Average price (at review time): $20.00
No demo available
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild violence)
PEGI Rating: 7+ (violence)
Remember that these ratings refer to game content vs age suitability. Honestly I seriously doubt that 8 years old could master Silent Hunter 4 even if legally they can play it in Europe. If they can master it then they should go to genius school. So don't come complain if you buy that for your 10 years old son and that he throws it back at you after a day with a very bad look.
When I assumed command of the Pacific Fleet on 31 December 1941 our submarines were already operating against the enemy, the only units of the fleet that could come to grips with the Japanese for months to come. It was to the Submarine force that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
I have kind of a weird affection for submarine simulators, possibly because the first game I ever programmed myself back in the 80s was a submarine simulator. Since then I tested a lot of those featuring modern submarines (688i Hunter Killer, Dangerous Waters, both available on Steam here and there) and some featuring the old boats from WWII. In this specific area, you can't possibly beat the Silent Hunter series. In its latest incarnation (and despite some huge bugs in the early releases) Silent Hunter 4: Wolves Of The Pacific has all what it takes to please the aficionados of submarine warfare.
Why preferring the little diesel boats to the big nuclear ones? It's all a matter of taste. There's something about WWII submarine warfare that one just can't find anymore with all the technology we have today. Because of a number of factors a WWII submarine was much more like a hunter tracking her prey, a hunter that could easily become the prey if her skipper was not cautious enough or if the enemy developed an overwhelmingly good anti-sub defense (like the Kriegsmarine learned harshly from the British Navy from late 1942 through the end of the war, loosing almost a thousand boats during this period, most of the time with all hands).
In WWII and unlike popular beliefs, ships had a pretty good chance to elude a submarine when they had the luck to spot it before the attack occurs. They only needed to break their course regularly and to augment or decrease their speed from time to time to throw off all the targeting calculations that even the best submarine crew could make. Torpedoes back then were not guided but acted more like a bullet. You had to launch them so their course and the course of the targeted ship would meet at some point hoping that the target wouldn't suddenly change heading or speed before the torpedoes strike. What's more? Although submarines were sailing rather well on surface (sporting a fair 21 knots max speed) they were awfully slow underwater (8.5 to 9 Kts for American submarines, 7.5 to 8.5 Kts for German ones). The fact is that any ship was able to sail at least twice faster than a submarine underwater at max speed. Warships were even better equipped since they could go as high as 30 kts and over. And going full speed underwater was a bad idea anyway since the submarine could easily be spotted (by the enemy's hydrophones). So as a general rule, the speed during an attack run was more like 3 Kts. For all these reasons, the submariners’ task back then was a real hunt and not some video game. You didn't need the best submarine; you needed the best nerves, the best crew, the best tactics and a real taste for the sneaky side of things. When a submarine infiltrates an enemy task force to strike right in the middle... Think about an underwater version of Thief.
Unlike WWII subs where the only viable way to attack something was to look through the periscope at short range, modern subs are more like a battle fought behind computer screens, most of the time from a long range and no one ever sees the enemy. That's not to say that I don't like modern sub simulations but it's just not the same thing.
But before going further in the presentation of what Silent Hunter IV is, a word of warning must be given: you have to update SH4 to at least patch 1.4. It's not an advice, it's a requirement. The number of bugs that have been fixed between version 1.0 and version 1.4 is too huge to be listed here; it suffices to say that your experience won't be the same, both graphically and in gameplay.
Going back to the roots
Silent Hunter 4: Wolves Of The Pacific goes back to the roots of the series, the war in the Pacific (featured in Silent hunter I released for MS-DOS in 1996). Silent Hunter 2 and 3 for their part were dedicated to U-Boats and the Kriegsmarine side of things because the different types of boats, equipments and torpedoes used and developed by the Germans as well as the different tactics and equipments developed by the allies to fight against them was far more extended than what could be seen in the Pacific theater. So it seemed logical for developers to put the emphasis on the Kriegsmarine for a more extended gameplay.
Nevertheless, the Pacific campaign of SH4 offers another set of challenges to skippers willing to go through it. Rather than putting the emphasis on a particularly brilliant or overwhelming opposition (as a matter of fact, Japanese began to escort their own convoys only very late into the war as they hated to adopt a defensive doctrine) developers preferred to go for very specific missions augmenting in difficulty while the war is aging and that you're becoming better (the tonnage sunk by the skipper determines the overall difficulty of the missions to come in career mode).
Quick note: That doesn't mean that Ubisoft completely dropped the German side of things since an add-on to Silent Hunter 4 tilted Silent Hunter 4: U-Boat Missions is available for $9.95 (at review time) for download from Ubisoft -- warning: this is only for North America. European countries will be possibly served at their local retailers (for a higher pricing).
Career mode, war patrol or quick missions?
