the External view I could see where the DD went, where he dropped
his charges, and how close he came. The first time he was darned
close. Glass was breaking, sausages were swinging like crazy, that
pesky valve that always leaks was spraying Klaus down the
back with cold seawater, and little red exclamation points began to
sprout up on my crew roster. Obviously, they were somewhat short of
inspired by my actions and their morale was dropping (translation:
they were freaking!).
To continue the test, I altered course, changed
depth to the deepest I felt I could go (oh, the creaking sounds in
SH3 are quite impressive, let me tell you) and went to silent
running. Lots of whispering takes place when running silent,
a cool feature first seen in
Pacific Aces. Using the external view again, I followed the
escort as he circled and began pinging me. He was close but his
charges were not as close as before. I remained at silent as he
searched for me, coming close enough to damage the boat a little
more a few times, missing other times. Finally, I motored up to
periscope depth at flank and he came right down on me. Letís just
say Iím glad itís just a game.
Aircraft attacks bear the badge of realistic
behavior, too. They will attack, drops bombs and depth charges, and
circle, often shooting, diving, and attacking several times.
Sometimes they miss. Sometimes your flak guns get creamed, you got
dead men on the deck and a sinking boat. Sometimes I shot them down
with the flak gun. In the latter stages of the war you have to be
really careful about cruising around on the surface at high time
compression! Sudden air attacks can knock you out before you
can get into action.
In your patrols you will encounter solo ships,
warship flotillas, planes, patrol boats, fishing boats, and convoys.
I didnít see any enemy subs. Convoys come with large numbers of
Graphics and Game Sounds
I can probably skip describing the graphics, the
screenshots tell it all. Let me summarize with "out-standing in
every regard". The ocean is just incredible, the way it
moves, the colors, the sharp edges and whitecaps on the waves. The
subs and ships look like a 3D Studio Max wet dream. Starshells at
night cast an uncertain, shuttering glow down on your sub, very
nice. Smoke and explosions are cinematic. Lord, this game puts
everything else to shame. Where did the Romanians hide before
I especially liked the extra effort the dev team
put into the rig for red lighting effects. When I play at
night, I turn the lights in the room off. Not only is the control
room shaded in red, but the stations also have muted red lighting
(and shadows), totally completing the sensation and sparing your
eyes when you go from the map to the periscope or bridge to peer
through the darkness for ships. Well done!
All of the game sounds are outstanding. The
diesels and electric motors change pitch with speed. I was impressed
with the way the diesels drop off and after a suitable pause, the
hum of the motors very naturally fills the room. A command to dive
is accompanied by a few thumps and bangs of the hatches being
shut. A crash dive includes the alarm bell and the roar of the
electric motors at flank speed. At the hydrophone station you can
you can identify the class of ship from the pitch of its screws.
Other notable sounds include ship explosions
(loud), periscope motors (hummy), shells flying overhead (scary),
deep dive hull creakiness (really scary), and music (rousing,
very well-done). The phonograph was onboard but the dev team must
have forgotten the records. We'll have to wait for the phonograph
The crew voices are natural and appropriate. In
English, the crew speaks good old American English without
pseudo-German accents. The sim sounds even better in German.
Itís about here that game reviewers and
similar hacks usually plop in the blemishes. I donít have any strong
criticisms for SH3. The positives outweigh any negatives 20-to-1. There are a few things that could use some
tweaking, mainly the collision results between a U-boat and a
surface ship. Being rammed by a ship will result in the ship
sinking 4 out of 5 times while you suffer only moderate damage.
That should be reversed. Another, less important complaint is the
variety of BdU radio messages. HQ was either telling me "Good
job!" or "Be more aggressive" (mostly the latter, which
didn't help my morale). I didnít get any radio intercepts from other
U-boats, which was always fun in Aces. Yeah and I shouldnít be
getting radio message at periscope depth, but there are so few of
them, whoís complaining?
