Famed designer Sid Meier established and defined the submarine simulation 22 years ago with the classic Silent Service. Although the genre has seen better days, it continues to plug along thanks to Ubisoft's solid Silent Hunter series. 2005's Silent Hunter III was the last release in the series and let you captain a German U-boat in the Atlantic during World War II. Now with Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific, you play as an American submarine skipper battling against Japan. In many ways, Silent Hunter 4 doesn't veer too far from the formula found in Silent Service and is a faithful successor to that seminal game.
According to submariners, there are only two types of vessels: submarines and targets.
Though it doesn't get as much coverage or attention in the popular media as the German U-boat campaign in World War II, the US submarine campaign against Japan was extensive and devastating. Japan, being an island nation, imported much of its food, fuel, and resources from abroad, and US submarines were tasked with cutting that lifeline off. What followed was unrestricted submarine warfare as the US sank more than 5 million tons of Japanese shipping, though at a loss of almost 50 submarines and their crews.
In Silent Hunter 4, you can experience the war in the Pacific a number of ways. There are stand-alone missions that put you in the middle of battles if you just want to dive into the action. Then there are war patrols that let you cruise around looking for trouble. The lengthiest of all the gameplay modes is the career mode, which lets you begin in any year of the war and go out on numerous war patrols. A career can easily occupy days, if not weeks, of evening play time.
Like Silent Hunter III, Wolves of the Pacific puts you in a 3D submarine, surrounded by virtual crewmembers that follow your commands. There are numerous stations that you can go to, such as the conning tower when the submarine is running on the surface, the periscope, the navigation chart, the antiaircraft gun, the deck gun, and more. The amount of control that you're given over your boat (submariner slang for vessels) is impressive and in line with the features found in Silent Hunter III. Each sailor on your submarine is tracked and accounted for, so you can assign your sailors to different compartments and watches. This way, you can optimize the performance of your crew, though it can add a cumbersome amount of micromanagement for common tasks. For example, when under attack, you can assign crewmen from a nonvital compartment to a damage control party and then reassign them once that's done.
You can go wherever you want while on patrol, though the best hunting can be found in shipping lanes.
However, most of your attention will be taken up with the task of navigating your sub around the Pacific and taking part in battle. You can chart a course on the Pacific and then compress time so that you don't have to spend hours or days getting from one point to another. When your ship encounters unknown or hostile contacts, time automatically reverts to normal, so you can investigate or take action. It's a fairly elegant system, one that hearkens back to the patrol system in Silent Service and lets you conduct a months-long patrol in a fraction of the time. But this isn't a fully dynamic campaign because the game doesn't model a full-scale war all the time. Instead, it has the illusion of a dynamic campaign as it places enemy vessels in logical places, such as shipping lanes or coming in and out of major ports. But it's not perfect, and there are quirks. For example, enemy convoys may appear in places you'd least expect them, such as steaming out of Manila Bay, even though at that point in the campaign, Manila is still in American hands.