The game features three single-player game modes. Quick missions are based on historical events and one has to achieve specific conditions for a victory. The good side of Quick missions is that one never starts too far away from the target(s) so it's unlikely to have to loose hours of game time to find some. Quick missions also feature some objectives that are not present in the other modes because hard to put in place out of a specific arena (like rescuing pilots at sea). War patrols are focused on periods of the war rather than historical events and the orders received are more general; they're like mini campaign for those who don't wish to go for a full one.
But aside of these war patrols and quick missions, the goal of any skipper will be to undertake a full career. Career mode is much more like real war. The submarine quits the harbor, makes all the way to the patrol zone (which in itself takes several days of game time) and finding targets is as difficult as sinking them, sometimes even more (especially in the early stage of the war where surface search radar was an unknown thing). Then the sub has to return safely to the harbor at the end of the patrol (end which is left to the skipper discretion since it depends on torpedoes and/or fuel left).
When one starts a career one has the choice of the start year from the beginning of the war (the first patrol begins December 10th 1941) to the beginning of 1944. Then players may choose the submarine -- according to what was available at the period --, the crew, their starting "renown" points (points that are normally attributed for successfully completing an objective and sinking ships and that allows to get access earlier to better submarines and equipments) and the starting fleet (Pearl Harbor for the Pacific Fleet, different harbors from Manila to Australia for the Asiatic Fleet, depending on the period of the war). More importantly player will be able to set the game difficulty on which will depend the whole experience.
And finally, another big difference in career mode is that you will be judged according to your performances as a captain. If you're doing well, you will be granted access to the newest sub and weapons and more dangerous missions. However, you may very well be dismissed by the high command if you not prove yourself aggressive enough. Coming back from a mission without any ship sunk may not be a problem but if that happens too many times you might be shown the door which would of course puts an end to your career. Don't ask me how it feels though; that never happened to me.
|December 10, 1941 -- Leaving Pearl Harbor for the first war patrol (career mode)
Arcade or full sim?
Like all the games in the Silent Hunter series -- and most simulations in general --, SH4 comes with a fully customizable difficulty system were one can set the realism of the simulation from 0% (little realism) to 100% for all game modes. The difficulty settings don't feature anything regarding damages or the opposition encountered these ones remaining the same regardless of the realism set. There's no "god mode" in the game and you shouldn't need it even if you're a moderately good skipper (if not you'll probably sink at the beginning of the patrol while trying to get out of Pearl anyway).
Mainly, what can be set in the realism settings are things like unlimited fuel, unlimited oxygen, unlimited compressed air, unlimited batteries, reduced repair time, no dud torpedoes or whether you want the full manual control of the targeting or not. As you can imagine, all these parameters (and the bunch of others available) can greatly simplify things and alter the experience. With unlimited oxygen and unlimited batteries for example one is able to spend weeks underwater which is obviously not what the real subs did. If you set no dud torpedoes, all of your torpedoes will function accordingly to what was expected from them regardless of the history (a large part of the early US torpedoes were defective and a lot even hit their target without exploding -- it took several months before the high command accepted the fact that the problem was with the torpedoes and not with the crews). If you keep dud torpedoes, you may expect to miss a lot during the early stage of the war and that will be historically accurate. So like any skipper of WWII you'll also quickly learn to use the torpedoes in a way that offers reduced chances of failure. For example you'll set all your torpedoes exploders on "contact" rather than "influence" because "influence" just didn't work (it is based on the detection of the magnetic field generated by a big metallic object and the form and strength of this field depends on the location around the globe; the torpedoes were constructed in Norfolk and set up by guys who simply forgot that these weapons were going to be used in the Pacific). You'll also tend to set the torpedoes running depth lower than normal because there again there was a problem with the pressure sensor that made the torpedoes diving too deep and passing under their target.
Manual targeting: the professional thing
What alters the experience the most within the difficulty system is the choice between manual and automatic targeting. In automatic targeting (the easiest of the two) the computer will take care of all the trajectory calculations and just leave to the skipper the designation of a target, the positioning of the submarine relative to it, the proper settings of the torpedoes (speed, exploder type, depth...) and the moment of the launch. For even more friendly help, the computer even draw in the periscope view a little triangle with a color telling how good the firing solution is (green for very good, red for sure miss). The type, speed, range, heading and relative position of a target is accurately known as soon as it is visually spotted.
In manual targeting the venturous skipper thirsty for realism will be confronted to a whole new world, having to learn a bunch of new equipments to determine the type, the speed, the range the heading and the relative position of the target. Once these parameters (forming what in submarine warfare is called a firing solution) are known, they can be entered in the TDC (Torpedo Data Calculator) which can then be locked to "track" the target. The TDC updates the torpedoes ready to launch and remains accurate as long as the parameters are valid (which means that the skipper has to get them right in the first place and that the target must not change any of these parameters after the TDC was set). Acquiring a target and furthermore calculating a good firing solution while in manual mode is like the real thing an overwhelming task that can only be mastered with practice. In manual mode you'll quickly find that weather conditions are essential too because for just calculating the range of a target one has to know what kind of target it is and for that one has to be able to see it clearly enough in the periscope to identify it.
