Twin U-Boots? Silent Hunter II and Aces of the Deep

by Jim "Bismarck" Cobb

Article Type: Comparison
Article Date: January 15, 2002


The Titles

  • Title: Aces of the Deep (Command Version)
    Designer: Mike Jones
    Publisher: Sierra
    Released: 1994, 1995

Memories, light the corners of my mind

Nostalgia can be dangerous for gamers. They think back to old favorites and those games take on a golden hue. The comfort of play and excitement of victory is remembered while frustrations and flaws are forgotten. When a new game on the same subject comes along, gamers hold it up to the standard of the old plus expectations resulting simply from new technology. If the new product doesnít provide even more enjoyment than the old, criticism falls like confetti on New Yearís.

Isnít this good? Wonít new always be better than old? Must progress be always marked off in relative measure? Maybe; maybe not. Two games on the U-Boot war provide an excellent opportunity to gauge the meaningfulness of comparisons. Both Aces of the Deep (using the Command Windows version) and Silent Hunter II pit German submarine skippers against the Allied navies in World War II. A facet-by-facet look at both should cut through the mist of memory to show if newer is better. In the piece, the mods of Silent Hunter II will not be taken into account as no mods were done for the older game. This fact alone is a comment on how the hobby has changed over the years.



Graphics

Without doubt, Silent Hunter II does a far better job with ship modeling, instrument detail and animation. Although, with the advances of the last seven years, this could be expected, the designers did do a very creditable job with modern tools. Aces of the Deep, however, is superior in one aspect of graphics as it throws in some scenes that create an atmosphere not found in Silent Hunter II. In port, the captain goes to a nightclub to hear rumors. A band and a crowd send the boat out and welcomes it back. At sea, pictures of grizzled sailors accompany their messages. The camaraderie of a U-Boat is re-created here.

This shot of the engine meters in red light shows Silenthunter IIís graphical sophistication.



The torpedo loadout section of Aces of the Deep is a bit crude.



The UZO brings the convoy on the horizon up close in Silent Hunter II.



This is the Aces of the Deep periscope view



A night on the town takes the edge off in Aces of the Deep.

Sound

Again, Silent Hunter II does a much better job with technical sound. The engines sound more powerful and explosions are louder. The grinds and creaks of going deep are truly frightening. Both games have good voice acting in two languages. Again, though, Aces of the Deep provides an element of atmosphere missing in the newer product: music. The gramophone was an important part of U-Boot life and engages the player during those long patrols. Games seem warmer with all those tunes.



Interface

The two games diverge significantly here. Both use hot keys, menus and graphics to switch stations and give orders. Silent Hunter II, however, keeps the same menu bar at each station. The Control Screen follows the player from station to station, allowing quick access to commands. This feature simulates the captainís ability to shout or use a microphone.

The heart of Aces of the Deep is the control room. Major stations are accessed by going up ladders, through hatches and clicking on instruments like the periscope and chart table. New menu bars appear at each station. Again, the feeling of moving in a sub exists but at the costs of extra clicks, a cost that could be critical in a tight situation. When a destroyer has caught a sub on the surface, the captain wants to dive as soon as possible instead of going through a two or three-click tree.

The heart of Aces of the Deep is the control room from where other stations can be reached,

Realism

This topic is as touchy as a North Sea minefield. Both development teams have gone to great lengths to get the details right. They used the same sources and even the same former U-Boot commander, Erich Topp. Some discrepancies stand out, however.

Silent Hunter II puts the maximum range of early war torpedoes at 2000 m while Aces of the Deep puts it at 1000 m. Allied warships in Silent Hunter II seem to have supernatural powers early in the war, spotting subs at extremely long range and dispatching them easily. By the same token, Silent Hunter IIís torpedo control functions, both automatic and manual, are far more sophisticated than the older gameís. The new game also has more speed options. Aces of the Deepís plot table is slightly ďgameyĒ as it shows the targetsí visual ranges and relative speed by wake length. Ubisoftís product is slightly more realistic.

Experts have found problems with the physics of both models. The subs are all too maneuverable, allowing wild last-minute gyrations while lining up a shot. Both games have a fairly unrealistic but very useful target indicators that purists find revolting but players need. Damage models differ a bit but slamming enough high explosive into an enemy erases most differences. Both AIís could learn from the real life counter-parts but are adequate. Suffice it to say that both games are realistic enough for everybody but the experts who are busy cranking out corrections anyway.

This Allied ship is about to have a close encounter with Germanyís finest in Aces of the Deep.



A freighter turns turtle in a dramatic Silent Hunter II shot.



An allied freight is broken by the deck gun in Aces of the Deep.



A freighter steams along just before the deck gun in Silenthunter II speaks,

Gameplay

This topic separates the action gamers from the historians. Gameplay in single missions is very similar in both games. The player starts near the target and stalks it until a nice setup for a torpedo run is achieved. The rest of the game becomes one of twisting evasion. Both products do a good job with this.

One notable difference is that Silent Hunter II allows the player to shoot the anti-aircraft gun while this action is automatic in Aces of the Deep. (This writer always dives when aircraft are about anyway so this point is academic for him). Aces of the Deep automatically lowers the periscope when itís not in use while Silent Hunter II requires the player to manually lower it. A sub skipper would never leave the Ďscope up so the new game penalizes new players, perhaps unnecessary.

With the mission editors being almost identical, the honors are even in this category of play.

Campaigns are a different matter entirely. Silent Hunter IIís campaigns are a string of scripted missions. The orders are the same; the enemy acts the same; the chart even shows the spot where the U-Boot should lurk. The player doesnít use the initiative sub commanders were noted for. Instead, players tackle tactical problems until they get them right. The problems themselves are nice enough but, after first exposure, the element of surprise is lacking.

On the other hand, Aces of the Deepís campaigns are dynamic; each and every one a different combination of goals and circumstances. The High Command gives you a boat and initial set of coordinates. As the player cruises for targets of opportunity, new targets and orders are received. The player returns only when heís low on fuel or ammo. He is rewarded for finding his own tonnage instead of being forced fed it. This system not only simulates history better but provides unlimited replay.

,The mission map of Aces of the Deep shows the radii of air patrols and the plots of the most recent convoy sightings.



The plot in Silenthunter II shows more about the sub but less about the environs.



Plotting a route in Silenthunter II is done without benefit of patrol routes, convoys or shoal depths.

Apples and Apples

Both of these games are sub sims and both capture the tension of underwater engagement in a fine manner. Silent Hunter II may reward players with better graphics and may be ever-so-slightly more realistic. Yet, Aces of the Deep tenders the same gripping feeling of a torpedo run. More importantly, this older product adds a feel for being in a sub, not just clicking the buttons of a sim. Its campaign system allows the player to balance available fuel and ammunition against the benefits of searching one more grid as opposed to following a recipe.

Silent Hunter II is technically a superb game and will only get better with patches and mods. It remains, however, analytically cold as compared to the warm experience of Aces of the Deep. Itís nice to know that nostalgia can be accurate and that all those old games may well be the pinnacle of a genre. Newer may well be better in some areas but it is not always the best.



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