by Jim "Twitch" Tittle
Article Type: Review
Article Date: November 26, 2001
Game Title: Silent Hunter II
Category: Naval Combat
Publisher: SSI / Ubi Soft
Release Date: Released
Files / Links: Click Here
Setup & InventoryThe release version of Ubisoft’s Silent Hunter II (SH2) took about six minutes to etch its 879 MB program onto my hard drive. With the full version one can view the eight video interviews with U-boat Captain Erich Topp. Included on the CD are the Quick Time viewer and Direct X 8.0 to make a smooth installation. If you choose to install the more compact version the program requires about 100 MB less space.
Resolution can vary from 640 X 480 16- and 32-bit to 800 X 600 16- and 32-bit. At the maximum 800 X 600 32-bit video rendering most systems should not see their perfomanced taxed too seriously. Sound configuration channels vary too and you can adjust all the ingredient levels: master volume, effects, voice, and music. If you want, you can translate the crew’s comments in English or leave it in German for more flavor.
Ubisoft’s best performance requires a PII 600 MHz, 128 MB RAM 3D video card of 32 MB, Direct Sound compliant audio and an 8X CD-ROM run on Windows 95/98 or ME. The 266 MHz and 64 MB RAM listed as minimum seems a bit fragile to me though in this type of simulation it might barely do the job.
|Instruments are the same on all boats |
The vehicle array is superb:
Beyond all that the cargo vessels vary greatly. They are not categorized exclusively by country but are somewhat generic though with accurate modeling. There are two smaller, slow cargo tubs and three faster ones. Two different oil tankers appear and the two passenger ships vary from standard to troop ship configurations. In all, nine distinct profiles of freighters will cut across your horizon.
- Submarines: Germany (16) England (1) US (2) France (2) Netherlands (1)
- Patrol: Germany (2) Italy (2)
- Destroyers: Germany (4) England (8) US (14) France (2) Italy (2) Netherlands (2)
- Destroyer Escorts: Germany (3) England (5) US (8)
- Lt. Cruisers: Germany (3) England (5) US (4) France (1) Italy (3) Netherlands (3)
- Cruisers: Germany (3) England (3) US (6)
- Carriers: England (2) US (2)
- Escort Carriers: England (2) US (2)
- Battle Cruisers: Germany (1) England (1)
- Battleships: Germany (2) England (2) US (4) France (1)
- Minesweepers: France (1)
- Fighters: Germany (1) England (2) US (1)
- Bombers: Germany (1) England (1) US (3)
- Torpedo: Germany (1) England (1) US (1)
- Dive Bombers: Germany (1) US (2)
I felt the “toy list” above necessary to illustrate the fact that Ubisoft took pains to create a plethora of accurate nautical vessels to interact with. While some types are visually similar within their variants most are distinctively different. So you get 140 boats, ships and planes! You can view all of them from any angle or varying height and distance as you read the specifications of each vessel or plane, which include type, year launched, dimensions, displacement, speed, range, weapons and a brief background.
As with earlier preview versions of SH2 the sim loads very fast and the missions do too. There is no finger drumming at all. Everything is mouse and key controlled with most controls and views having that dual ability. They aren’t changeable but I found and used them without problems. For example, you can shoot torpedoes using the key command, go to the torpedo room and “punch” the firing button or use the pop-up control interface while on the bridge or peering through the periscope.
All boat functions can be controlled via pop-ups from the ships' command locations. There are up to a dozen functional stations around the vessel depending on type of boat and whether you’re surfaced or submerged. My only minor complaint was the fact that my mouse travel slows down when in the sim making for longer movements to click on things. Keystrokes mirror all of the mouse and icon maneuvers if you prefer.
|Torpedo rooms differ on types of boat |
Since the simulation is not graphically intense like a flight sim with its constantly changing ground terrain, SH2 is comfortably immerse-able in your submersible. I found no hesitation or wait-to-map as I moved about with the detail set on maximum. This is something modest machines can handle.
MissionsYou will learn your boat and weapons handling basics with three simple training missions, you'll also find eight more standard historical set ups to choose from. But that’s just the beginning since you can customize missions to an infinite degree. Three mission types can be chosen: convoy, warship, and enemy submarines. The era can be early, middle or late war. Your patrol area can be the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Sea, Eastern U.S., Caribbean, Mediterranean or Indian Ocean.