The most sensible change between using one mode or the other can be immediately seen in the results. In automatic mode, one has a good chance to hit a target from afar with a bad (but not foggy) weather while in manual mode it's already hard in a reasonably good weather at medium range (between 2000 and 3000 yards). In automatic mode it's not a daunting task to return from a patrol with a sunken tonnage above 50,000. In manual mode, if you come back from a patrol with anything between 5,000 and 10,000 tons, you'll be extremely happy of your performance (and the COMSUBPAC too).
Not enough submarines?
Silent Hunter IV is a historical simulation and as such you won't find there as many different types of submarines that what can be found in SH2 and 3 while playing on the Kriegsmarine side. Historically, the reason for that was very simple. Believe it or not, but US submarines (unlike US torpedoes as explained further below) were already almost perfectly suited to the job at hand at the very beginning of the war with the Salmon and the Tambor classes. Unlike German submarines, the US ones were not particularly fast divers and they could be spotted from farther because they were quite massive but in any other respect, they were better than the Type VII aligned by the Kriegsmarine at the beginning of the war, starting with their outstanding range of about 10,000 nautical miles perfectly suited for the Pacific coupled to their 24 torpedoes load.
So the enhancement brought to US submarines during the war and the differences between classes (from the early war Salmon class to the late war Balao class) were all in all rather subtle even though worthy. Range, surface and underwater speed between early and late war submarines were roughly equivalent. However, the 4 bow torpedo tubes and 4 stern tubes setup of the Salmon class was quickly abandoned in favor of a more useful 6 (bow) + 4 (aft) tubes setup. Other design enhancements were mainly aimed at addressing diving time and maximal depth as well as reducing the visual and radar detection chances while in surface or at periscope depth. As a matter of fact, the US Navy comfortably settled from 1943 to the end of the war with two main classes of submarines, the Gato class and the Balao class (although the first Gato was built in 1940 and the first Balao in 1942 both classes were commissioned in 1943) the design differences between the two being minimal (at least from a visual point of view). Mainly the Balao was able to dive deeper. These two classes formed the main bulk of the submarine fleet for the second half of the war with respectively 77 units (Gato) and 128 units built (Balao).
Ironically enough, the maximal number of submarines commissioned by the United State during the war never even approached the number of US submarines the Japanese claimed to have sunk at one point (about 430). The real number of US subs lost to Japanese was 10 times lower.
Additionally to the main classes used during the War, Silent Hunter 4 also offers you the possibility to take command of a real pre-war design, the S class. Although this class of submarine never really saw actual combat (their top 13 kts surface speed coupled to their very short range of about 3,400 nm did not give them any real value in long Pacific war patrols) they remained in service until 1943 for reconaissance and supply purposes as well as coastal defense. Some were transferred to the British Royal Navy. Nevertheless, you have the possibility to take command of one and to try to go against the odds and the Japanese fleet. Who knows what level of heroism you could achieve?
Torpedoes, the tools of the submarine warfare
A submarine without torpedoes isn't exactly in position to do any damage on a large scale to the enemy. One still has the possibility to attack ships with the deck gun but that poses a bunch of problems. First, the target ship(s) must not be escorted (it goes without saying that a submarine confronted to a destroyer on surface is dead meat), second, no plane must be present in the area and third, it's better when the ship that is attacked has no mean to defend herself -- most cargos in Silent Hunter IV, especially medium and large sized ones are equipped with at least 1 deck gun that can pose some problems. Nevertheless, you'll have the occasion to sink some ship with the deck gun which presents a couple of advantages to balance the inconveniences. First, since the sub is on surface, its speed easily overcomes the speed of most of the target(s) so there's no chance to see them escape and the second advantage is that targeting with a gun is much easier than with torpedoes which leaves no room for your target to avoid the incoming fire... if your aim is right.
In any case, the deck gun can only be regarded as a "sidearm", the one you'll use when you have no other option left. For the common work of the skipper at sea, torpedoes remain the best choice. These ones come in several flavors however much less diversified than what could be encountered on the German side. The pre-war torpedo MK10 is a short one with a rather short range and low speed but its size was fitting perfectly well in the racks and tubes of pre-war US submarine such as the S class. In fact, the game offers you the choice to jump directly right from the beginning of the game in a sub that has no use for the MK10s (so using a pre-war sub with pre-war torpedoes is just an option).
