Whilst it may annoy some of you that Ubisoft seem to be making ‘Online’ versions of all of their major franchises (especially strategy-related ones), for Silent Hunter Online at least it’s probably the smartest thing they could have done with that franchise. After the fourth title-that-shall-not-be-named, and an okay-but-not-as-good-as-three fifth instalment, there wasn’t really much Ubisoft could do with the series — but it’s a series oddly suited to the more casual and ‘paced’ nature of free-to-play games.
That’s not to say Silent Hunter Online is a casual game, not by any stretch of the imagination — it’s got all of the core elements the original games had, it’s just been stripped down and simplified for a fairly low-frills package. As usual, the setting is during World War II, and as usual (bar that random one time) you play as the Germans as you control your U-boats to try and wrestle control of the high-seas from the Allies.
The main draw of SHO is the co-operative elements though – as a solo player, you can command a ‘wolfpack’ of several submarines to help you complete missions, but if you join up with other players, the wolfpack becomes that much more dynamic and exciting as you work together in real-time to help track down targets and sink them. When it comes to managing individual subs, you don’t have to have been a closet Navy Officer either — a lot of the tasks can be automated, such as torpedo trajectories, or even simple things like depth and movement. Most of these (bar one) can be done by yourself as well though, if you want to get stuck into the realism of it all.
The rest of the game is made up of the management elements — where you maintain the subs in your solo wolfpack, and the campaign itself. Your subs are a relatively simple affair – you need to make sure you’re fully supplied with ammo and fuel, that all the compartments are repaired, that you have officers for all the various stations, and so on. As you go long, you can also buy special ‘mods’ for certain areas of the sub to improve the capabilities in that area, and all of this will be tied into the in-game economy (which includes micro transactions).
Using a simple 2D interface, SHO presents a fully dynamic campaign that will represent the ebb and flow of warfare during this time period. There will be specific objectives for you to destroy, which will require you to go a certain area and hunt, and as you start racking up kills the Axis will gain dominance over an area, and then you can move on to another area. You have to be careful though, as the Allies will gradually reclaim dominance over zones if players aren’t running missions in them, and if you’re on a later mission but one of the earlier ones gets ‘recaptured’, it makes things in the later mission that much harder for you.
Silent Hunter Online is expected to arrive Jan/Feb next year, we’re told, although you can sign up for the beta right now.