"Oh Captain", gasped the Engineering Officer, "those bulkheads won't take much more of this! Ye cannae change the laws of physics!" We had attacked a peaceful little convoy of Japanese battleships and cruisers about twenty minutes before, and had spent the intervening time trying desperately to dodge the six escorts and their incessant depth-
So far they had fought fair, but it was only a matter of time before the water was filled with the sound of Des O'Connor as those fiendish orientals resorted to the ultimate weapon. I had to think fast, and engineer Mr Scott's impressions weren't helping my concentration.
"There goes another one", he added as a depth-
"Hard left rudder!" I shouted, "Release debris!". There was a sort of drawn out glooping sound as the debris, designed to fool the destroyers into thinking they'd sunk us, was fired from tube one. We'd added an extra touch of realism by coaxing the engineer into the torpedo tube with a story about dilithium crystals. It's a far better thing, and all that, eh?
After ten more minutes of crash diving, hard ruddering, and glancing sweatily at stop watches - well, they do it in the movies, don't they? - We evaded our pursuers. One engine damaged, a fire amidships, our periscope wrecked, and the four torpedoes we'd fired were all duds. Ah well, at least we got rid of the engineer.
Silent Service II is the follow up to MicroProse's Smash hit of 1986, Silent Service, which to date is still the best sub sim on the Amiga. The original game had challenge, detailed control of difficulty level, and tense action. So how can they have improved it?
The answer is a double dose of graphics and sound. Silent Service was excellent on the gameplay front, but fairly under-
And massive improvement is what we get after all these years! When the game loads, which can take some time, SS II's heritage becomes obvious. It was designed as a game for VGA IBM compatibles, and as such has digitised pictures of the ships and far more presentable layouts for the various action stations you can access.
These include the map screen, where most of the action takes place, the periscope, which you'll use as little as possible if you want to survive very long, the bridge view, damage control, and the gauges (you have to check these yourself as you've just shot your engineer out into fifty fathoms of the Pacific Ocean, remember?).
The action stations are accessed either by pressing function keys or by clicking on a small symbol at the bottom of your screen. There is enough information contained in them to keep most people happy, but I would have liked a continuously updated depth gauge on all screens. When you're in shallow water and under attack, running around is the last thing you'll ever do.
All the graphics are slick and colourful, yet they manage functionality at the same time. The gauges screen is a little confusing at first - I found myself wondering which was the thermostat and which was the clapometer - but you're soon au fait enough with it to take a quick glance during combat just to make sure there's enough power in the batteries to keep that little rabbit tapping away on his tin drum.
The game's sound effects have been improved out of sight. Everything is sampled right down to the 'Dive! Dive! Dive!' as you slip below the waves. The seagull sounds when you sail on the surface are a nice touch, too. Sonar pings, explosions, and engine noises are all realistic enough to add a healthy wodge of atmosphere when you're in the thick of things, so they do exactly the job you'd expect for a simulation.
You can play SS II in several ways, though the difficulty levels have been greatly simplified. Instead of the individual options in the original, such as whether or not you want expert destroyers or convoy zig-zags, the player is given a choice of four levels - Introductory, Normal, Advanced, and Ultimate. The only realism factor under your control is whether you have historical or flawless torpedoes.
For much of the war, American torpedoes were of a distinctly dodgy design, so if you choose the historical option you will find many of them turn out to be duds. This is a real pain if you've fired off two torpedoes, then crash dived and turned away at flank speed as all sensible commanders will do. By the time you realise your torpedoes have caused no more damage than a quick paint job will cure, you're hopelessly out of position and the escorts have been alerted.
I found the temptation to fire three or even four torpedoes at a small freighter was irresistible after a few of my torpedoes had gone "dunk" instead of "boom". This is wasteful - after all, they are a submarine's most valuable resource after fuel and air.
The difficulty levels work fairly well, introductory is easy and designed to let you get your feet wet - or keep them dry, in this case! - and Normal is a well balanced option for when you've mastered the basic tactics of submarine warfare (sneak up when they can't see you, fire from under cover, and run away very quickly).
Of the two higher levels, Advanced seems to offer more adept destroyers and alert lookouts, which is my way of admitting they saw me coming a mile away and depth-
There's enough of a challenge to keep the average sim fan going for a very long time with SS II, especially when it is played in the War Career mode. This allows you to choose a start date for your career, the base from which you begin, and your patrol zone. From this point, it's up to you where you patrol, which contacts you investigate, and how long you live.
You won't last long if you rush in at every contact. When patrolling, you have a map of the entire Pacific basin and the submarine, represented by a white dot, follows the mouse pointer as long as you keep the left button depressed. When a contact is made, you are given a screen telling you the rough size of the contact, its bearing and the time of day.
This determines how close you can go to an enemy without being seen. There are different values for end-on, broadside-on, and your periscope along with the range at which you'll be visible on sonar. I generally chicken out of any daylight attack as they're usually more hassle and danger than they're worth, but even sticking to attacks in darkness, I've so far failed to survive longer than June 16th 1943 - over two years short of VJ day!
If you're a sim fan, buy this game - it's excellent. If you have the original, try it first. The gameplay is essentially the same and you might not be bothered about the fancy touches.