Weather is supposed to vary from clear, high clouds, overcast, rainsqualls, fog or storm. Time of day is adjustable from dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk and night. You can choose small, medium or large forces to encounter. If there are cargo vessels you can toggle for escorts or not. The opening position of your boat can be ahead, abeam, or behind. If that’s not enough there are fifty different, historically accurate insignia to paint on your conning tower plus the ability to import your own!
There are three levels of difficulty and within each you can toggle a large number of critical areas like limited ammo and fuel, dud torpedoes, limited batteries, periscope and external visibility, and depth. Real reload time can be on or off. You can turn off the ability to run aground, have real sailing or not, and limit your target info.
|The MG/light cannon in action on heeling enemy |
As you begin a 1939 campaign you start missions in a spiffy office with the mission overview and a case to display your medals. Beware if you choose very simple vulnerability realism that you will probably not be awarded any. Besides that, if you are invulnerable you will not get to hear the swell sound of water rushing into your steel coffin when you are damaged. You will commence the war in a Type IIA and progress to newer boats as they become historically available to the IIB, IIC, IID, VIIB, VIIC, VIIC/41, IXA, IXB, IXC, IXC/40, IXD-2 and XXI. These four basic types, II VII, IX and XXI, look the same externally within their variants. At least by 1940 you’ll have a VIIC that can dive deep if you have enough ocean under you.
At any time in the mission you can hit the escape key to see your missions goals and how you are progressing. Once you have accomplished the primary amount of the mission there are secondary goals if you wish. Once finished with a mission you can end it in mid-ocean or navigate back to homeport. During a campaign past missions are listed with your cumulative warship and merchant tonnage for view.
The missions are generally accurate historically putting you in a possible situation in the proper geographic setting in the proper boat against the proper enemy vessels and planes. Difficulty will increase as the Alllies pinch off the early days of U-boat freewheeling activities. You can expect more air attacks and more accurate bombing of your boat as the war progresses for a small feel of how the real U-boat men felt forever hunted. You’ll encounter more warships with more accurate detection and depth charging too.
|Best view you'll see of air attacker |
Your weapons will be better as time unfolds with seven torpedo variations and more deck AA weapons. When deck guns are put on later boats you will have the ability to finish off stricken freighters with an 88 or 105 mm gun. By the time you progress to a Type XXI the deck gun is gone but you’ll have six forward tubes to shoot with very good torpedoes. The snorkel will appear with later U-boats making for accurate diesel operation while submerged though speed is limited.
The map is just great. It zooms in and out and you can select other segments of it to view similarly. The inset control for all this can be moved about the screen if it gets in your way. The map has the port names designated that the earlier versions did not making easier navigating. It is quite easy to lay out waypoints for your boat to travel to. This works well and they are adjustable as the scenario progresses. It helps in interception.
Navigating around the map is assisted with up to 2,048 times normal speed so you don’t have to actually spend a month on a mission. It may sound too fast but the world’s oceans are huge. When you are near land or other ships it is restricted to 32X. It you wanted to see the sun come up and missed it just go to 2,048X and you’ll soon see it again. I found that if you are using realistic fuel consumption you will have to reduce speed to stretch it out and reach home port; at times though, it is possible to request re-supply at sea.
|A VIIC at periscope depth |
For those of us with long backgrounds in aircraft sims it takes a while to realize that at real-time speed things don’t happen fast like air combat. I kept hurrying to line up ships that, in reality, I had plenty of time to do. Literally you can spot a convoy and get a cup of coffee before moving in. At four knots things happen slower with the exception of some later air attacks. Of course a seaman would be getting the captain’s coffee for you.
My earlier complaint about night missions has literally thrown some light on the subject with a better ability to see the bow of you boat in the dark. This is important to guide your virtual sub to those targets in night surface attacks.
Periscope and deck optical views are not like looking at photographs of the victim ships in port and shouldn’t be. They are indistinct at long ranges but will show many details even at night when close. You’ve seen historical film and photos taken through periscopes. The sim’s views are good in this respect. Night views are adequate to function. Compared to real life night optical viewing the sim probably is better.
|Same view with optics |
But…The crewmen report damage and control movements but the crew voiceovers are generally good only as far as the Captain and one other. Even in English they sound good using German accents but there is still a cheap one that calls out periscope up/down that was recorded at a different sound level by someone not even attempting a fake German accent in English and a flat English accent when the German is on. It lacks richness and sounds as though it were dubbed in later.