The MK14 is the only torpedo that was used from the beginning to the end of the war. It differed from other US torpedo models in that it could be switched to one of two running speeds, a slow one with a long range (31 kts/ 8,900 yd) and a fast one with a shorter range (46 kts/ 4,100 yd). In the early stage of the war, the MK14 was regarded by submariners as a real malediction. Due to a faulty exploder (Mark VI) and an equally faulty pressure sensor, a lot of MK 14s just refused to explode or missed their target. Submarine skippers soon found that the only way to have a good chance of a detonation was to fire the torpedo with a depth set to zero, an exploder set on impact and in a way that the torpedo would strike the hull at a 90° angle. Of course, all of these factors combined to the already complex firing solution calculation process made of the MK14 a torpedo much hated by everyone. These problems were definitely fixed much later during the war (autumn 1943) and the MK14 remained in service until the end of the war with an amazing success – considering its initial flaws – since the model was alone responsible for the destruction of more enemy shipping than all other weapons combined.
The MK 14 was complemented with another model, the MK23 which suppressed the slow speed and the long range setting, keeping only the fast speed/short range one while being at the same time more reliable than the MK14 (exploder and pressure sensor wise). The suppression of the “long run/slow speed” capability was a logical consequence of the first observations of skippers in battle. Attacking a target from as close as possible was the only way to increase the chances of a hit and a fast torpedo reduced the chances of seeing the target evading them (in short, it's impossible in the game for any ship -- except destroyers -- to avoid a fast torpedo launched at less than 1,000 yards).
Both of the above torpedoes suffered from the same problem though (a typical problem for that kind of torpedoes), they were propelled with a steam engine generating enough bubbles to create a trail on surface that when the sea was relatively flat and clear allowed targeted ships to track them incoming from a far and consequently give them enough time to attempt an evasive maneuver. Even worse, the trail could allow the escort ships (if any was there) to have at least a basic idea of the location of the firing platform (the submarine). It's the reason why the US Navy developed the MK18, a torpedo that was propelled with an electric engine (based on a German G7e torpedo captured a year earlier). Such torpedoes didn't generate any trail on surface. However, this stealthy ability did come at a price, both their range (3,600 yd) and even more their speed (29 kts) being greatly reduced compared to their steamy counterparts.
Much later in the war, the US Navy finally came with its masterpiece, the MK16 which was propelled with hydrazine peroxide. Leaving little trail on surface, it was reliable, possessed only one speed (the standard 46 kts) and even at this speed it has a tremendous range of 12,500 yards. This was a torpedo perfectly fitted to the end of the war while Japanese started to escort their convoys. Because of its range it could be launched outside of the escort screen, and because of its speed the chances of hit remained good enough.
During the war, the odd MK27 was also developed and made available in low quantity. It was the result of a conversion of the airplane launched MK 24 which was one of the first passive homing torpedoes created to hunt submarines. Although the MK 24 had some success in its task (15% of all the enemy submarines sunk from 1943 until the end of the war) because it was used against very slow targets (underwater subs didn't travel faster than 9 Kts -- at the notable exception of the German Type XXI which traveled faster underwater than surfaced but was used in only one patrol before the end of the war), the submarine launched Mark 27 was not what could have been expected. It was also an electric torpedo (hence stealthy) and was able to track a noise with a series of hydrophones placed in the head. The principle was similar to those of modern torpedoes (when used in passive mode) and that principle was to track the noise produced by the engines of the target ship. But to achieve a proper homing, the torpedo needed as less interfering noise as possible, including from its own engine which meant a reduced speed. however while equivalent German torpedoes were able to reach a 24 Kts (like the German G7es Zaunköning), the MK27 barely traveled at 12 kts which made it only suitable for very slow targets. Its range was not particularly bad (4500 yards) but considering the top speed, it could be regarded as a pure joke when used against cargos that could push their top speed to over 15 Kts if needed or warships that could hit 30 kts and beyond. The only historical use recorded of the MK27 in combat was the destruction of sampans (those were often used by Japanese to spot submarines and radio their position to destroyers and airplanes). Even though you'll encounter many sampans in the game, all in all you'll find very little use for the MK27.
Aside the details mentioned above, all those torpedoes (except for the relatively weak MK27) were equipped with a similar payload able to break even the most armored ship in two when correctly used (and with luck on your side – because to do that a correctly timed explosion was to occur right under the keel of the ship, which was particularly difficult to achieve). If you run a full career, you'll probably use the MK14 a lot in the first phase of the war because it was the only model issued, then you'll go with a mix of MK14 and MK23 and end up the war with the MK 16 as soon as it is made available. Like real skippers, you'll probably prefer to leave the MK27 and 18 aside -- both because of their inherent flaws.
Reloading... Where's the nearest gas station?
Pacific is vast with a lot of distance to cover just to go to your patrol zone and return to the safety of your harbor and even with a range of about 11,000 nm you may find difficult to get back to your home base after a tiresome patrol with the fuel left. Because of that, the US Navy put in place during the war some mobile "service stations" in some areas that were not too exposed to the enemy defense and yet sufficiently close to the patrols zones to be of some value. These "nursing zones" developed throughout the war following the advance of American forces in the conquest of the Pacific. These zones are guarded by one or two destroyers and harbor 2 submarine "tender" ships able to provide you with fuel and torpedoes which may, depending on the case, allow you to extend your patrol time or to get enough fuel to end your mission. What these ships can't and won't do is to provide any of the repairs that can only be made in docks.
