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I've been a PC gamer for a long time - since the early 90's, so I don't mind patch-hunts and troubleshooting to get a game working. I've spent hours tweaking DOSBox options to get old DOS games working on my current machine. And usually, I'm successful. Well, not really this time, and this is a brand-new game. Despite some notable strengths, I have just about run out of patience trying to get into Silent Hunter V: Battle of the Atlantic, a new submarine-simulation game for Windows. There are simply too many other great games to play out there.
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Serious Technical Issues
Before I get into any of the gameplay details, I need to go on a few technical rants. The game is extremely crashy, even with version 1.2. About 50% of the time, right after you select a mission to play, it crashes to desktop. The load times are simply unacceptable - there is no reason why I should have to wait 10 - 15 minutes between the time I double-click the icon on my desktop and the time I actually get to start playing. This is a problem not entirely unique to SH5, but it's unacceptable nonetheless. Developers need to start actually factoring in load-times when they're creating their assets - they add up, fast.
The framerate sucks, too. I started it out on the normal recommended settings (although I'm not sure if this game detects hardware or not) and it was totally un-playable. On the lowest settings, it runs playably for the most part, but sometimes gets chunky. Basically, it is not a very well optimised game, and developers - this matters. It feels like crap to walk around with a chunky framerate and wait 5 minutes through load times, it just makes a person not want to play your game.
I also have to mention the DRM, which there was a huge uproar over. This really is adding insult to injury for a lot of players, as you now need a constant internet connection to play the game at all. If Ubisoft's servers ever go down, you will not be able to play the game. Fortunately, crackers have created cracks to solve this issue, but not everyone will know how to find those, and they're sort of a pain to deal with.
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The presentation is decent. I appreciate that the opening cutscene wasn't too long and involved, it was pretty simple, although the writing does leave a lot to be desired ("If this is all just a game, it's the strangest game EVER!"). Another note to the developers: Don't zoom in for close up shots on your "realistic", style-less goldeneye-heads. It just doesn't look good - none of you are good enough at 3D modeling and animation to sell the eye on a close-up shot.
The music is for the most part, generic and forgettable, but it does set the correct tone for the game. The sounds are about on-par with the music, although I do wish there was a bit more in the way of NPC chatter (this is always a problem with voiced-over NPCs in games).
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As for the game itself, it definitely does show some promise, if you can actually get to it. The combat is a lot of fun - it forces you to think a few moves ahead and really plan stuff out. Unlike so many games these days, Silent Hunter is not a game that rewards you for going in guns blazing and spamming the buttons. You have to be careful and sneak up, and this is really the core mechanic of the game. It's almost close to a stealth action game in that way, but much slower, heavier, and deeper. It's particularly fun to sneak in and blow the hell out of a bunch of defenseless cargo ships and sneak right back out - ninjas may in fact make good submarine captains.
Be warned: there's a definite learning curve to the game, which is not helped by the fact that there isn't much help from a manual or a tutorial. If you're coming at it new to the series (like I was), you'll need a decent amount of patience to really sink in. One you do, though, there's lots of fun to be had.
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The actual quality of the graphics is very nice (although again, I'd probably trade some of that niceness for a few frames-per-second). Often, water tends to look like what I call "programmer water", but in this game it looks pretty natural and gives good feedback from explosions and mighty vessels moving through it. They also did a good job of making the interior of the submarine feel like it's been lived in - little nicknacks here and there, littered around help it feel like human beings have actually been there. Overall the graphic quality of the game is great - just so long as you have a major powerhouse of a PC. Would get 5 stars if it was a bit better optimised.
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The sounds are mostly par for the course, although I do wish there was a bit more in the way of NPC chatter (this is always a problem with voiced-over NPCs in games). On the other hand, a really important thing for an underwater game is making stuff sound like it's actually taking place underwater - with this, they did a good job. Really, nothing to write home about either way, though. The music is for the most part, generic and forgettable, but it does set the correct tone for the game. It's militaristic, and thankfully, has some semblance of a melody here and there. It might have been nice to hear some WW2 era licensed music coming from little stereos from time to time inside the sub, like we do in Fallout 3.
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I haven't played the other Silent Hunter games, so I can't compare this one to those. From what I've heard, some are unhappy with the new UI changes, saying that they are oversimplified. I can definitely see where this is coming from but if you're coming into the series for the first time, I don't really think you'll notice. I think the interface is decent, I didn't really have complaints with it, considering that it's a deep simulation type game. The argument can definitely be made that a simulation game's UI doesn't really need as much finessing and boiling down as a normal computer game's does - its goal is "accuracy", not necessarily usability. Its job is to accurately portray the way that a submarine captain operates his vessel.
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The Sad Conclusion
There's a multiplayer mode to this game, but I had huge trouble getting it working at all, and when I did, I wasn't able to find or connect to any games, so I can't tell you if it's any good. I can only imagine how buggy the game must have been when it came out, if the current version, 1.2, is this bad. Furthermore - and this might be the very worst screwup of all - the developer created two patches in the first two months after the game released, and has since abandoned it. This is a shameful, stupid, and wasteful way to treat software that people slaved away on for so long. If they had kept patching it all this time, this would probably have been a thumbs-up review.
If you're a submarine aficionado, then you'll probably want to check out Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic (assuming you've already played the others, which from all accounts are better games and are what you should play instead). Otherwise, it simply is not worth your time to get involved with this game. Between the load times, instability, bad framerate, and very weak tutorial, this game is going to take you a long time to get into. It almost seems like they didn't want people to play the game... if that's the case, I think they'll probably get their wish.
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RequirementsSilent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic supposedly requires the following, although I highly recommend far better hardware:
- Operating system: Windows XP/Windows Vista/Windows 7
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E4400 2GHz/AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+ 2.1 Ghz or higher
- Memory: 1 GB in Windows XP/2 GB in Windows Vista and Windows 7
- Graphics: 512 MB DirectX 9.0c-compliant video card Hard Drive: 10 GB (15 GB recommended)
- Sound: DirectX 9.0c-compliant sound card
- Windows-compliant mouse and keyboard
- Internet connection: 256 kbps Broadband connection (512 kbps or better connection recommended)