Guest Author - James Shea
A hardcore submarine simulator with strict attention to realism, "Silent Hunter 5" presents a treat for dedicated historians and submarine fans, but an experience that may be overwhelming to most gamers. However, the inclusion of a highly variable difficulty system can curb this issue.
Silent Hunter 5 places the player in command of a German U-Boat during World War 2. Their missions range from disrupting enemy trade convoys to destroying enemy warships. However, one of the main concepts of the game is the idea that there is a "natural" world - friendly and enemy ships go along their business for the player to help or hinder as they see fit. Therefore, while the missions provide a general objective for the player, in actuality it's more like a sandbox game (but set in the ocean).
The game is controlled with a combination of map waypoints (to move the submarine), depth and speed settings, and periscope-based torpedo targeting. It's a fairly simple system once you get used to it, though on higher difficulty levels the presence of things like limited oxygen or batteries will make it more complex tactically. The game is seen mostly from the inside of the U-Boat the player captains. Moving through its belly, looking through a periscope, and climbing onto the deck all give a sense of enclosure, even claustrophobia, that actual submarine crews would have felt. However, the tight quarters also allow for intuitive use of different tools; you quickly locate where things like the periscope and map table are, and the whole submarine feels like an extension of the HUD.
One of the first things that's noticeable in the game is the attention to detail in depicting the environment. Not only are the ships fully rendered, even to the point of crew running around on the decks, but the game itself takes place in the cramped confines of the U-Boat. This sense of immersion is highly involved in making the game more of a "simulation" than a game. The technical details present help establish this: it's possible to measure out routes with a compass (as in, a mapping compass, not a north-pointing compass) to determine things like interception routes and so on. This isn't necessary for more casual players, but on harder difficulties it's a necessity. This is a neat aspect of the game: it's "unrealistic" on lower levels in a way that can be dealt with by players unfamiliar with submarine warfare. However, instead of being "dumbed down" like a lot of games, it just makes it so all the realistic parts are a higher difficulty level.
There were a few parts that were a bit buggy and frustrating. One DLC measure taken by the game is making your save games online rather than local. If you want to load a savegame, you have to be on the internet connected to their server. The game also crashed fairly often, and the long load times (due to the huge areas loaded) didn't help this. An in-game issue I had was that when you zoomed in and out on the map the coastline would shift slightly. This isn't a problem for plotting short-term trips, but the first campaign has you navigating past Denmark to reach the North Atlantic, and doing so always ends up getting me caught on a bit of coastline while going at high speed (which naturally sinks the ship). The navigation, essentially, works well on the open ocean, but isn't great for navigating tight areas.
Overall, SH5 is an intimidating, but interesting, game. It's not exactly a good game for casual players, but people interested in military history or more serious gaming fare might consider giving it a go. Its outside problems like the savegame issues and crashing are more distracting, however. 7/10.
Game Purchased Through Steam.