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March 2005

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This chapter is from the book

Silent Hunter III: Return of a Classic

Genre: Hardcore Sub Sim Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Platform: PC Metacritic Metascore: 90

Silent Hunter III is the perfect submarine simulation. It’s intricately detailed, accurate, and yet very accessible. It’s a game for grognards, but it’s still something that the masses can enjoy, which is a real trick to pull off.

Set during World War II, you play the role of a German U-boat commander. Usually sub sims are fairly sterile, but there’s a definite human element to this game; it’s not just a number crunch of data and dials. You’re surrounded by real crew members, and not just voices as in most other sub games. They need rest and they need to be at the right place at the right time. Silent Hunter III allows you to feel like you’re actually inside a cramped U-boat and not on the submarine version of the Flying Dutchman.

The star of the show is the new dynamic campaign. Your career, if you survive, lasts the entire war and you’ll see the waters of the Atlantic change with the times as well. New tech is introduced, and your crew will gain vital experience to deal with the Allied sub killers. The mission layout is also totally open ended; you’re given a patrol grid and basic objectives, but who you attack and when is left up to you. As a result, the game’s replay value is through the roof.

Silent Hunter (1996)

In the late ‘80s and through the 1990s, SSI was known for its hardline strategy games (as well as being the licensed publisher of D&D games). In 1996, SSI published the Aeon Electronic Entertainment–developed title, Silent Hunter. In the original, you played an U.S. Navy sub commander in the Pacific, battling it out against the Japanese Navy. Even back in ‘96, the idea of an open-ended mission structure was extremely appealing. You simply went into shipping lanes and tried to take out enemy vessels.

Silent Hunter II (2001)

Five years after the original, Silent Hunter II set sail from Ubisoft. Problems plagued the game’s development, so much so that original developer Aeon Electronic Entertainment left the project late in the process and it was finished by a company called Ultimation.

The idea is a lot like that of Silent Hunter III: You play a German U-boat commander during World War II. The problem was that the AI was flat-out busted and the single-player campaign was linear and nothing at all like the original’s open-ended structure. Toss in unreliable multiplayer gameplay and you had a game that was a huge disappointment for sub fans.

Usually when a game that appeals to a very distinct group of gamers fails as bad as this one the series dies off quickly. Thankfully, Ubisoft stepped back up to the plate and snagged a new internal development team to create Silent Hunter III—the game Silent Hunter II should have been, but with better graphics.

Grognard is a term that defines a crusty old wargamer who values realism and authenticity over every other game design feature. They tend to be exceptionally difficult to please.

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