by Jim Atkins and Jim Wolford
SILENT HUNTER was first described as "ACES OF THE DEEP, only in the Pacific with the US Sub Service, and in high resolution." While that is more or less true, SILENT HUNTER is also a class in itself.
In SILENT HUNTER the player commands an American diesel submarine in WWII. Starting with the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, hunting season for Japanese warships and merchants opens in the South Pacific. The general idea of the simulation is to sink as much tonnage as possible without ending up on the "Still on Patrol" list at the end of the war.
The approach SSI has taken with SILENT HUNTER parallels that taken by Dynamix in ACES OF THE DEEP. Both games are based on historical submarine campaigns of WWII. Both use very similar interfaces, and both strive for that mysterious balance between accuracy and entertainment. For a complete Review go to SH Review.
Patrol Disk II
I remember the first time I tried the Silent Hunter Demo. I loved the game so much, I played it over and over. Besides being gorgeous to look at, it was actually fun. The sound effects lured you in and the dramatic graphics and strong game play trapped you. I once told someone, "I've never seen anyone try this sim and not like it."
The most important thing I remember, however, was not the graphics, or sounds, it was the attention to detail the programmers demonstrated when they coded the game. Sim fans like to see the little things that give their passions authenticity. Anyone can say a bitmap is a jet, but when you know what one really sounds like and you hear it in the sim, you get an idea that the creators did a little research. This is the elusive "suspension of disbelief" all good programmers seek. The programmers at SSI went out of their way to make sure the little things (like the difference in the periscope height) were there to enhance the experience, and prolong the suspension of disbelief.
Well, I am very happy to report, SSI continues this attention to detail and finally gives the gamers what they want with the release of Patrol Disk#2. Aside from the usual bug kills (of which Silent Hunter never had many), the addition of 15 more scenarios and two patrol zones, SSI has crowned the final disk in the series with a powerful scenario editor.
While Patrol disk #1's big upgrade was the addition of the photo-recon and lifeguard missions, SHPD2's big feature is the Scenario Editor. The editor is powerful and easy to use. Runable from within the game or as a separate DOS or WIN95 application, the editor features an interface any SH fan would be familiar with. Using the icons and symbology from Silent Hunter Nav charts, the editor is easy to navigate and is intuitive.
Standard is the usually skimpy documentation found in add-on disks, but the scenario editor's familiar interface makes it easy to create a new scenario or edit an existing one with little or no instruction. Features such as time of day, sea conditions and date can be easily modified and even "previewed" with graphic windows depicting the modified parameters and most options are toggled on or off. Most selection items are fairly straight-forward and placing units on the map is fairly easy although I found navigation between dialog boxes and menu bars occasionally difficult.
The editor itself opens with a default patrol map in southern Japan. Your submarine is placed close to shore but, of course, you can change both items. A menu bar across the top allows you to the standard options of loading, saving etc. but a nice feature is that you can load existing historical scenarios (although they must be saved as custom missions) changing one or two conditions making for wonderful what-if situations. The menu bar also features a series of drop down selections to set up the static portions of the scenario (like weather, year, time of day, patrol zone, etc.).
The main dialog box remains open when you're not on the menu bar and this box controls all the dynamic features of the editor. From here you can choose your boat, the name, aircraft, type of mission and all the details of the enemy forces. Some of the details you may alter are, type of crew, whether they're alerted to your presence, speed, course, etc. Even the aircraft selection allows you to control such minutiae as bomb load and aircraft type (which is never mentioned in the game).
Despite the deep detail the editor can modify, it's done in a way which makes it very easy to get a real mission set up quickly and easily. A nice touch was the ability to save and run the edited scenario "on the fly". Another example of detail is the memory monitor on the main dialog box. If you're running 16MB of ram, the bar shows the amount of memory the scenario will use. There is a reason, however, because you can set up a scenario that can bog your system to a memory page fault (black screen of Death). Regardless, the editor provides enough feedback so that the user can quickly set up anything from an attack on a carrier group to a photo recon mission in Tokyo.
Now that the facts are out, it's time for the "meat and potatoes." In the past, many sim editors would treat factors like troop placement, experience, etc. as if they were attempting to solve the mysteries of the universe with highly esoteric mathematical formulae. SHPD2 avoids all this with the GUI. On the main screen, the "object" box or dialog box highlights the details of whatever object is selected in a graphic (read clear) fashion. When you begin creating a scenario, your sub is highlighted with a bright yellow box. Your sub is represented by a blue submarine icon. To start placing enemy targets, you simply click one of four object types located at the top of the object box. You can choose ship, aircraft photo and bomb mission.
Once you select a ship or aircraft you can set it's course much the way you can set your subs course in the sim. Speed, crew type, and even whether it's on alert or not is selectable in a descriptive manner rather than the usual hit points/strength tables/cryptic widget numbers that a lot of military sim editors use. While they look simplistic and might turn off the most serious of grognards, the editor allows the game and AI to handle the "simming" while the user changes the conditions. All in all, a refreshing way to edit a scenario for a military simulation.
As I mentioned, you can set any type of mission available in SH and you can virtually set any condition available in the game. You can even set up unrealistic scenario's by bypassing the historical rules. With this you can even have an S boat with PPI radar or a Gato class available in 1941. While network play is still ignored, the scenario editor allows the trading of scenarios among friends and frankly, even my site took off after I made it a "node" for user uploaded scenarios.
Overall, I rate this add-on a 4 out of 5. The easy to use editor alone makes this product a should have for the casual fan, and an absolutely gotta have for the SH junkie. The only thing I was disappointed in was the lack (again) of network play. Think of how good it would be to have you and a couple friends using wolfpack tactics. Considering the current street price of $15, If Silent Hunter is a favorite game destined to be on your hard drive a while, you can't afford NOT to have it.
SSI closes out the Silent Hunter series (?) with a bang by giving the gamer the tools to continue the fight and the freedom to be creative. The additional areas afford the "patrol" player new regions to hunt and new bases to hunt them from. The "scenario" gamer has a very powerful, easy to use editor at his disposal. While a game like Silent Hunter would've enjoyed a long shelf life because of it's already recognized quality, the addition of the Patrol Disk #2 and it's scenario editor in particular, has guaranteed it a place of honor among military simulations enthusiasts.
Check out the playable Demo
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Last Updated August 30th, 1997