Also, Iím one of those guys who likes to play a
subsim with my feet propped up, reading a good book at the
same timeóthis isnít Battlefield 1942, you know. Iím purely content
to travel at 128x and wait for the crew to call me to the bridge.
SH3 needs more audible warnings to let the Captain know things like
low battery, tube 3 is reloaded, low O2, the crapper has overflowed,
etc. You know, wake me up when the shooting starts.
I'm told all your wolfpack action will take place in
multiplayer. No AI wolfpacks in the career....yet.
One last thing; I didnít visit every Allied port
but I did make the trip to Portsmouth in Ď44. I was harassed
by aircraft and fast patrol boats in the English Channel, which I
thought was appropriate. My flak crews fought them off but I lost
two good men. Klemens Falke and Herbert Anderson were killed so
I guess that means SH3 notches another subsim firstówriting letters
of condolence to the widows. I digress. Upon entering Portsmouth
proper (where were the mines and anti-submarine nets?) there was no
naval or patrol activity. No ships at the piers. Lots of buildings,
lighthouses, and docks and they looked good so I am not sure
why the dev team decided not to add a few cargo ships sitting at the
quay for visual effect. Just asking. If I was one of those
guys who is never, ever satisfied, I might suggest that Allied
ports should have a hard coded zone around themóany time the player
enters, patrol craft should seek him out and ruin his day.
That is, if he can get past the mines and anti-sub nets. Come to
think of it, I never saw any U-boats in the pens when I left port,
either. Maybe thereís a mod in this somewhereÖ.
But these things do not have a major
impact on the gameplay. I didnít experience any serious bugs or
program crashes. There is an issue with the advanced particle
effects and some graphics cards but the dev team is taking care of
that with the patch. The game's copy protection did not give me any
problem running the game on a new Sony DVD RW burner equipped with
Nero Smart Start.
Hot keys, a sliding station menu, and
intelligently designed controls along the bottom make commanding an
SH3 U-boat a breeze. Each type of U-boat has unique interiors. The
Type IX, for example, has both scopes in the coming tower whereas
the Type VII has one in the control room and one in the conning
tower. And yes, this sim has two distinct scopes
modeledóobservation and attackójust the thing when a frigate clips
you and wrecks the one you were using.
SH3 load times are long, usually taking a full 90
seconds to go from clicking Start to being in the game. I donít mind
long load times for a high-quality game, gives me some time to dust
my keyboard, clean my desk, etc. You should see how clean my
Time compression works as expected. Any TC
higher than 32X keeps you in the map station. When you encounter an
enemy the TC drops to 1X and alerts you. Max TC in port or within
range of an enemy is 32X. As previously stated, running at high TC
levels can be inherently dangerous. You get no guarantees the
TC drop will occur in time to do anything other than abandon ship
when the area is full of aircraft. Big Hint #3: stay at or
below 128X and you will get adequate warning even against those
sneaky RAF guys. Finally, the game includes a "Return to Port"
feature so you can end a patrol far from home if you choose.
SH3 has a waypoint system that works flawlessly.
You can set and remove waypoints and the sub follows them. If you
alter course, merely order the Navigator to return to the set
Silent Hunter III follows an SH2 strength with a
good hydrophone station. When using the Realistic level of
play you use this station when submerged to track the enemy ships.
It works 100% of the time. You can also choose to let your sonarman
do this chore, ordering him to track the nearest ship and he calls
out the bearing and approximate range so you can mark it on the map.
I wonít say I put a stopwatch to many of the
performance measurables but on the whole the fuel usage, battery
capacity, CO2 levels, dive times (varies with crew abilities), and
other factors felt good. Realistic fuel consumption rates +
dynamic campaign mean you donít go jetting across the
Atlantic at flank speed. Your Navigator can tell you the range at a
given speed plus lots of other useful info. Resupply is not present
in the initial release of SH3, the dev team says that is on their
short list for the first patch or add-on.
