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Silent Hunter II
By Jim "Twitch" Tittle

Article Type: Preview
Article Date: October 23, 2001

Silent Hunter II Preview Part I

New and Improved

We received this improved version of Silent Hunter II to take for a test spin and found a little more to report on. The big improvement is the functionality of the deck guns. Though they don’t work yet on the campaign mission, and there is only one such mission, they do work fine in single missions.

Install and loading of the sim was, as before, smooth and quick. I felt comfortable with 94 percent realism, which only was a change to “unrealistic” short torpedo reload times and more target data. Of course you can wimp out and lower any realism setting to make it ridiculously easy. With all sound and visual settings “full ahead” on 800 X 600 with 32-bit color depth, all appeared as on the first preview. This setting shouldn’t tax any system.

Though no suggested stats have come from Ubisoft yet, I’d say a minimum 4-6X CD ROM, PII 450-600 or equivalent CPU with 64MB RAM minimum but 128MB better and a good 16MB video accelerator with 32MB better, would be quite adequate. There are no quick, massive graphics changes for the program to deal with like unfolding ground terrain and a sky full of planes in a combat flight sim.

I saw no improvement in terrain detail in either the land or water. There is no discernable variation from the North Atlantic water to the Caribbean or Mediterranean. All the land still appears as a light olive green with no details. And, as yet, there are no weather variables to discuss though they are forthcoming and can be adjusted in setups for single missions. All the visuals from the U-boat seem the same though this version lost its ability to use the external view key to see how cool you look from afar.

Vehicle Views & Map

All vehicles can be viewed singly with zoom and attitude controls to move them around for infinite point-of-views. Accompanying specifications tell pertinent details about the ship or plane viewed. It’s a neat feature.

Bridge of type XXI with ship ID popup on right

Some improvement has been made in external views of some ships that weren’t as well drawn before if I recall correctly. It may be wishful thinking but they look better. All the aircraft are illustrated though they are not of flight sim quality but don’t need to be, for the U-boat skipper will never see them from any angle except below. Some look better than others and some canopy glass is silvery opaque. This doesn’t detract from the vessels that do look great.

So far no ports are designated on the maps so returning home is a little tough. Navigation, on the other hand, is top notch and very easy to learn. You can easily use the mouse to plot waypoints and the boat automatically goes to the next waypoint. This is handy for intercepts while on the map screen so as to make an intercept line to a target. If you put a waypoint past the target your boat will generally cross paths with enemy vessels. You can dynamically adjust the waypoint on the fly if the enemy changes course.

Map icons show allied vessels and planes plus enemy, neutral and unknown ones using color differences and varying symbols. You can zoom in and out and scan segments you are not currently in.

The map is accurate to modern-day known measurements from satellite mapped geologic surveys so you can be assured that your cruises will be correct to the relative distances involved. The final illustrations comparative to actual location in this pre-release version were off only in that I was accidentally able to cruise over some land mass by the map’s reckoning as I returned to Wilhelmshaven. My short cut was soon cut short when I ran aground. Certainly this is a temporary fault. But truly you can do anything with the map.

No matter what screen you are in if you approach an enemy your crew will alert you from a sonar or visual contact. If you are on the bridge you can invoke inset screens of the various places on the boat. You can call up the torpedo control panel or control room instruments in smaller but readable scale while you peer over the bow at the horizon.

Guns & Torpedos!

All the torpedo firing and running is easy to get into though run times seem long when you’re pumped up for a kill. The 88 or 105 mm main deck gun was functioning in some of the single missions. I found it very accurate. Hits appear on the enemy target as a flash though no dynamic damage is apparent. No pieces flying off or mangled metal result from hits. I hit freighters out to 1,200 yards. It is a nice realism feature to be able to finish off damaged ships with it. The muzzle and hit flashes at night are great.

View from deck gun at dawn shows 5% damage at 1,248 meters distance

MG on Type IX at moment of firing

The machine guns work now but are pretty much worthless. Pulling up alongside a cargo vessel like a traffic cop and firing from very close range does nothing. Allegedly ballistics and gravity relating to range and speed are working but I found strangeness. Point of impact according to point of aim is right on in some instances but aiming up a click makes no difference. Going up just a couple more positions to hit, say, the stack of a freighter gives you a way-over-the-top trajectory as you watch the tracer miss by a great margin. There is a disparity in small degrees of aim points.

As stated, the MGs are worthless. Unless they put crewmen on the otherwise naked decks or explosive deck cargo, you can forget them unless you want to shoot at planes. I’d rather dive or let the AI crew use them. If a later boat type has multiple gun stations you can man any of them.

The AI crew will man and fire all of the deck guns while you stay busy as skipper. You can command them to blow ballast, crash dive, go to periscope depth, surface, rig for silent running (1/3 ahead is max), rig for red (nighttime red lighting) and abandon ship besides the man the gun orders.

