This February we are taking a look at three titles from Ubisoft Blue Byte, the studio tasked with bringing big name game franchises to the Free-To-Play market. This week we preview Silent Hunter Online.
Following on from our preview of the delightful looking Anno Online last week, this week we are looking at another of Ubisoft Blue Bytes upcoming Free-To-Play titles, which comes to us in the form of Silent Hunter Online. The first game since the meekly received Silent Hunter 5, Silent Hunter Online has got fans of the series hoping for a return to form, a series that started in 1996 and has spawned a total of six sequels.
Silent Hunter Online, the developers tell us, is a “Triple-A Triple-S title, fully playable from within your browser“, a fact that they are very excited to repeat over and over, and for good reason, the fact that a game as complex as Silent Hunter Online is playable from any computer with an internet connection is mightily impressive, and something that Blue Byte seems to be perfecting. A simple press of the F11 key on the keyboard and things go full screen, all distractions are banished as you get on with the serious business of conquering Europe.
Oh, some of you may still be wondering what “Triple-S” means, ‘Submarine Simulation Strategy’, which refers to the core functions of the Silent Hunter franchise. In Silent Hunter you are the captain of a German Submarine during World War II, and it is your mission to aid the fatherland in their efforts to conquer the seas of Europe. The format hasn’t changed all that much since the series conception back in the mid-nineties, with its click and wait gameplay being a key selling point to those that love to strategise and bask in the glory of a well planned victory. This isn’t a game for the more gung-ho amongst you, folks, that sort of behaviour will get you killed, Captain!
In our preview we were allowed to choose a mission from a map of Europe, given that we were just starting out, we were limited to the smallest of the 10 different playable German U-boat types, so the missions we could choose from wouldn’t be too challenging. We were told repeatedly that the enemy “probably won’t fight back”, so off I went, hell bent on killing a boat of unknown origin, one that turned out to be a trade ship. It took about five minutes to find the enemy ship, it would have taken longer but the game gives you the option to speed up time. Navigation is handled by using the on-screen map, which displays your location and the last known location of the enemy. With my engines set to full, I encountered the enemy ship at last, so I surfaced my baby U-boat and began frantically clicking buttons in an effort to shoot something at the enemy. It isn’t immediately obvious what it is you need to do to make things go boom, but, much, much later, I found that I needed to get my munitions guy to work out torpedo trajectories before I could fire anything. This comes with a waiting time, so I waited, and when he was ready, I hit the fire button, which sits atop the on-screen periscope, which features a 3D-rendered on the fly view of the surface, enemy ships and all.
Once fired, I faced another agonising wait to see whether or not I had been successful in disabling the enemy ship. My torpedoes edged slowly towards the enemy, but it became clear pretty early on that they would miss by some margin. By this point, the ships had moved off and I needed to reposition my boat’ before I could give it another go. Demo over. No second chance.
Silent Hunter Online, is, as I explained earlier, a complex game. Complex in any setting, let alone in an internet browser. The fact that it’s running in an internet browser makes no difference here, the game runs flawlessly. Silent Hunter 5′s number one criticism was that the learning curve was too steep, and while it is difficult to say whether Silent Hunter Online will suffer the same problem given the short length of time I had with the game, it could be that Silent Hunter Online will put off the uninitiated rather quickly if it doesn’t come suited and booted with a decent tutorial segment. For fans of the series though, everything points to a game that you will enjoy thoroughly. The depth on offer here is astounding, with every facet of Sub’ management replicated in all its nitty gritty glory.
‘Where is the money?’ I hear you cry. In Silent Hunter Online, you can, if you wish, spend money on better parts for your Ship, better crew members and better Subs entirely. Or you can play the game for free, it’s entirely up to you.
Submarines are hunter and prey at the same time. To stand a better chance against enemy fleets, players can team up online and form ‘wolfpacks’. There will be a great focus on online play, you’ll need to get social if you are to beat some of the game’s harder missions, say the game devs. The game runs on a tiered system, with new missions unlocking as the war progresses on a world-wide scale.
It remains to be seen whether Silent Hunter Online will be popular with newcomers to the series. It does feel like a game that is routed in another time, both in terms of its historicity and its gameplay; the fact that it’s running in a browser doesn’t really excuse the fact that it feels like a game made a decade ago.
Silent Hunter Online is due to release in 2013 and will be playable on any computer with an internet browser.