When the Kriegsmarine U-boats prowled the seas during World War II, they hunted like a wolfpack. Attacking in waves, they would first wound and then sink their prey. By interrupting the flow of materials vital to the war effort, U-boats sought to siege Britain into submission.
For Submarine captains this was the 'Happy Time' when convoys provided easy pickings and the 'Wolves' ruled the waves. After D-Day the introduction of sonar and radar systems forced a change of tactics and the packs started hitting military targets, often at the cost of their own lives.
Submarine warfare is a game of cat-an-mouse played with 1000-ton ships. In Wolfpack you can take command of either the ships or the U-boats. The submarines must second guess the surface shipping's every move and set up ambushes. The surface ships must anticipate the sub-mariners and either flee or fight.
As commander of the sub, you must use your vessel's limited capabilities - which vary as the war continues - to maximum effect. Surface ships' captains use new technology, improving weaponry and their knowledge of sub formations to keep the Wolves away from the civilian ships.
Each battle is fought as an individual scenario. Victories for the Allies are scored when the convoy reaches its destination or the time limit expires. The U-boats win by sinking at least 50% of the ships. The odds may seem stacked against the submariners, but they always strike first.
A strategy element is added to the simulation with each commander having control over a number of vessels, rather than being stuck with just the one. The ships in your charge run on preselected orders, which they follow until you take the bridge. Submarines with a human at the helm can sneak in for a torpedo shot or surface for a pop with the deck cannon. Drone submarines can only anchor, patrol and shadow the convoy. Some commands, though, may be disobeyed by the occasional computer captain if a ship makes itself a target. Surface shipping has a similar limited list of 'group commands', the brevity of which actually helps make the larger convoys manageable. The only orders that seem to be disobeyed is sinking without permission!
Over a series of preset missions commander can explore the possibilities of underwater warfare, with the chance to play both the hunter and the hunted. After these have been beaten it's time to delve into the construction set and build some serious scenarios. Using the parameters explored in the pre-set modules you can build stupid one-sided battles what would test the mettle of the best. It even allows for duels between two captains, with one hunting the other on the open seas.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Clear and easily-accessed controls are vital if a sim is to succeed. In Wolfpack all the commands are clicked onto the various dials and gauges. Once you're used to their positioning, orders can be sent far faster than it's possible for the ships to respond. The window on the world, which represents a periscope view, is small but clear for linging up shots. Stirring music introduces Wolfpack, the kind of tune that accompanies all those xenophobic war movies, setting the scene perfectly for some 'Jerry' or 'Tommy' bashing.
The limited number of preset missions shouldn't be used as a measure of Wolfpack's depth. Most of the gameplay parameters are touched upon in these ready-built missions, but are far from fully explored. As trainers, the 'ready to run' modules are complex enough to teach the basics of naval war, yet playable enough to be fun. Even when the tactics become obvious, there's always the tricky task of implementing them.
Submarine sims will always be curious beasts as they lack the gut-wrenching sensations associated with flying or driving. The hunting is tough enough to stop players destroying the cream of the Allied navies first time out, but with practice it is distinctly possible. Luckily Wolfpack is free from the technophile tendencies that sinks so many simulators, where gameplay is sacrificed to absolute accuracy. Wolfpack, quite correctly, uses the multiple ship strategy elements to supplement its gameplay quotient and is not an in-depth investigation of WW II diesel engines. The sub simulator itself is strong enough to justify the game and the strategy is an excellent second strong to its bow.