Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic
Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic is Ubisoft’s newest part in the long-running simulation series that managed to gather quite a lot of fans throughout the years. Therefore it’s even more sad to see that although the solid foundations are still present, the details leave too much room for improvement. And then we’re not only talking about the controversial DRM. Do keep that in mind though when you don’t have a permanent internet connection.
First let’s have a look at the obvious. It’s World War 2 and you’re captain of a deadly German submarine. The oceans are open for you and your task is to annoy the enemy fleet as much as possible and influence the war in the advantage of lovers of the swastika.
What immediately gets noticed is that the makers this time made a strange decision in accessibility. Some new features, like the possibility to walk around in your sub and making the interface simpler (but also less interesting) seem focused on making it easier for newcomers, but there’s hardly any help to understand the many complex game elements. I felt 15 years younger again, when it was normal that you would get complex games without a decent in-game tutorial. Luckily back then there were encyclopedia-sized manuals, something publishers don’t want to spend money on anymore these days. Prepare for quite a lot of hours of frustration, trying stuff out, discovering and searching on the internet.
Flipside of the medal is that Silent Hunter 5 does offer quite deep gameplay and a lot of content. There’s the campaign, some historical missions and the interesting multiplayer which currently is waiting for home-made content and a bit more players. The campaign could have used a bit more freedom and the setup isn’t always as exciting as you could hope for but you do get quite a lot of different objectives and missions are nicely positioned within the bigger war around you.
Also the atmosphere in the sub is good: you almost hold your breath when searching the dark night with your periscope, swiftly dive under to then drop your deadly load on unsuspecting opponents. Those opponents also aren’t stupid and all hell breaks loose all too often when you make a mistake and act too much like Rambo in a scuba suit. At that time in first-person running around your ship, shouting orders while chaos runs free is very exciting! In other words: I quickly got the urge to put Das Boot in my DVD player again.
That new way of communicating – the running around to the right people and talking with them – may help the atmosphere, but it isn’t handy and not realistic either. Also sixty years ago you could talk with your crew through microphones and it quickly tampers with the playability, especially during the later and more difficult missions. On top of that the RPG-parameters of your colleagues don’t help concentrating on combat. You need to talk with them to keep them motivated and I fear that lovers of tactical games are more interesting in plotting strategies than role-playing.
By now we’ve landed on the many small downpoints and bigger issues of the game. Opponents aren’t always equally intelligent which is clumsy in a realistic sim, and the quality assurance department also didn’t really do their best job. The framerate sometimes drops below maximum depth and all too often you experience graphical and auditive bugs. Luckily in exchange you do get beautiful graphics when you’ve got a system with enough muscle.
We’re prepared to give Silent Hunter 5 the benefit of the doubt. After all, this is a genre that doesn’t get to see too many good games and we need to support Ubisoft in their dedication to go for it nonetheless. On top of that the formula is still equally strong and at times you really feel like being in the role of captain of a feared German U-boat. Potential buyers should be aware that there’s quite a lot that needs patching and the DRM doesn’t help with having confidence in the product. And if there’s one thing that’s important in a submarine, it’s the reliability of your equipment.