Posted: April 15, 2014
Unlike the brilliant Silent Hunter 3 and 4, Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic suffers from an identity crisis. One that holds back what could've been a fun game. I went into this expecting something inferior to 3 and 4 which, realistically, you can't top. The problem with this game is that it tries to do two things and fails at both. 1.) It tries to be a Sub Sim and 2.) It tries to involve the player more in the setting. It fails at both.
The game takes a new approach to the series and allows you to wander the vessel as you please. This could've worked amazingly well to sucking you into the experience, but any and all effort to do that is squandered. It's painfully clear that Ubisoft Romainia had Das Boot playing on a loop through out the entire development process. It could've been done, but it never is. While you can interact with the crew, never once do you get anything out of it other than gameplay choices. Not once do you hear your young radio officer mention his wife back in Munich or some where and how he misses her. This could've been a pretty artfully crafted experience in that regard, offering a less than jingoistic view of war that doesn't hit you over the head with its simplicity. But, that's never done. Turning Silent Hunter 5 into an artistically crafted game could've been done and, sure the core audience would've been alienated and upset but I could see them coming around and enjoying the experience either way.
Now, more damning still is the sub-sim aspect of the game: It's gone. Lazy is an understatement. Gone is the more realistic area based damage model that represented actual damage and, in its place, we have healthbars. Yes, health bars. Ships tend to take an obnoxious amount of damage before sinking. In addition, everything is dumbed down and automated. They took the sim out of the game all together. With that additional simplicity, surely that must mean more content given how much easier it would be to add boats. Right? Maybe even some wild stuff, like Seehunds? No, you got the Type VII. You get 3 flavors of Type VII. Now, don't get me wrong: the Type VII is the iconic boat of the U boat flotillas, but that's essentially one single play style. There's no tiny but nimble Type II that offers you a unique challenge with its strengths and weaknesses. There isn't a wonderfully obselete boat like the S-18 and S-42 that can given you the enjoyment of having to work around its short-comings. There isn't even the satisfaction of using the badass incarnate of a Balao or Type XXI. You have 3 variants of Type VII and that's it. On top of that, the game is lazily put together with men staying on conning towers as subs dive and even running on the decks of ships as if nothing happened while they're slipping past the 50m maker in depth after being sunk.
So, in short, it's a game that tries to dumb down Silent Hunter without adding in anything else.
In the end, of the 3 games on modern systems, Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic is the weakest. Sure, it looks great, but that's it. It's actually a lot like dating. Silent Hunter 5 is a model. Sure, they look great, but they aren't very fulfillling. They don't offer much other than looks. Silent Hunter 3 and 4 might not beat it there, but they'll stimulate you so much better. You'll find them to be infinitely better companions. It's not a necessarily bad games, but it suffers from not even half-realized ideas.
It will not endear itself to fans of the series all that much. Sure, some will pick it up on sale and mod it. That would make it decent, but the core game itself is just poorly executed. Fans of the series and subsims will leave due to the lack of depth when compared to the previous. Newcomers might pass on it due to the lack of excitement. Despite its forsaking of its roots, it still possesses that slow and calculating tension that Silent Hunter does so well. This will bore most others.
In the end, I can't recommend Silent Hunter 5: Battle of the Atlantic. It's half-realized and lazy. Those looking for Sub simming goodness need to get 3 and 4.