The Germans bring some new toys to the table.
It’s a pity that so much of the sub sim genre has been dominated by U-boats stalking freighters in the North Atlantic. While it is certainly the most recognizable and dramatic setup for submarine warfare, there are plenty of other settings that are just as interesting. That’s why it was such a relief when Ubisoft’s Silent Hunter: Wolves of the Pacific moved the action to the Far East. And now, with the release of the U-boat missions, Ubisoft has brought the Germans into the action with a brand new campaign set in the Indian Ocean.
The new campaign runs from 1943 through 1945 and sets players in charge of a U-boat from one of four bases in the northwest of the Indian Ocean. As kapitan you’ll start out commanding the Type IX-D2 before moving on to the cutting edge Type XVIII, which never really saw service during the War but nevertheless presents an interesting option for players who want to take a speculative approach to the campaign. Unfortunately, the XVIII, though it has a better engine and more forward facing tubes, lacks a deck gun and has no aft tubes to shake off the pursuit of a pesky destroyer. While the XVIII is a nice enough sub, the fact that you have rely on your torpedoes for all of your kills makes it a little less attractive to us. Besides, it’s just too much fun to surface right beside an enemy tanker and start blowing its hull to pieces from a few hundred meters away.
As you progress through the campaign, you will earn renown points that you can spend on a variety of upgrades that are specific to the German U-boats. This upgrade system is actually a great way to help build your sense of attachment to your boat because you’re really investing in its performance and giving it a character all its own. For instance, our own early patrols were plagued by constant air attack, so we quickly upgraded our AA guns by increasing their caliber and adding a few extra barrels. Once that was done, we spent more renown to beef up our own listening abilities and a special coating to help reduce our visibility in the water. Later in the campaign, the Kriegsmarine offered us the chance to upgrade to a brand new 5-inch deck gun that made us the terror of any undefended ship we encountered. While renown isn’t a new concept for the game, it’s put to great use here.
You can also use the renown points to switch out certain members of your crew, replacing sailors who are merely average in their performance with heroes who can complete tasks more effectively or more quickly than others. Each crew member has a short list of stats and, where applicable, a quick description of their special abilities. These abilities aren’t enough to completely unbalance the game, but they do provide a significant edge. In a game where the gulf between success and failure is measured in meters and minutes, a small advantage can make a big difference.
The U-Boat mission pack also includes options for strategic support in the form of aerial reconnaissance and friendly warships. It is not strictly legitimate from a historical standpoint that a sub commander would be able to call directly on nearby planes to scout for him, or that he would be able to instruct his own destroyers to charge into a nearby flotilla, but it definitely adds to the interest and range of actions possible in the game. It is, of course, completely reasonable that a theater level commander would be encouraging and directing this kind of cooperation, but it feels a bit odd to be pushing other naval assets around from the bridge of your own submarine. In any case, if it offends your historical sensibilities too much, it’s not a feature that you’re required to use. One obvious benefit that you can’t escape is the frequent spotting of far off forces by your allies.
But all this new strategic depth neatly dodges the one cooperative feature that’s still missing from this experience–where, oh where, are the Wolf Packs? While the image of the lone submariner tracking an unsuspecting convoy is very appealing, we’re still disappointed that Ubisoft hasn’t seen fit to include subs that hunt in groups. It’s especially aggravating given the thought they obviously gave to the less historical coordination they introduced for planes and ships. It’s probably something that can be modded in later by enterprising members of the community but it’s a real shame that we still don’t have that feature out of the box.
The campaign itself focuses on the bread and butter of the U-boat world–namely, sinking merchant ships. Nearly every mission has you sailing out to a particular location and either patrolling for a certain amount of time or sinking a certain amount of tonnage before you can return to port and claim success. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to take on the enemy’s warships. We were lucky enough in one patrol to find a single carrier protected by four destroyers, but there are also entire fleet battles that you can seek out if you’re using your strategic assets to scout the seas around you.
Strangely, the campaign is the only option you have to play as a German submariner. Though there are screens in the game that suggest you can play War Patrol and Quick Missions on the German side, the pages are completely blank so there’s no way to jump into a one-off mission on the German side. Ubisoft is unsure whether the developers intended those features to be included and simply left them out or if the whole thing is just bugged. Either way, the fact that you can’t set up specific missions outside the campaign definitely limits the appeal of the expansion.
Finally, the U-Boat Mission smoothes out some of the worst technical offenses of the original game and brings the game up to version 1.5. Those fixes go a long way towards making it a more consistent and enjoyable experience, but we’re still plagued by too frequent interruptions of our time compression and the occasional graphics glitch. It’s one thing when all your hands are still on deck at periscope depth but why in the world would anyone hire a watch officer who has no eyes? We’re stumped.
You have to have your expectations clear before picking up the U-Boat missions for Silent Hunter: Wolves of the Pacific. While the new content is definitely enjoyable, the German patrols and the new strategic features don’t extend beyond the context of the campaign. That’s kind of a shame because it would definitely open up the US campaign a bit more. In any case, the ten-dollar asking price isn’t all that much so if you’re a fan who’s still playing the game, it’s a no brainer. If, on the other hand, your enthusiasm has waned there’s nothing here that’s strong enough to lure you back.