This review has two parts. In Part One, I’ll be talking about the history, starting with Silent Hunter I. Those looking for the actual review of Destroyer Command can jump to Part Two.
In 1996, everyone who is interested in this genre was playing with Silent Hunter I. You were commanding a US submarine in the Pacific, fighting and sinking Japanese ships. The best feature was the full campaign. You started the war as a rookie with an old sub and it was up to you to find ships. As the years went by, you received better torpedo’s and better subs and your assigned mission area got closer and closer to Japan.
In 1998 the first rumours surfaced that Aeon was working on Silent Hunter II. This time you would command a German sub in the Atlantic, sinking British and American ships. The news got better when Ultimation revealed their plans to make a destroyer simulator that would interoperate with SH2!
Release dates for SH2 slipped; there was talk that SSI had cancelled SH2. Then, mid 2000, the announcement came that Ultimation would take over from Aeon to finish SH2 and at the same time continue working on Destroyer Command. Although this would mean more delays, the positive fact was that the chances for a good interoperability increased, with both games being made by the same company.
After more than a year, in November 2001, SH2 finally made it, but what a disappointment it was! On the graphical side, it looked reasonably nice, but the gameplay? All the missions and campaigns were scripted. Now, Sub Command from EA has also scripted missions, but each time you start one, you get a different mission because there are many variables that change each time. The objective is the same, but the starting location, tactics, friendly units etc are different every time, making it unpredictable. In SH2 the missions are scripted from the first to the last second. All elements are the same every time you start a mission, no surprises, no unexpected events. The campaign is just a series of single missions, without a story. In one mission, you are in the waters around Denmark, in the next, you are ordered to go to Scapa Flow to sink the British fleet. They just made missions of some well known battles during WWII and put those in a campaign. And for the clever guys who think of disobeying orders and just go hunting, they will find nothing. The ocean is completely empty except for the area where your mission assignment is! And then Destroyer Command arrives.
To start off, I played DC with patch 1.1 and even this latest patch couldn’t solve all the problems I encountered : numerous “drop to desktops”, game crashes after finishing a mission, etc.
In Destroyer Command, you are responsible for up to 8 destroyers. All stations are interactive, ranging from the gun turrets, the torpedo’s, anti-aircraft guns and of course the depth charges. On the damage control station you can set the priorities and in the engine room you can shut down boilers to save fuel on a long journey.
After installing the game, I started with the 5 tutorial missions. The first thing I noticed was that your destroyers are completely abandoned. Or better, your crew does its job, but is completely invisible. But that’s not the only thing that’s missing. My experience with DC leads me to believe that they also forgot to implement the AI : ships in a convoy crash into each other, enemy subs don’t dive but remain at 50 feet,…
But then you remember the interoperability between SH2 and DC : lets replace the AI by human opponents. Well it works in a LAN, but on the internet? To begin, you start at a location 10 to 15 min away from the battle zone. By the time you get there, the game will most likely crash.
And there are more items with a doubtful quality. Damage calculation e.g. I had the experience that I managed to cause severe damage to my front gun turret with my own depth charges? I would like to see the mathematical formulas that come up with such a result. My best guess is that they use some sort of random generator for damage calculation. The same goes for the sinking of ships. It seems that there is very little relationship between the place where the ship is hit and the way the ship will sink. First of all, ships never break up, they always sink in one piece. Second, if you hit the ship with torpedo’s on the bow, you might expect that the ship will go down nose first. Not in DC. Or a full spread of torpedo’s along the port side of a ship, would result, according to DC, is a capsizing to starboard? Where are the days of Aces of the Deep? Is it really that difficult?
But this is hardly a surprise if a simulation game can’t keep track of the number of depth charges that are remaining. Once, the total remaining depth charges kept jumping between 32 and 33! Why, I don’t know.
It seems more and more that developers program games that are complete for 70 to 80%. It’s up to the players to do the beta testing and finish of the details: create additional ships, cars, planes, circuits, missions, etc. But the least you can demand, is that the game works and doesn’t crash every other minute. Destroyer Command (and Silent Hunter 2) could have been wonderful WWII naval simulations. The quality of the graphics would have been nice 2 or 3 years ago, but not anymore. There are problems with AI, with multiplayer, but the biggest letdown are the scripted missions and campaigns. Bottom line: Destroyer Command is only for the hardcore Naval Sim fanatics.