Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific Review

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I’m going to be blunt. Development studios have got to stop releasing unfinished products just so they can meet their release date. Ubisoft have released an unfinished product here and just days after release, they had a patch ready to go that still didn’t sort the problems. Ubisoft were obviously not prepared to wait for another month so the development team could get this patch into the release version and Ubisoft have released what in my opinion is a beta product not in any way ready for release. Before playing Silent Hunter 4 you must install the 1.1 patch or it is not worth buying (even with the 1.1 patch it is not a more immersive and comprehensive simulator than Silent Hunter 3 was), this review is of the 1.1 version.

Installation

…takes forever! I realise there are probably a lot of compressed textures on that DVD but, my god! The only thing I have ever known be more scary was opening the Monkey Island II box to see 11 (e-l-e-v-e-n) floppy disks inside it… You are treated to a few nice screens from the sim during the installation though, which is nice. I decided not to install “GameShadow” as although it probably is the best way to ensure the sim stays up-to-date, I am expecting Silent Hunter 4 may get just as many community made modifications as Silent Hunter 3 did, in which case, I don’t want my installation broken because GameShadow decided to update the sim for me.

Menus/User Interface/Settings/Graphics

When you first run the sim of course the first thing you see is the intro sequence which, to be honest, seems weird. It is very artistic and I love that the Silent Hunter 3 and 4 titles had good enough graphics to have the intro video produced from them, but it still seems weird. Maybe it’s the voice of the person reading the poetry? You can see the intro sequence (which remember, is all in-sim graphics) below…

sh4_mainmenu.jpgOne thing that really annoys me lately are loading times (58 seconds on my machine between the intro sequence and the main menu). Why is it that this sim decided to show me an intro sequence, THEN load what it needs to display the main menu to me? Why can’t a low priority pre-load kick in during the intro sequence? Sure, after the first few times you see it, that intro sequence is going to get skipped, but it’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Na, I guess I’m being silly, nobody will watch the intro more than once…

The first place I went to (and any other player should go to) is the options screen. You are able to modify sound, graphics and gameplay options there. My resolution wasn’t properly implemented so I had to go and switch for a widescreen resolution in the graphics menu, other than that the default settings seem pretty good but below you can see what I set my options to to test the sim.

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sh4-survivor.jpgThe museum is normally the section on the menu I would use to setup my graphics but the problem I had with how I setup the menus was that, it looked crap. Right from the off, Silent Hunter 4 was less graphically impressive than Silent Hunter 3 and was so dark by default that for the first time ever with this laptop, I needed to adjust gamma settings! After sorting out my options and finally getting SH4 looking any good whatsoever, I took a look around the available models in the museum. I was surprised to see that there are things in the museum that don’t work (did this make it past the beta testers?) such as “survivors”. Along with that slight problem, the menu system for the museum is extremely annoying and completely lacks even a pinch of user friendly design.

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sh4-subschool1.jpgIt was while running the submarine school that I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated at Silent Hunter 4 again as you are taken throught he familiar guides as seen in Silent Hunter 3 of navigation, defense (flak and anti-aircraft guns), torpedo attack and of course a full convoy attack. The school was great, but my main frustrations came from the graphics settings I had to sort out before I could complete any tasks… How can it be that Silent Hunter 3 simply installs and runs – and runs perfect, yet Silent Hunter 4 requires a massive amount of work on my part playing with settings before I finally settle on something that frankly doesn’t look as good as Silent Hunter 3 to me? Why is it that the best resolution textures look washed out? Why is it that the game looks better to me with less features turned on?

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sh4-2007-03-22-15-03-13-69.jpgMoving into the career section, I setup my profile and obviously want an easy ride first time around, so I give myself 5000 renown… If only I had known how little time that would actually last me! I started off based at Pearl Harbor and after a little movie giving some background on the progress of the war, I was put forward into “the office.”

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sh4-2007-03-22-15-08-55-22.jpgJust like in Silent Hunter 3, the office is your base of operations, you click on the submarine on the desk to fit your sub’ with new equipment, you click the picture of your crew to dismiss/promote etc. It is fairly straightforward except now, different to Silent Hunter 3, this section is huge. Obviously in the two years between 1939 and 1941, submarining progressed a long way, because the American’s had much more arms at their disposal than the German’s did in ’39 (when Silent Hunter 3 begins). The crew section alone is where I spent all of my 5000 starting renown (renown is a figure awarded to you based on performance and you “buy” crew and upgrades with it). Before the mission begins you are once again given some background on your mission, which as you can see, can be very different to the missions available in Silent Hunter 3. I do like also that with some missions you are given the choice of whether you want to start inside or outside the harbour.

Now at this point I should say that, if you have a legal copy of the sim and would like to use a cd crack (a replacement “exe” file that allows you to not have to use your DVD and keep it safe), don’t do. When you use a cracked exe, the copy protection causes some very strange bugs that Ubisoft say they will not correct. Here are some shots I took of the crew while trying a cracked exe:

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At first the User Interface in the submarine can be a little confusing and doesn’t seem too friendly, but after some time you do get used to it and the layout I now prefer over Silent Hunter 3. What I don’t understand is why the User Interface is full of bugs and has a really huge lack of features, especially when (once again) Silent Hunter 3 made them available. For example, if you want to raise the periscope a little, you can’t do it from the menu, you have to use Pg Up and Pg Dn, when you accelerate to the maximum time on the map, the figure of acceleration leaps out of it’s placement box and onto the map! These are little bugs that show me that either the beta test team was too small, or the developer was rushed…

Command Room:

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Map, Periscope, Radar, Sonar:

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Bridge:

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Deck Gun, Flak Gun:

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Weather:

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Submarine Management, External Camera:

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Running a mission in a career is one of the most wonderful things about the Silent Hunter series. If you manage to get immersed into the sim and keep up with when things happen it’s also extremely educational. I found myself learning the Pacific area map fairly quickly and that’s great because I frankly had no idea where things were. I also found myself taking note of what happened, and when, because it’s obviously an excellent lesson on World War II.