Managing the crew
What makes the difference between a useless metal tube and perfect sea hunter? The crew, of course. As the captain you'll be responsible for some crew management although to a lesser extent that what could be seen in the previous Silent Hunter opuses where sometime the skipper spent more time managing the crew than fighting.
According to US Navy standards, the crew on the sub is spread over three shifts. One doesn't have to take care of that, the timing of the shifts is all managed by the computer (or if you want more realism... your second in command). Nevertheless it will be your job to make sure that the talents of everyone is the best employed. Each member of the crew has a rank and a set of abilities (some basics and some specials). In career mode these abilities evolve with the experience gained from missions and promotions (that you'll also be the one to grant). For example a seaman with a natural ability regarding electrical will be best trained when the moment has come in either torpedoes, engine or sonar/radar. It would be a waste to train him to be a gunner. In a similar way, it would be pretty dull to affect a gunner to the sonar/radar stations.
The experience gained by the crew from mission to mission directly affects operational capabilities. One soon finds that the submarine dives faster, that the tubes are reloaded more efficiently and that repairs are done in a decreased amount of time. Even more, the crew will get tired less easily.
If you keep members of your crew long enough with you, you may even find that some of them picked a special ability along the way. These special abilities are randomly given and make the difference between a pretty shark and a pretty shark with sharp teeth. Special abilities come in two flavors, local and general. Local abilities of crew members will only affect the shift they are in. General abilities will affect the whole sub. In these abilities one finds things like "reduced broken chance", "increased surface speed", "increased underwater speed", "increased torpedo speed" or "increased torpedo damage". The top most ability to pick is "fanaticism"; this ability ensure that the crew will perform over the call of duty whatever the circumstances are and that they will follow you to hell (which in the game is translated by a submarine performing at 110% instead of 100%). If you survive long enough to see one of your crew members picking this ability, you may consider yourself as a good skipper.
At any time the skipper has the possibility to call all hands to battle stations to ensure the submarine maximum efficiency. However this disrupts the shifts management and while battle stations are ordered nobody can rest and let even sleep. Battle stations are something that one may do in specific conditions like a battle or an emergency situation (needed repairs) but it's not something to be prolonged. Because the crew cannot rest, one may finally ends up with a crew so tired that the whole submarine operations are compromised (it can be as bad as finding oneself in enemy waters, on surface with no mean of propulsion because there's no one left to take care of the diesel engines and no one left to even handle the AA guns and that is the perfect definition of "being a sitting duck"). Of course even the worst situation will be solved with time but it may takes more than two hours of game time before some of the crew took enough rest to resume operations. So the call to battle stations is to be used but sparingly and appropriately.
Let's go faster... Much faster!
The Pacific is vast... and empty. We have here a problem that was not found in the Atlantic. The fact is that you can sail during weeks in the Pacific without even seeing a small sampan coming your way. To reduce the annoyance of having to wait (and because the game is a simulator and hence doesn't feature anything like a "jump to action" button), Silent Hunter IV like the previous opuses features time acceleration and unlike the previous opuses, this one is huge to compensate the dimension of the Pacific theater. It can be pushed to over 7000 times the normal speed although this is the kind of top speed that one only uses to return to base or to travel over long distances. You'll probably want to use time acceleration within a patrol area too but in this case you'll be happy with any setting between x1024 and x2048.
Some limiting factors are implemented though. While in 3D view the acceleration cannot go over 32 because of the game engine limitations. Furthermore, and because developers wouldn't want players to sink stupidly, the acceleration is automatically stopped or reduced in some conditions (stopped when an enemy is visually spotted, reduced to x8 when a ship is detected by the sonar or if a contact update -- if you have "no contact updates" disabled in the difficulty settings -- gives a ship in a location that you can reach for an attack so that you can decide if you want to try and attack her or not -- decision generally based on the enemy ship heading, speed, position and the time it will take you to catch up with her versus your fuel consumption; sometimes it's better to just let a target go and to bet on a later more favorable encounter).
Weather In The Pacific... Tasty!
As Silent Hunter IV features real day/night cycles, it also features real time weather. And if you think that the weather is always sunny in the Pacific just because you've spent your last vacations in Hawaii, think again. The Pacific is vast as I already stated and there's quite a difference between the weather near the coast of Australia and the weather near the coast of Japan for the same period of the year. Not to mention the unexpected and raging Pacific storms that may strike in the same amount of time that it takes to think about them.
So the weather in Silent Hunter IV is quite varied from absolutely sunny weather with no clouds, a little breeze and a perfectly flat sea to a real crappy stormy weather in which even the old seamen might puke, with rain everywhere and a fog so thick that the max visibility is a hundred yards at best -- which, no need to say, puts an effective end to your hopes to track and sink any target as long as it lasts. The good point: with this kind of weather enemy planes won't bother you either and enemy destroyers and sub chasers are relatively more shy than usual.
