The second of Ubisoft’s trio of new free-to-play browser titles coming in the first half of 2013, much like ANNO Online before it Silent Hunter Online is based on an already established franchise. The core difference between the two is of their subject matter; while Silent Hunter Online is undeniably a more niche product it’s no less accessible.
Based on the remarkably popular Silent Hunter V, Silent Hunter Online is billed as a ‘submarine simulation strategy’ videogame. Just as is the case with ANNO Online – and The Settlers Online before it – Silent Hunter Online aims adapt the well established formula of it’s franchise forbearers into an immediately accessible template. It’s often said that free-to-play videogames are as immediately disposable as they are easily adoptable, and as such Silent Hunter Online has to convince newcomers that it’ll be worth their investment just as much as it has to show genre fans that it’s as deep and strategic as they demand.
This dual facet begins with your officers. Fulfilling a range of duties, officers are employed to perform calculations for you (time to destination, accuracy of torpedoes etc.) but also offer advice on each of your potential actions. Of course, once you’ve developed some confidence in your commander capabilities, you can simply ignore their advice if you so wish. This leaves players with room to initiate their own strategies whilst ensuring that their endeavours won’t be met with resounding failure each-and-every time. Silent Hunter Online looks set to feature a pretty steep learning curve, but it’s one that with each step a new piece of the puzzle clicks in to place.
As players grasp the basics of movement and attacking enemy ships Silent Hunter Online steadily ramps-up the challenge, as would be expected. But in doing so invites gamers to experiment with what they’ve learnt as a loss isn’t always as devastating as it may appear. This is thanks to the remarkable campaign mode that Silent Hunter Online is set to feature. Though Electronic Theatre was far from able to experience it to it’s fullest in the preview build of the videogame, the online campaign acts as a co-operative multiplayer gameplay mode. Here gamers can work together to advance through pre-set stages of the campaign, taking control of specific points on the map as guided to do so, with all participation building towards completion of the next stage. However, it isn’t always full steam ahead: the enemy can and will regroup, threatening to regain control of previously owned territories. This results in a tug-of-war demand placed upon not just a single player, but all on a server. Do you move in for the kill and weaken your defences, or reinforce your territories and potentially fail to break new ground?
Reinforcing this need to negotiate each player’s available resources are the Wolf Pack missions. These allows players to call in others to assist with their current objective, be it simply adding to the numbers or executing specific tactics. Each player begins Silent Hunter Online with two vessels, with the fleet expandable to six, and so there are many times at which you simply will not be able to face the overwhelming odds alone: Silent Hunter Online is not an arcade-inspired title, and kills do not come swiftly or easily. A single mistimed attack can often spell disaster, and so ensuring that back-up is there when need is equally as good a plan as restocking ammunition and improving the armoury available to your fleet after every successful mission.
This necessity to ensure that all of your possible weaknesses have been addressed as effectively as possible is rooted deep in the core of Silent Hunter Online. The player has this level of choice throughout the experience, with a huge amount of information available at all times. During Electronic Theatre’s time with the videogame less importance was placed on the high-quality 3D visuals available in the central periscope and more concerned with the surrounding dials and read-outs: Silent Hunter Online is a deep and methodical simulation, just as the series fans hope it to be. In essence the fact that Silent Hunter Online is a move towards massively multiplayer gaming (MMO) for the Silent Hunter franchise is possibly more important than the fact that it is a free-to-play browser videogame, and that in itself is telling of just where the development team at Blue Byte feel the future of in-browser technology is heading.