Dive, Dive, Sink!
While this game has merit as a submarine game, and while other magazines have declared it to be quite a product, this reviewer was somewhat disappointed. I expected a realistic submarine simulation and while this game came rather close, there were a still a few things lacking.
The first problem with Silent Hunter was the control room. While the buttons and switches were all finely detailed in SVGA and easy to access and use, there only seemed to be that one room in which you, the captain, could enter and experience. There seemed to be only a limited space in which the character could react and he or she seemed to be the only player in the game. You are alone under the waves, with no crew to interact with. Part of combat on a submarine is the experience of being below the waves in a little world, with captain and crew operating as a tight, close-knit team.
The world seemed to be just one room in the boat with a periscope to look out of. The "one man against the entire Japanese Navy" feeling was almost overpowering, and there seemed to be no realistic sense of continuity to the game, as the entire thing is a series of unconnected multi-month campaigns and single "instant action" missions. Action itself is also extremely slow. Despite the provided feature that speeds time to 2X, 4X, 8X, 16X, or 32X speeds, it still seems as though you have to wait an hour just trying to get anywhere, with all of the gameplay (and fun) being condensed into a brief block of a few minutes.
However, there are some definite good things to this program. The graphics and sound are impeccable. If the boat rises to the surface, one can look out to the horizon and see the setting sun and watch water that seems to move with the boat. The combat sequences are well done with beautifully rendered enemy craft with bit-mapped explosions and titanic water splashes. When the player affects something within the boat, he or she hears a random (unseen) crew member responding with an "aye-aye sir".
The death sequences in Silent Hunter are also pretty. The boat appears to "shake", the periscope drops to the floor, and the screen "blues" out. Next, the player witnesses a video of the boat being blown apart and split in two. Harbor scenes are interesting. If the player is stealthy enough, he or she can slink into Tokyo Bay and destroy some naval craft while they are at harbor. These landscapes are really cool and provide a sort of reward for what would appear to be nearly an hour or two of frustrating, slow, monotonous crawl through a watery world.
Another aspect of the game is its technical realism. The submarine (what you are allowed to see of it, anyway) is very realistic, and it does appear that a great deal of technical research was done before the game was programmed. There is also a special on-line multimedia presentation on submarines and sub combat during World War II, along with an interview with Commander William Gruner, a distinguished veteran of the Pacific War and commander of the USS Skate.
With all of the realism and technical expertise put in to this game, it is quite surprising that all of this work does not translate into a more perfect gaming experience. Silent Hunter is a game for the patient. Otherwise, you might want a simulation with a little more action.