You may also have some weather with a huge fog, no rain and a relatively calm sea which is one of the most treacherous especially when you don't have any radar. Don't laugh, I found myself once on surface suddenly in the middle of an enemy convoy with a destroyer at less than 150 yards. Great times. Had to dive in an emergency, the destroyer dropped a few charges fortunately only managing to damage the deck gun and to cause some slight commotion to some crew men. Even more fortunately her captain decided that it was not worth the waste. And he was right since I couldn't attack anything with this fog anyway.
Planes and destroyer: the main threat
They are the main opponents in the game and can become a real nightmare in some conditions though they don't exactly pose the same problem. Planes will only attack if the submarine is surfaced or close to the surface (which means visible as a dark cigar underwater). Planes can be easily avoided by crash diving to a depth where they can't spot the submarine any longer. And since the submarine can be equipped with an air search radar at the very beginning of the war, the warning delay is long enough to dive without problem. However, planes can become a real threat if you're in a location where waters are shallow so you can't dive or not dive deep enough. When that happens the only thing is to rely on the sharp shooting ability of the guy you tasked with the handling of the AA gun... and hope that you chose the best. Chances of destroying an aircraft this way depend on the type of the aircraft and the type of AA guns the submarine is equipped with, as well as the ability of your gunners. Note that you can take manual control of any of your AA guns (and of the deck gun as well) any time you want though in the AA guns case, that might not be the best option -- if you chose the right guy for the job he will probably be much more accurate than you.
Destroyers and sub chasers are a whole different problem. Because they are ships they can remain on station for several days and because they are sub hunters they can pose a real threat having enough depth charges to ruin the day of any unconscious skipper. However, Japanese destroyers crews unlike British crews didn't have an especially good training and due to the limitations imposed by the Japanese doctrine, it was hard for them to actually even find something to attack. The credited number of US subs lost to Japanese defense was 42 (compared to the staggering almost 1000 German subs sunk by the allies). They were not especially good at protecting convoys either (for cultural reasons the Japan doctrine was to attack, not to defend and for some reason the Japanese naval command refused until very late into the war to consider that the best way to find a sub to attack was to escort a convoy).
Although the Japanese only started to protect convoys late in the war -- while the bulk of their merchant fleet had been already lost to US torpedoes, bombs and shells -- destroyers in Silent Hunter IV can be seen escorting convoys as soon as the early stage of the war, only to enhance the gameplay because attacking an unescorted bunch of merchants ships is not exactly a challenge.
There again, the common tactic of WWII can be used against destroyers. Aside some rare occurrences, it's just about useless to try to sink a destroyer, especially if this one is searching for you or is on an escort pattern. Destroyers are fast, maneuverable and they can easily avoid any torpedo coming their way if they spot it just 30 seconds before impact. When they are searching for a submarine or escorting a convoy, their search pattern make futile all attempts to draw a firing solution. A skipper will eventually have the occasion to sink some destroyers at some point but they are not a primary target and they are not even exactly worth the torpedo spent to sink one. From a submarine point of view, a destroyer is best avoided altogether. In fact, it's even the main point of the game.
One of the most difficult challenges you'll be confronted to in Silent Hunter IV is the attack of an enemy task force (which generally consists in a few main ships -- battleships and/or aircraft carriers -- a few cruisers and heavy cruisers for close protection, one or two support ships (tankers) and... an awful lot of destroyers (up to twelve). Of course, it's the destroyers that create the challenge here (plus the planes that are operating if you attack a carrier task force during the day). Aside the destroyers, none of the other ships has the capability to damage a submarine, unless it surfaces, which would be an idiotic decision. Job at hand: to infiltrate the defensive screen formed by the destroyers, to launch your torpedoes against your objective of choice (considering the reload time needed for your tubes you might have the choice to sink only one target) then to secretly evade, if possible.
The evasion part may be done without even being spotted by any of the destroyers. However, a newbie skipper or an unconscious one may very well put his boat, his crew and himself in a terrible mess. Sometimes luck doesn't help either. At one point during one of these attacks, I was illuminated at the same moment by 3 different destroyers when they turned on their active sonar after the first of my torpedoes exploded. Good luck for them and bad luck for me because they were in a good position to triangulate my exact location. That happens, even in simulation; call that the fortune of war. This is the only time I had to use a decoy in the entire campaign because in this occasion, depth charges were pouring down and way too close for my taste. Fortunately the decoy did its job allowing me to loose the destroyers in the sound mess generated. Eventually I got out of that one with barely a scratch but that was close.
