Silent Hunter 5: The Battle Of The Atlantic Review
When Silent Hunter 5: Battle Of The Atlantic first surfaced over a year ago, it was hard to guess how such a clunky vessel had managed to stay afloat under the weight of so many bugs and poor design decisions.
We would think that 18 months would have provided more than enough time to fix all the issues, but Ubisoft’s latest submarine simulator still feels like it was kicked out of dry dock before a few hundred rivets were sealed. It’s improved, no doubt, but not by much.
It’s a shame, really. Submarine sims – good or not – are only slightly more common than deserts in Indonesia, and Ubisoft’s previous entries exhibited a clear grasp of the satisfying intensity of submarine combat -an understanding you’ll find even here.
Indeed, improved water effects and textures mean that Silent Hunter has never looked better, and it’s hard to worry about the game’s shortcomings after you’ve just watched a tanker explode through your periscope.
Perhaps the problem is hubris. In an attempt to add a human edge to the title, you now play as the captain of a Type VII U-boat who spends long hours chatting with crewmembers to boost their morale.
It’s a nice touch, but it quickly gets old after you realize that you also need to bark out orders to each crewman in the heat of battle. On top of that, they’re a lifeless bunch. Even after you call for them to man their battle stations, they listlessly amble about like zombies.
The missions themselves feel somewhat like MMO fodder. Even though the story arc takes you from 1939 through 1943 and features some high points such as the invasion of Norway and a standoff with the Royal Navy, you might as well be killing 10 rats for a generic warrior’s guild.
A briefing before each mission provides a bit of background with a bunch of talk about patrol routes and warships, but you rarely get the sense that you’re doing anything more meaningful that trying to down more ships than the other guy.
And you can forget about the multiplayer mode making up for these shortcomings. Eighteen months and a disgruntled niche audience have left the servers as deserted as the North Atlantic on a winter midnight.
In theory, however, the gameplay itself is as exciting as ever. Decisions to surface and use the deck gun could mean the difference between survival and defeat, and the thrill of downing your latest prey is almost always counterbalanced with the knowledge that the Allies will send a few destroyers after you in retaliation.
It’s just that you’ll have to look elsewhere for clues on how to actually play since the pixelated PDF manual manages to say almost nothing useful in its 35 pages. As it is, you’d be better off heading to Birkenhead and asking the tour guides hanging around the U-534 how to operate one of these things.
Ordinarily, this would be a nice spot to utter a few encouraging words about how this could all go away with a hefty patch or two, but the fact remains that over a year has passed since Ubisoft last released a decent patch for Silent Hunter 5.
Even now, you’ll have to suffer through frequent AI collisions and crushing system demands. On the plus side, the game’s extensive modding community has transformed Silent Hunter 5 into the great game it always should have been over the intervening months, but you’d still be better off looking into Silent Hunter 3 or 4 if you want a fantastic submarine sim straight out of the box.