Silent Hunter 5 Review

Written by James Gorbold

March 23, 2010 | 10:27

Tags: #always-online #drm #milsim #sh5 #silent-hunter-5 #simulation #simulator #submarine #ubi #world-war-2 #ww2

Companies: #ubisoft

Piracy Pugwash

It gets worse. Not only can you not change the controls to suit your own tastes, but Ubi has removed nearly all the keyboard shortcuts that were present in the previous games too, forcing you to use the abysmal first-person bumpathon mode. There’s no way out of it.

The manual doesn't help either, it provides next to no information on how to play the game, while the keyboard diagrams are printed at such a low resolution they're almost impossible to read. For example, all ships now have two damage bars, or at least I presume they are meant to be damage bars - the manual doesn't even mention them. One is grey, and the other is blue. I suspect is supposed to indicate hull damage and flooding, but what they're supposed to tell you is your guess as good as mine.

There’s little in-game help either. While Silent Hunter 3 and SH4 had several in-game training missions that introduced you step-by-step to the various stations in a submarine. Silent Hunter 5 throws you straight into the action as a Lieutenant aboard a U-Boat in the Baltic opposite a formation of Polish merchants.

If, like me you're being paid to review Silent Hunter 5, and so have to try and get on with the atrocious interface you'll soon discover lots of other critical flaws too. If you’re not being paid to play it though then you’ll probably put the game down before you get that far. If I list all the floats, my blood pressure will start to get too high again and I'll end up mashing my keyboard, but I’ll give it a go.

Silent Hunter 5 Review Piracy Pugwash
Job well done

Firstly, there is no 'return to course' command. This means that if you use the rudder to manually steer the submarine - something you'll need to do frequently to avoid enemies and get into a better position to attack - you have to wipe all your navigation waypoints and set up them all over again afterwards. This will happen exactly five times before you start clawing for the auto-destruct button.

You can no longer ask your sonar operator to send a ping down to the ocean floor to measure the depth of water under the submarine either. This means you're left to guess how much room you have to manoeuvre, which is especially dangerous in shallow waters or if you need to crash dive to avoid an enemy attack. The good news there is that you’re so likely to crash that it’s improbable you’ll survive long enough to find the auto-destruct. The bad news is that you’ll likely be running around the ship trying to replace your entire useless crew when you do crash because the AI is so bad that you can’t rely on your men to do anything. It’s just not dignified way to die.

Just because it’s easy to blow up your own ship though doesn’t mean it’s easy to blow up anyone else’s. You can’t order your crew to attack specific parts of a target, for example, so destroying armoured foes is like trying to kill a forest by whittling it to death with a penknife. There’s no option to cease fire or order your deck gun crew inside (apart from submerging) either, so your crew is often in a pointlessly precarious position. Not that you’ll care about crew members dying though – the morale system is so buggy that they’ll turn mutinous randomly and at the drop of a hat. Ungrateful buggers.

Then there’s the DRM too. Silent Hunter 5 has also generated a lot of controversy, even from those who haven't played it, because it's one of the first games to sport Ubisoft's new DRM system. This requires you to register your game with an email address and even then you can only run the game or make saves if your PC is connected to Ubisoft's authentication server on the Internet, even if you’re playing singleplayer

Silent Hunter 5 Review Piracy Pugwash
Aren't we supposed to be under the water?

This constant requirement for an Internet connection is pretty bad if you're trying to play on a laptop, but to rub salt in the wound Ubisoft's authentication servers have crashed at least once since the game launched, leaving gamers unable to play Silent Hunter 5 for hours on end, not that that’s a bad thing given the circumstances. I’ve been unable to login to the authentication server and play Silent Hunter 5 several times during the last couple of weeks, in fact.

Silent Hunter 5 Review Piracy PugwashAs Silent Hunter 4 was basically just Silent Hunter 3 set in the Pacific with improved graphics, part of me feels that Ubisoft should be commended for to trying to innovate with the next game in the series. However, Silent Hunter 5 is deeply flawed; the roleplaying and first-person walking around the interior of your submarine are clunky, slow, repetitive and deeply unintuitive. The interface, especially the way you cannot remap any controls, is so bad it should be used as a case study for How Not to Make a Game.

This is a real tragedy, as despite its enviable 14 year history, the Silent Hunter series is ripe for expansion. Where are the British, Russian, Italian or Japanese submarines? Silent Hunter 5 is the third game in the series to simulate German U-Boats and it’s more than a little stale now. Also, why is there still no decent multiplayer mode where one player plays as a surface-bound sub-hunter? Where are the planes?

What you get with Silent Hunter 5 is a horrifically slow, buggy, unintuitive sub sim that's nowhere near accessible enough for beginners and breaks with so many traditions it can't be picked up and played by veterans either. Our advice? Silent Hunter 5 does such a good job of torpedoing itself you're far better off buying Silent Hunter 4 or a copy of Das Boot and reliving the glory days instead.

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