SOFTWARE REVIEW: SILENT SERVICE II BY MICROPROSE
by Marc Freebury
(The blame for the intro bit does not befall him, however)
Life aboard the "U.S.S. Nautilus" was going its fairly boring
way. Sailors whispered things they usually whispered about.
Billions and billions of tons of water were flowing below, besides
and above the vessel.
The captain looked grimly at the sonar readout. There was nothing
to be seen on it. All around them was empty. Vastly empty. As
empty as a hermit's guest room.
Nothing happened. As a matter of fact, the nothing that happened
was infinitely more nothing even than water in a desert, palm
trees on ice caps, intelligence in a post office clerk.
Enormously more nothing even than oxygen on the moon, light in a
dark room, ugliness in a Miss Universe. Even hugely more nothing
than beauty in the Elephant Man.
The noise of nothing but sonar bleeps would have been enough to
drive anyone up the wall. But not so with marines. Not so with the
marines of the U.S. Navy's elite sub.
Something soon was to happen that would drive them up the wall,
Not even a shoal of fish considered a necessary to distort the
disquietingly regular sound of the sonar.
Not even one fish.
Above them was ice. Nothing but ice. According to schedule, they
would now approximately be under the central bit of the North Pole
Nobody felt comfortable about it but, hey, they all were marines.
They would show the world it was possible to make a transpolar
crossing from Europe to the Pacific Ocean.
Eisenhower had spoken so heroically. Well, he wasn't there
himself, the prat. Nobody mentioned his name.
"I want sixty volunteers," he had said. He had then assigned
everyone standing around someone who had thrust his index finger
in the air.
That someone was usually on the ship's loo. The only safe place.
Safe from the other men's wrath.
(Sound of nothing)
The captain looked up. The grimness on his face had vanished. He
looked blank in an utter way.
"Hey," someone said.
(Continuous sound of nothing much)
"What's happening?" someone else inquired.
(Even more lack of sound)
The captain looked grim again.
"The sonar's on the fritz," he exclaimed in a deep, sad,
"Oh shit," someone reacted.
(Not even a bit of sound still)
It effectively meant that they were deaf and blind down there.
The vast emptiness around them would stop in a couple of days. And
if it would stop, it would mean they could collide with anything
without knowing what had hit them.
(Total silence emitting from the sonar equipment)
"COME TO ME," the grim reaper whispered with a broad smile on his
face, but nobody could hear him.
The captain pressed a red button. A countdown started to run. At
zero, the ship exploded. A beautiful red mushroom of fire erupted
from the sea, shattering the polar cap, melting it. The entire
polar cap melted, many people in Holland and other netherlands
drowned. A perpetual winter froze the world.
(*) This is a rather nice example, even if I say so myself,
of an omniscient writer - one of the things I've learned
in literature class.
This is all actually a really silly intro novel, and that's why
it's been kept short (with short sentences as well). I just felt
that a real review should contain some kind of intro, in the
authentic ST NEWS style (be it of a literary less quality).
Back in the days of the old 400/800/800XL Atari computers, I was
given a cartridge to review for a now-defunct magazine, "Popular
Computing Weekly" (I forget who made the cartridge). It was called
"Sub Commander", cost £30, and was more arcade style than
simulation. The cartridge was fun, even if it lacked detail and
the graphics were crude. It had playability.
So, here we are, too many years further on, and Microprose, now
famous for their simulations, bring out "Silent Service II" for
the ST. I've got "F19-Stealth" by them (see elsewhere in this
issue of ST NEWS), and "Gunship 2000" (on a PC) and both were
impressive, so what about this latest sub-sim?
You get a big box, a big (130 page) manual, keyboard overlay,
technical supplement and two disks. The big plus for us hard-drive
owners is that it can be installed to hard drive. Hurrah!
Like everyone else, I disregarded the manual, installed and ran
the game. The title page is accompanied by some very atmospheric
music, which then gives way to the copy protection. This involves
identifying a ship type displayed, against the manual. Once
through that, the main selection screens are accessible.
You select training, single battle, single war patrol or career.
Hang on, where's the mouse? No mouse. Where's the joystick?
Err...yup, this program is completely keyboard driven, so you
spend much time using cursor controls to select and then 'return'
to choose options. Yuck (1). Second, the background to the
selections is a picture, in grey scales. The text of the
selections is red, so if you're on a TV rather than a monitor,
it's difficult to read. Yuck (2).