Before each mission you get your briefing and choice of start location. After that, you’re placed in your Submarine.

With Silent Hunter 4, there are a number of new things, but it is essentially the same as Silent Hunter 3 in terms of gameplay. First thing I noticed on leaving port was the anchor icon at the top right, which allows you to auto dock at the base closest to you (you can’t do the trick you did with SH3 where you’d be able to dock while in enemy waters anymore, you have to sail all the way home too!) First thing you have to do is set your route, then you can sit back and relax…

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When you are at your location and on “hunt”, that’s when things really get interesting. There is a series of screenshots below of a ship sinking, a new addition to Silent Hunter 4 is “survivors”, although it doesn’t work for me yet (in version 1.0 or 1.1), you can rescue them if you want. Shortly before the ship explodes, the moving figures on the deck of the ship actually fall over and die… I laughed when I first saw it! Also, there is visible 3D damage, in a shot below you can see a huge hole in the side of the ship…

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The survivors are not just coming from the ships, they also come from the air. In the screenshots below you can see that an ejected pilot floats in the water waiting for rescue…

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So there you have it. Silent Hunter 4 is SH3 with a lot of added features and obviously a different theatre of war. While it is extremely enjoyable to play, it is extremely hurtful to see it all dissapear when the sim crashes back to the desktop and you had forgotten to save it. It is a better sim than Silent Hunter 3 but right now you cannot see the pretty graphics through the fog of frustration…

Issues

The simulation really doesn’t like to be alt-tabbed (minimised). It crashes very, very often and I find this troubling because Silent Hunter 3 didn’t have that problem. Once when I tried to minimise the graphics options menu after taking a screenshot, the entire system locked up the instant I pressed the Alt key. Upon reboot my system couldn’t even detect my external USB Creative Soundblaster Live! (which was a bit of a concern). I had to unplug the device, plug it back in and then reinstall the drivers… I often minimise things and it’ll be difficult to remember not to do it here. I assume the bug here is with my soundcard but it’s astonishing this wasn’t picked up on in beta testing. With the 1.1 patch you also crash out of the game by pressing “A” and sometimes the sim crashes when you have done nothing wrong at all.

sh4_resolutionproblem.jpgBy default the simulation does not recognise that I have a widescreen monitor and proudly sets resolution of 1024x768px, 4:3 on my 1920x1200px, 16:10 (or 8:5 as it is in the sims graphics menu) resolution monitor. This can be changed but it’s certainly a little weird that it isn’t put on an 8:5 ratio when it is able to detect you have an 8:5 ratio monitor. The really strange thing is that reading the Ubisoft forums I found that the game was designed and built around a resolution of 1024×768, just like Silent Hunter 3 was… When you change the resolution above 1024×768, only the User Interface changes, the sim simply “stretches”… With Silent Hunter 3 you had no option of higher resolutions and there was a reason: The sim looks worse at higher resolutions, not better, and it is the same with Silent Hunter 4 – so why give us the option?!

Final Thoughts

A bug ridden piece of software at the moment that lacks any improvement over Silent Hunter 3 except some new mission types and better graphics (if you are able to configure them properly). The saving grace is that Ubisoft’s Silent Hunter team have a great track record for fixing bugs with their patches and they will most likely get it right in the end, the problem is that I don’t think I should be doing their beta testing for them and pay for the product too. My advice is to enjoy Silent Hunter 3 until the bug reports die down… But if you do decide to go ahead and buy Silent Hunter 4, set the resolution to 1024×768 and save the game regularly because if you don’t, you may just lose it over, and over, and over again…

Running Silent Hunter 4 on a Dell XPS Gen 2/M170:

1. Set your desktop resolution to a 4:3 ratio, such as 1024x768px (*not needed for window mode).
2. Ensure desktop scaling is enabled (if it is, you will see black bars at the left and right side, *not needed for window mode).
3. Run Silent Hunter 4 and setup the graphics options as follows:
      Resolution: 1024x768px (the sim is built to use this resolution)
      Ship 3D Damage: Full
      Character Detail: Full
      Particles Density: Full
      Terrain Objects Density: Full
      Terrain Objects LOD Size: Full
      Gamma: Just right of half way
      Window Mode: Either, but On is more stable (see steps 1 and 2 above also)
      Post Process Filters: Either, whichever you like more
      Full Scene Glare: On
      Light Shafts: On
      Environmental Effects: Off (system can’t handle it)
      3D Ship Wakes: On
      Detailed Wave Ripples: On
      Ship Normal Maps: On
      Ship Caustic Effects: On
      Texture Quality High: On

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Gaming Category Information

I began my gaming journey via the family Commodore Vic-20, then later with my own C-64 and Amiga A600. These systems kept my attention until I moved up to PCs around the Windows MS-DOS Pre-Windows 95 era, which means I never really got into the console gaming market in a big way.

My parents spent a significant amount of time sharing my early gaming experiences, and this really helped foster my interests. I discovered racing games and space games for the first time, and those are still my main genres of interest to this day.

These days I use gaming to try to escape from the pressures of real life. I also occasionally upload or stream gameplay to YouTube and Twitch, and rather than doing this to instruct others of the best way to play, I do it because of the social interaction with viewers and other gamers.

Left: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition (a remaster of the original Amiga and PC-DOS classic).

 
 
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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.