That Intangible "Does It Feel Real" Thing
Saturday morning, March 12. This is to be the
last playtest of SH3 for the Subsim.com review. Iíve been playing
the sim for nearly ten days, time for one last patrol. To give you a
taste of how immersive SH3 is Iíll briefly relate the events of this
I make a cup of hot coffee and grab J.T.
McDanielís U-boat novel With Honor In Battle. I start
SH3 and do a little light desk cleaning. The patrol begins. I order
the Chief Engineer to set the bridge watch and we fire up the
diesels. Ahead one-third. We exit the shadowy concrete bunker.
Crowds of nurses and soldiers cheer and applaud. I tip my hat to the
good-looking redhead (she's one helluva morale-booster) and
set a course with the Navigator.
After a couple of merchant sinkings and a brief
dive to avoid a hunter-killer group off the coast of Spain we reach
our patrol zone. Two boring days pass then the soundman detects a
convoy. I order flank speed into a growing storm. Visibility is
getting bad. We take care to feel our way to intercept the convoy.
At last, the bridge shouts out a warning. Warship, approaching fast!
Alaaarm! We dive and the escort misses us. The chief brings
the boat back to periscope depth. The scope motor hums as I raise
and lower it, trying to get a clear look through the waves and the murky night at
a 6000-ton freighter loaded with vital war supplies for the enemy.
Confound this weather! I take the range, speed, and angle on the
bow. A quick look around for any lurking destroyers. All clear, I
send two eels tearing out for the freighter, then set up on a medium
cargo ship. As I fire the last two torpedoes, sound reports a
torpedo strike. I look and the first target is burning. The crew
is jubilant. Then sound reports an escort approaching.
We dive deep and suffer through a tremendous
beating. Some valves leaked, the radio was knocked out, and all the
phonograph records were broken. Morale is down, my men do not
like it when the CO2 levels get in the red. We used all of our
BOLDs and at last the escort
leaves us to catch back up to the convoy. We surface. The weather is
even worse, waves crash over the conning tower. The 1WO calls out,
"Ship sighted". Target #1 is still smoking but afloat. I order the
gun crew to station but the weather is so fierce they cannot comply.
The Weapons Officer tells me that the only torpedoes left are under
the casing and the weather makes reloading impossible. So we track
the limping freighter through the storm, waiting for the weather to
After two full days of losing and finding him the
weather clears. Just as the deck gun fires its fifth round, a
Sunderland dives out of the clouds. Too late to dive, flak guns are
manned. A bomb close aboardórudder is jammed. Driving in wild
circles we shoot it out and a cheer goes up when the plane takes a
sick turn and crashes into the sea. The repairs to the rudder take
several hours and by the time we are able to sail a straight line,
the cursed freighter has made good his escape. I order the Chief to
take the boat down to 50 meters so the men can rest. Itís good for
Before I close, I have to confess that after seeing SH3 a year
ago at E3, and again during the October 2004 Sub Club meeting, itís
been truly hard to suppress the excitement and anticipation
Iíve felt. The specter of SH2 hung over my expectations. With each
new SH3 build I was thinking, "Please Lord, donít let this game let
us down". It didnít. SH3 really impressed me at every phase of its
developmentóitís been all I could do not to rave. No more. This
subsim has everything plus everything else. The final score? What
else can you say about a hands-down, across the board superb game?
Silent Hunter III is the King of Subsims!
|BONUS: +1 Naval
Academy +2 Advanced Realism Options
Tested on: Pentium4 2.4 GHz, 512 MB RAM, NVIDIA
Geforce4 Ti4200 128MB RAM, Sony DVD+RW DL DRU-710A
Screenshots here are compressed for the web, actual game graphics
are far superior. Multiplayer to be evaluated shortly, looking for
other journalists to engage. Can't play multiplayer by myself, can
I? Reviewer was not a beta tester for Silent Hunter III. No animals
were killed or harmed during the making of this review. That
Review - submarine games and simulations
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Subsim Review 2005 Design Team
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