Anyway, select training, difficulty, enter your name, choose the
date (affects sub types, etc), select sub, decide on flawless or
historical torps, enter inside leg measurement, and you're finally
told you're the captain of a sub.
Time to check out the keyboard overlay. Some minor niggles here.
The various views (bridge, charts, periscope) are all on the
function keys, but to raise/lower the periscope, you press main
keyboard '9'. WHY? Why on earth isn't it 'P' ? There are a few
others like that. In the heat of battle, you spend half your time
scanning for the right key. Yuck (3).
So, go to bridge view. Ahead are four hulks for target practice.
Great. Fire up the engines and you get a digitised thrum of power
that fits well. Use the bridge 'binoculars' and zoom in on the
hulks and you'll get another surprise. The cover of the manual has
an immaculate picture of a ship being struck by a torpedo, with
the legend 'ACTUAL SCREEN SHOWN'. Uh-uh. Not MY screen anyway. I
think the best word for the ship graphics is 'indistinct'. Yuck
Now that we're in torpedo range, lock and fire. A brief animation
shows the torp bubbling out of the tube, which is interesting the
first, maybe the second time you see it. After that, you can
switch it off with ALT-A. When the torps hit, you get a good
effect of a water spout and an atmospheric digitised explosion.
However, if you're expecting dramatic visuals as the ships sink,
you're out of luck - they just sort of lower themselves until
they're below the water level. Yuck (5).
Next, exercise the deck gun. Again, a digitised boom lets you
know you've fired a shell, followed by the explosion and a flare
of fire and smoke from the hulk. This works quite well, but the
animation on the smoke isn't up to much. Another annoying point
here : if the engines are running and you fire the deck gun, the
engine sound sometimes/most times overrides the gun fire sound, so
you're not sure if you have fired. STUPID. I KNOW the engines are
running, I can see the speed gauge, I can hear them again after
the shell has gone. The gunfire should ALWAYS override the engine
sound. Yuck (6).
So, at the moment, the YUCK count on this game is high, the YEAH
count is very low. Over the next week I'm going to play "Silen
Service II" every evening and see if historical accuracy and
Microprose's reputation for playability can salvage the game...
Two weeks later
OK, I'm back. In fact, it's been two weeks, and for one week I
loaned out "Silent Service II" to a friend who owns "Silent
Service (I)". He reckons "Silent Service II" is a BIG improvement.
After some familiarisation, I took on a war career. This involves
going out on patrol repeatedly, building up your kills. You get to
select your home port and patrol area, both of which are affected
by the date.
Once 'on patrol' you get a single bloody pixel surrounded by a
rectangle. This pixel is your sub. Guide it with cursor keys to
the patrol zone and wander about until you stumble across a target
(you get the option to engage or withdraw) or a target stumbles
across you (no choice, you have to fight). From here on in, the
action is as per the single battle option, except once all targets
are sunk/fled, the game returns you to the patrol map.
The tension whilst in battle is pretty good, but as I've said,
the view is so limited at all times, even from the deck lookout,
you get the feeling of combat through a letter box. Also, every
view switch is accompanied by a wait whilst the view is loaded -
what the hell is the program doing with the 1 meg it demands? My
"F-19 Stealth" loads major data just before you start and just
after you finish... why doesn't "Silent Service II"? On hard disk,
the wait is noticeable. On floppy, I guess it would be tedious.
The difficulty level at 'normal' was fine - I don't think you'd
want to play anything higher until you had serious experience
under your belt.
You continue to patrol until your fuel starts running out, then
head back to port. OK, here it is, the REALLY ANNOYING BIT THAT
DESERVES A LOT OF CAPS TEXT... in order to get into port, you have
to position your single pixel sub over the exact pixel the program
thinks is the port... so if it's an island, you can spend five
minutes messing about wandering around the coast of the island
until you get the exact spot. THIS IS PATHETIC, MICROPROSE! If you
press 'P' an American flag appears over each port, maybe a
centimetre square. Why couldn't this area have been used???
The actual game intelligence and tactics underneath all this
rubbish are great. I'm sure someone looking for authenticity will
be overjoyed. BUT it has to be playable. "F-19 Stealth" is my
most-played game, so I'm not knocking Microprose, just this
terrible game shell for "Silent Service II".
I'm sure there is a wider discussion possible here, mainly on the
subject of playability ("Dungeon Master"...excellent control
system). But for my money, this game is a bummer.
Title: Silent Service II
Overall rating: 5
Remark: Buy "F-19 Stealth" instead, and
pretend it's underwater
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.