We discussed that there are seven torpedo types as to time period and type of boat in our first preview. Accompanying specifications are thus:
  • T-I (G7a): an early war, straight running steam torpedo with a maximum range of 12,500 meters

  • T-II (G7e): electric version of T-I with no propulsion wake and 5,000-meter range

  • T-III (G7e): same as T-II but more reliable detonator

  • T-I FaT-I (G7a): runs pre-set patterns out to 12,500 meters

  • T-III FaT-II (G7e): runs patterns but range is 5,000 meters

  • T-IIIa FaT-II (G7e): is a pattern runner with 7,500-meter range

  • T-V (G7es): the late war acoustical torpedo with 5,700 meter range.

All these fish run the correct speeds of their non-virtual counterparts from 24 to 40 knots with most traveling about 30 knots.

Torpedo firing can be automatic or manual. On automatic you’ll probably get hits. On manual you must use your sensing apparatus to dial in target speed, course and range relative to your sub. I had mixed results with it but is something that allows more realism if you want to master it. Either way you can watch the torpedo’s run progress on the instruments. A neat vessel ID panel assists in identifying ships and gives their speed and angle off the bow for shooting.

Mission Variety

There should be no complaints about variety of setup parameters for single missions. If you get tired of a campaign you can create and run a mission. They give some experience before entering a campaign too. You can set the time of day—dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk and night. Of course the sun, moon and stars all move through the virtual sky accurately according to passage of time. There are historical missions with no setup changes by player possible too.

Details of IXC/40 U-69 during custom mission setup

You can toggle small, medium, or large forces to meet during Early (1939-1941), Middle (1942-1943) and Late (1944-1945) periods. They can be un-escorted convoys or warship groups with light cruiser, heavy cruisers or battleships. Your U-boat can be Types, IIA, IIB, IIC, IID, VIIB, VIIC, VIIC/41, IXA, IXB, IXC and XXI. There are four other types in game, not playable. Your area of patrol can be North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Eastern U.S. Caribbean, Indian Ocean, North Sea and the South Atlantic in case you want to plan a post war escape to Argentina. All the U-boats have the correct number and layout of tubes. Subs with aft tubes can use them on ships off their stern.

Torpedo hit at 450 meters shows

Later boats have surface scan radar sets but I never got it functioning well enough to tell if it is worthwhile. The AI crew did though. It will have a 15,000-meter range for aircraft and see ships 7,500 meters away. The sonar station is interactive as well but I just never got much out of it to really help me. Again, the AI crew seems to use it well.

The forthcoming weather fronts should really make the sim with clear, calm water and cloudless sky, calm seas and high clouds, (this shows up nice in the vehicle viewer section but not yet in the sim) heavier seas, overcast skies, rain cells with lesser visibility and heavier seas, fog in heavy seas with lessened vision, and full blown storms with very heavy seas.

Of course each U-boat has its performance drawn from the real life counterpart so speed, dive depth, and all operations are accurate accompanied by all the creaks and groans of the superstructure as you maneuver about underwater. Later boats have functional snorkels too. And yes, you can go below crush depth and damage the boats.

Any damage incurred will be repaired over time by your crew if it is not fatal. You can direct labor to primary damage that will be repaired sooner.

A very welcome feature is the ability to change to any one of dozens of insignia on your U-boat’s conning tower taken from real boats. You can import and use a custom insignia in .TGA format of proper dimensions also.

Night view towards bow on Type IXB!?

I almost think it’s unfair to a forthcoming product to review the preview versions at times. Things don’t function yet and we hope they will integrate well, but aren’t certain. So far the U-boats maneuver and shoot well. All the ambient sounds are there. There are enough toggles to change difficulty and realism, like torpedo firing. The choices for mission environments are excellent. The campaign promises to be good and you might win some medals.

The too-dark-to-see-the-bow view from the bridge at night is still bad. Even in a very dark room it is barely visible. I’d like to see the U-boat at least bathed in a dark blue night-simulated light in views from the bridge. All other deck stations are illuminated in the red night light, which subs used to acclimate crewmen’s eyes to night vision above deck.

Overall graphic detail is adequate but not intricate. I think that’s probably OK most of the time since there just isn’t often a lot to see. I look forward to the weather and enhanced shoreline detail though. The bleak-looking, flat, featureless coastline and water off Germany is the same as when you’re off Cuba. In this respect many combat simmers will be disappointed if you can’t see the New York skyline or tropical vegetation and topography at appropriate locales. With all that said, Silent Hunter II should probably be a good change of pace from other forms of combat simulation.

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Review System Specs:
  • ASUS A7V133 mother board with 256MB PC –133 RAM
  • Athlon T-Bird 1.2GhZ CPU
  • SoundBlaster PCI 128 w/Yamaha YST-M7 speakers
  • nVidia GeForce 2 Ultra 64MB
  • Windows ME
  • Direct X 8.0
  • 17” monitor 28 dpi
  • Samsung 52X CD drive