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Ubisoft Focus: Silent Hunter III
game: Ubisoft Focus: Silent Hunter III
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Ubisoft
date posted: 12:00 AM Thu Jan 27th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Thu Jan 27th, 2005

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Click to read.At one time, submarines laid claim to serving the best food in the Navy.  It was a recruitment ploy; how else do you get sailors to voluntarily submit themselves to long tours in what amounts to a large floating prison cell?  Often operating under crushing pressure in an environment completely devoid of light, these claustrophobic contraptions are something that most people don't associate with the military: fragile.  A puncture on the outside hull doesn't mean a quick death, but a possible long and terrifying descent into a world of whale song and chill.  But torpedoes don't leave little punctures; they blow holes.  In the underwater world, there is no hotshot pilot, no Top Gun, only a crew and a captain and luck.  If things go wrong, there is no out.  If you're hit, you will probably die. 

In World War II, when the submarine really began to make a significant impact on modern warfare, survival depended on out-maneuvering your opponent.  Reloading a torpedo after firing took up to 20 minutes, and you aimed by turning your entire ship in the right direction.  At the beginning of the war, when submarines were new and virtually undetectable, they were tremendously successful at surprising and sinking Allied ships.  Attacking convoys in groups called wolfpacks, they were devastating to British shipping lanes.  As technologies were developed to find and destroy them, though, the survival rate of the German U-boat dropped.  By the end of the war, the life expectance of a U-boat from launch to destruction was less than 3 days.  Less than 32% of German U-boat sailors survived World War II, with most of those deaths coming in the last two years of the war.
Submarines during the Second World War provide some of the richest, darkest, and intense atmosphere ever available to a game series, and Ubisoft has every intention of bringing it to the PC.  In a step that is becoming a fundamental element of many Ubisoft games, realism is the key.  With a fully adjustable level of realism, Silent Hunter III aims to offer players any style of play they could want, from the arcade style point and shoot, to the realistic sea battles that accurately replicate details, even down to the 15 minute reload time between torpedo shots.  With beautifully rendered water and explosion effects, this latest iteration of the Silent Hunter series may well be the best looking and best playing submarine simulation ever seen.  

What might be surprising in a game based at least in part on the social aspects of running a crew in a rather claustrophobic environment, facing issues of crew fatigue and morale, is that Silent Hunter III looks simply fantastic.  Sample videos and released screenshots show not only the amazing detail of the water and its movement in the open seas, but the beautiful details and cinematic direction of the ships and ship battles.  Armed with a free-form camera able to soar either over or under the water, the player will be able to watch their battles unfold from a perspective outside their vessels, tracking torpedo fire as they cruise towards their destinations, watching enemies turn their guns and return fire before going up in flames.  While Silent Hunter III might offer tremendous flexibility in realism, it also appears to have perfectly hit the atmospheric elements of being a ship captain at sea during World War II.  If the sounds of the ocean heard in the demo videos available on the net match those found in the game, we can expect an experience nearly freeze framed and pulled straight out of a movie.  

Yet at the same time, the beautiful visuals are not what Silent Hunter III's creators seem most excited about.  Instead, much of their focus went into all the intricate fine points that make up the inside your U-boat, and not just in terms of technical realism, either.  As the captain of a war vessel, you can expect to deal with a number of social issues that arise from commanding a gathering of men in a confined space.  You'll be expected to give orders, and in doing so, evolve your crew based on how you and they perform in each mission.  As the game progresses, your crew will improve in skill, earn medals, and grow tired all in a manner similar to that of a crew on the real thing.  

You'll play much of each mission - either as part of a campaign, or a historical or custom mission - from a first person perspective inside your vessel, so when you're not marveling at its beauty on the outside, you'll be riveted to the blipping screens and glowing do-dads that occupy all the consoles inside. Want to know what a particular readout shows?  Try walking over to the screen and looking over a sailor's shoulder.  Want to look over the water while still submerged?  Well, you better be standing next to the periscope then; information comes from using the instruments on hand.  In this way, the player not only experiences the joy and pain of battle from a tactical perspective, but also the fear and exhilaration of the battle from the view of a seaman trapped on the inside of a relatively fragile and slow moving metal shell.  If pulled off, Silent Hunter III will have the power to engage its players on a level significant to both the mind and the heart.  

In a move that's sure to appeal to the gang leader in all of us, Silent Hunter III will included a variety of multiplayer modes, including one that lets you run in cooperative wolfpacks with fellow players.  Combine that with the ability to construct your own missions using the included mission builder, and you have an interesting combination of elements.  Silent Hunter III is the grown-up version of playing battleship in the bathtub, only with all the little historically accurate details that ground it in the reality of World War II.  In this bathtub playground, though, you're in command of the real instruments of war, shooting at realistically modeled battleships on an ocean that doesn't end at the edge of a porcelain tub.  With the ability to so fully customize the level of desired reality, Silent Hunter III might very well have the widest general appeal of any in the series.  It's scheduled for release February 22, 2005. 

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