To give you more room to evade your enemies, and for the first time in the Silent Hunter series, the game even features thermoclines. A thermocline (called in the game “thermo layer”) is a depth under the sea where the temperature suddenly changes (not a lot, just 1 or 2 degrees Celsius). Without entering in a lot of technical considerations (that those of you who already played games like 688i or Dangerous Waters already know) this change in temperature also modifies the sound propagation properties effectively creating a barrier between the submarine and any ship trying to detect her. The result if that the submarine becomes about 50% harder to detect. The problem with thermoclines is that their depth changes depending on your location and in some places you can’t even find any (particularly in waters not deep enough to offer one). Unlike modern subs that constantly know where the nearest thermocline is (launching a special buoy that slowly sink recording temperatures on its way down) in a WWII sub you’ll know you reach one only when your sonar station will report “Passing thermo-layer” because the sound they get from the ships on surface has been altered. Of course, that works both ways. Your submarine becomes much harder to detect, but the same goes for you regarding the enemy. Fortunately, warships generate much more noise than a submarine so you can still track them easily enough while at low speed with silence ordered on board, you are virtually invisible to them.
But there's more
If the hardened skipper wants another kind of challenge, he can always switch to the Pacific Fleet (Pearl Harbor) where he will probably be tasked at some point with mission to infiltrate a Japanese harbor for a recon. Shallow waters, destroyers patrolling narrow straits, sub chasers and gun boats all around not to mention the coastal artillery... everything to please those who search for some tense moments. If you're lucky, they will send you to a rather unimportant and poorly guarded harbor. Otherwise they will send you to Tokyo bay where you'll have the maximum chances to get your ass kicked, so to speak.
In Quick Missions, you'll have to face some more challenges that are not featured in career mode because they would have been difficult to implement in a campaign without scripting it (although it would have been nice to see those challenges ported to campaign). For example you may be tasked with life guard missions in which you'll have to rescue downed pilots in the heat of a battle, which was a part of submarines duty. In Quick Mission mode, featuring mainly history based scenarios, you'll have (among other things) to participate in the defense of Midway, to pull your submarine out of some shallow waters before enemy destroyers and plane put a bunch of hole in the hull or even to pursue the Yamato to sink it for good.
Bugs ironing: that was quite a job
No need to say it, Silent Hunter 4 on its first release was absolutely full of bugs plaguing just about every area of the game and fans had to wait for the 4th patch (version 1.4) to see most of them ironed out -- other patches had a tendency to remove some bugs and to create new ones, like the Surface Search Radar that was detecting everything including planes (which it wasn't supposed to get) in the first release, wasn't working anymore after the first patch and that was only working on 180° after the second one, forcing you to do a full circle with the sub to get a complete picture of your surroundings. Historically, that wouldn't have been inaccurate if the radar was on a German sub -- type VII U-Boats had a fixed radar antenna which could only see beyond the bow of the sub -- but American ones had a rotative antenna with a 360° detection capability so the constant radar bug was a bit ridiculous. The Air Search Radar (a bit of equipment vital for the sub survival) only started to work correctly with the second patch. Manual targeting also suffered from its share of problems -- different ones for the different patches.
Patch 1.4 solved these problems as well as many others and if one adds to that the numerous graphical fixes and enhancements added to SH4, version 1.4 has nothing to do with the first release. Stating that there is no bug left would be silly but at least there is no bug left threatening the player's experience. These are small things mainly cosmetic like diving planes getting stuck in some circumstances without any reason (that does not prevent normal diving operation, it just looks weird) or your crew that remains stuck in "shouting" mode after the submarine has been damaged and even if you are well out of any danger.
The only complain I have with the game is the end of the career mode which is a bit of a letdown. Here I was, not far from the coast of Japan on August 15th, 1945 and while I was expecting a radio message (like the one I received previously in May regarding the Germans) informing me that Japan surrendered, that ships sailing under the Japanese flag shouldn’t be attacked anymore unless if we were caught under fire and that I was ordered to return to my harbor (where hopefully I would receive the proper victory welcome) I just got a big splash screen stating that “The war is over.” and some subsequent splash screens giving me some details about the remaining of my career, how I finally became a well respected admiral before eventually writing my memoirs. To put it frankly, that was completely lame.
Graphic wise, the Silent Hunter series really reaches its best with this fourth opus. OK, the Crysis fanboys will come and say that "they suck" as usual if ever one of them dared to play something else than mister "Nomad". Nevertheless, and odd fans aside, Silent Hunter has never been looking so good. the ships, the sea, the weather effects... Only drawback the poor attention given to the landscape but well, considering that most of the time is passed in the middle of the ocean... who really cares? A particular attention was paid to the ocean, including ocean floor in shallow waters (algae, plankton, rocks... you name it). Silent Hunter 4 offers a variety of external views to explore the surroundings. Even the view of the sky with the constellations is accurate.
