Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific is an excellent addition to the Silent Hunter franchise. In terms of graphics and controls, submarine warfare has never been as realistic as it is in this simulation from Ubisoft. In SH3, you commanded a German U-Boat in the Atlantic, but in Silent Hunter 4, you are an American submarine captain sailing the Pacific Ocean and battling the fierce Japanese naval forces during World War II.
In SH4, you can choose to play the lengthy career mode, jump into the action with standalone missions or seek out the enemy in war patrol mode. The career mode will eat up a large chunk of your free time as you plot courses across the Pacific to enemy territory, meticulously calculating your every move to remain stealthy while getting the job done. You must complete several missions and tours in your choice of several historical submarine classes, from the quick and stealthy to the large and powerful.
Many areas of the vessel give you total control over what happens on your sub; the periscope allows you to view what's happening above without having to expose yourself, the navigation chart allows you to chart out your path and when you're surfaced, you can access the anti-aircraft gun, conning tower and the long-range cannon.
If you're looking for fast-paced action, SH4 may not be the best choice, since most of your time will be spent navigating the seas and watching instruments. When you do find a ship, you'll rarely be close enough to engage, and unless you're at the surface, you'll be outrun. If you feel like seeking out trouble, many ships can be found along the ocean's realistically charted shipping lanes. Your best bet for action in SH4 is in the standalone missions, which place you at the edge of large convoys of ships that are eager to be sunk by your torpedoes — or to sink you.
You're not the only person on the submarine, since the vessel can't be operated without the right crew. It also won't run as well if the crewmembers aren't in the correct places, so you can assign different men to various stations based on their abilities, the tasks and your operation style. Micromanagers, rejoice! You will often find yourself changing around your crew when you need to achieve different goals, such as damage control, faster reloading times and increased speed. It seems like you never have quite enough crewmen.
If you prefer to pretend you're actually in the submarine, then you can play from the interior view, where the instruments sport gorgeous details and the crewmates are well animated. If you prefer a third-person view, you'll be able to see the action, the breathtaking water and the stunningly detailed ships. With all of the controls at your fingertips, you can play however you like, for as long as you like and, best of all, with as much action as you can possibly endure.
The AI in SH4 isn't exactly the best; at times, it seems like enemy vessels have no idea what to do, so they'll just sail along as they're being attacked. At other times, it seems like they know exactly where you are, even when you're running silently below the ocean's surface. You often appear successful in sneaking past the guard boats but end up blown out of the water by a depth charge just as you're about to fire at your target. Talk about frustrating.
Time Compression is a great new feature that makes navigation a lot less painful. As you sail the ocean blue, time is mostly realistic, so instead of having to sit at your computer for months on end while you sail from the U.S. to Japan, you can speed up, or compress, time up to several thousand times the normal speed. Have no fear — you won't get blown up if you compress time on the surface; if a ship is spotted, be it hostile or neutral, time will go back to normal and you'll be asked what you'd like to do. Sometimes, this can be great and save your hide just as you're about to pass an enemy, but other times, this can be tedious when it stops you for every passing transport.
While SH4 claims to have a dynamic campaign, there are some points that could use improvement. Once in a while, you'll pass an enemy convoy leaving an American-owned port; how strange is that? Is there something top secret going on there that the developers know about, yet no one else does? Or perhaps the system is flawed. It's most likely the latter.
Visually, SH4 has taken an enormous leap, and all of the new effects and eye candy add to the realism. The graphics are marvelous, and the animation of the water is just flawless, even when you're peering down the sights of your periscope. When it initially emerges from the water, your view is distorted as the water cascades off. Explosions are breathtakingly gorgeous, although they may be a bit taxing on the frame rate for some systems. The most impressive graphics are evidenced when you follow a sinking ship or plane down to the bottom of the ocean, with air bubbles floating past the camera along the way.
Sound is another phenomenal aspect of the game, but why wouldn't it be? Submarines rely on sound for everything! As you sink deeper into the waters of the Pacific, you can hear your hull creaking as the ocean tries to break into the ship. When you get damaged, you can hear water spraying in, and when you're running in stealth mode, you can hear the eerie whispers of your crew as they all try to be silent. The title's musical accompaniment is simply magnificent.
Online play in SH4 is quite fun. You can play over the Internet with up to three other submariners or over LAN with up to seven others. Cooperative gameplay is great. It's comforting to know that you have a buddy watching your back to make sure those pesky guard ships stay off you while you silently dodge in between them to get to the target. You don't have to worry so much about having a depth charge blow up in your face right as your press the "Launch Torpedo" button, but it also leads to a bit of competition. What's wrong with that? If you're not much into teamwork, you can opt to play in Adversarial mode, where one player takes control of Japanese ships while the other commands American submarines. It's great to be on the other side, for a change!
If you don't have Internet or you want to play out-of-the-box, you're going to face some stability issues. Crashes are frequent without the large patch that was issued not long after shipping. SH4 is playable without the patch, but be sure to save often, since there's nothing more frustrating than spending an hour tracking a target just to have the game crash on you as you're about to strike!
All in all, Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific is a great addition to the Silent Hunter series and is sure to please fans of the previous versions. While there are a few stability issues, it's nothing that can't be fixed, and the gorgeous effects of the game outweigh the small bugs.
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