At least the early version with the smarmy wise guy voice is gone. But it will bug you to move the scope up or down. Since it travels in small levels and with each click on the lever to pump it up, the flat, obvious American voice repeats the movement “up periscope” or “down periscope” with each increment.
|Dawn convoy- every submariners dream |
I am disappointed that ocean water appears the same color no matter what ocean you are in. I was hoping this would be rectified and felt it was important. For other than the map, there is no distinction as to where you are. There are some hills visible though the land is not pretty. The dock area details are good but not spectacular. Concrete sub pens have appeared in the final version as they should. I wanted to dock my boat when returning from patrol but it automatically stops just short of the pen’s entrance. There are no sailors whittling with their pocket knives or humans of any kind if that’s what you expected. I still would have liked to see enemy seamen on the decks of damaged ships scurrying about but I can live without them. With the level of graphics technology today I believe we should have seen more and better detail in these area of the SH2 “world.”
The ports all look the same. There is no distinction form New York or Bermuda’s docks. At great risk I sailed into New York Harbor to a land scene that appeared like the 19th Century. There were buildings with smoke stacks and docks but no other buildings on the barren landscape. My sailors had earned some R&R so we sailed for Bermuda and the green blob landmasses looked like New York with the smaller islands generally featured about in the locations indicated on the charts. Some will say this is a sea borne simulation and that is not pertinent. True enough, but it could have been a nice touch. Most of the time you’re looking at gauges and instruments which are detailed enough to use.
When stricken, enemy ships will produce secondary explosions and do finally roll over to head down to Davy Jones’ Locker at least. There is no complex and varied break-up that I’ve seen. You can only leisurely view the merchant ships' final agony if they are unescorted otherwise you’d better dive and let the hydrophone operator hear the breakup and report to you.
|A tanker flames at dusk |
All the features of the boats’ interiors are the same but quite efficient and detailed enough. There is just not a lot to see beyond the main controls. There’s no virtual movement through the boat. There is a Captain’s cabin but nothing much to do or see there except look at the date on the calendar and read the accumulation of radio messages. On the bridges the views are accurate as to the boat type and you can use the mouse or arrow keys to look all around plus up and down. This carries over to the optic devices and guns. You can see anywhere you need to. A good deal of the time you are realistically looking at indistinct enemy objects in poor light conditions or over long distances.
I awaited the weather feature that was not functioning before and is very weak in the final version. Clear is fine. High clouds show some wispy white. Overcast shows a gray world with limited visibility. Fog looks much the same, however. Rainsqualls occasionally produced a couple of dark clouds in the sky but I never saw rain modeled. Sometimes it was the same as clear weather!? Storm was a non-event. The sky was overcast/foggy and the seas were not much higher than any other time and there was no storm sky at all. It did seem to produce a good deal of bow pitch as the boat plowed through the waves. And there were no ice flows in winter in the northern waters.
Documentation describes quite varied ingredients like snow and rain. They don’t work on custom missions when you set them up. Since I have yet to finish the full campaign I may not have run into all there is. Also described are variants of terrain none of which I’ve seen. Plain English log files read that rain did not load when the sim was set up and I found totally blank (white) .TGA files for them. There are a couple of water color variations in the file system but they never appeared in the sim. I looked at the recently reviewed Commandos 2 and recall superb rain and snow effects second to none. On the other hand all of the battle pyrotechnics are pretty good looking with nice .TGAs.
|Freighter view from bridge |
Fun? Yes. Eye Candy? No.Overall Silent Hunter II does go a long way to honor the combatants in the U-boat war. Watch the Erich Topp videos and get into the sim and you will feel some of it but never have to get wet. But beware. Everything in the visual area is not as good as it could be. The barren land texture, ports and lack of water color variation coupled with the lousy weather modeling is a turn off. Will you get some fun out of Silent Hunter II? Yes, but don’t expect the underwater equivalent of the flight sim graphics quality of Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator 2 or 1C: Maddox Game's IL-2 Sturmovik.
For a bit more about the real U-boats see “Steel Caskets” in the COMBATSIM.COM archives and follow the links to some of the good web sites like U-Boat.net.
Review System Specs
- Mobo: ASUS A7V133
- RAM: 256MB PC–133
- CPU: Athlon T-Bird 1.3GhZ
- Sound: SoundBlaster PCI 128 w/Yamaha YST-M7 speakers
- Video: nVidia GeForce 2 Ultra
- OS: Windows ME, Direct X 8.0
- Display: 17” Envision monitor .28 dpi
- CDROM: Samsung 52X CD drive
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