Regarding sound, you have the option to activate "Realistic Sound Propagation" which may slightly impact the frame rate but is pretty good for immersion and realism. For example, when one of your torpedoes strikes a target a thousand yards away, you see the explosion through the periscope but you only hear it rather accurately about 3 seconds later. With RSP turned off you get the explosion and the sound of the explosion at the same time which is of course not realistic at all.
As for the configuration needed to run the beast, with all the bells and whistles in a resolution of 1280x1024 you'll need a computer able to run Crysis (there again) in medium quality). With that your framerate should be at worst around 40 fps when you're on the bridge in a full storm (those storms are some real frame rate killers). Otherwise expect around 60-70 fps and even well above 200 when you work on the map (or in any view that isn't 3D).
As a matter of conclusion
Silent Hunter IV, regardless its initial flaws (even more numerous and plaguing than the MK14 ones) proves once patched to be the best WWII submarine simulation currently existing. Not only has it done for me a perfect job as a game and a simulator but also in conveying a little of the experience of submariners who fought during World War II and that is the least one can expect from a “historical” simulator.
Most of the submarines lost during WWII (all nations included) were never recovered. For a lot, no one even knows where and in which circumstances they were actually lost. Battles under the sea had nothing to do with others. Most of the time there was no S.O.S., no clear indication when a submarine met her final fate. As far as the US Navy went during WWII, the standard procedure for submarines was to send a message if time permitted before engaging the enemy. After that, if no other communication was received, the sub command just considered that the radio could have been damaged in battle so they waited for the submarine to appear in an allied harbor. If the submarine still didn’t show after 15 days she was then considered overdue from patrol and presumed lost or in more casual terms “MIA”. Sometimes submarines didn’t even have the time to send any message before engaging the enemy –- some of them because they just had the misfortune to hit a mine -- leaving command with no clue as to their last known location.
Silent Hunter IV is one of those rare games that can be considered not only as a game but as a memory tribute to those men who put their lives on the line at a moment where their country needed them the most. Right after Pearl Harbor, the submarine fleet was about all that was left of the US Pacific Fleet to oppose the enemy and they did their job beyond the call of duty with appropriate ships but inappropriate weapons buying enough time to allow the US Navy to regroup and to rebuild the fleet before the big payback.
Silent Hunter IV: Wolves Of The Pacific deserves this special place on the hard drive of any WWII submarine warfare enthusiast especially now that it has been properly patched. The final score of this review (as well as the award going with it) is obviously based on the patch 1.4 for the game otherwise and in all honesty, the score would have been much lower so fundamentally plaguing the previous bugs were.
|The best WWII submarine warfare simulation available at the time of this review
A real attention paid to historical details even though some trade-off were made to accommodate the gameplay possibilities
Gameplay options are flexible enough to allow both seasoned and new simmers to enjoy a great experience
A real teaching center about the Pacific side of the war and submarines in general
|A few bugs remaining after the last update, most of them fortunately just cosmetic and not hampering the gameplay
Some little things missing, like the possibility to call to battle stations with a single keystroke instead of having to use the mouse
The last dive of the USS Lagarto (one story among many others):
During my time spent playing the simulated war of Silent Hunter IV, It came to my attention that the USS Lagarto (SS-371), a Balao class submarine lost in May 1945 somewhere in the China Sea was discovered by scuba divers in may 2005 about 60 years after her last dive. Until this discovery, the only speculations the US Navy could make as for the fate of the Lagarto were based on Japanese radio archives. Rather concise, they stated that a Japanese destroyer bearing the name of Hatsutaka that was escorting a convoy made an attack on a submerged submarine on May 3rd. Although the coordinates were given, there was no mention if the attack was successful or not.
The USS Baya, another Balao class submarine that was supposed to attack the convoy at the same time than the Lagarto also heard the explosion of some depth charges afar. After the attack the Baya tried to establish radio contact with the Lagarto for several hours but received no answer. It’s safe to assume that the Lagarto already had radio problems before the attack since the Baya already tried to contact her several time before the attack occurred, there again, with no answer.
Based on the Japanese archives and the Baya report, the US Navy assumed that the Lagarto was lost to depth charges during the Hatsutaka attack. It was only 60 years later however that this assumption could be confirmed. The scuba divers found the wreck of the Lagarto at about 75 meters and during their first observations, they found a large rupture on the port bow area tending to confirm that a depth charge was the cause of the sinking.
This was the second and last war patrol for the Lagarto which was commissioned on January 1945 after initial training.
In 2006, US Navy divers made the trip themselves to assess that the wreck found was indeed the Lagarto. The Lagarto was then declared a “war grave”. Her exact position remains only known by the US Navy and the divers who initially discovered the wreck. Any attempt to enter the hull is prohibited. However, the two initial discoverers are still allowed to dive on the Lagarto at the request of the families to try to gather as much information as possible.
At the time of this review, the USS Lagarto is the last submarine lost during WWII to have been discovered. Most of the submarines that have known a similar fate will never be found just because they were sunk in locations without any reference or because they were sunk in waters too deep.