Dive, dive, dive. No, I'm not moaning about my new flat but I have just seen the latest strategy simulation from Microprose and I am at a loss for words. It's really very, very good.
It's difficult to know where to begin. Running a US WW2 submarine through hostile seas is no easy job and the array of interior and exterior displays, maps and controls in this simulation is very daunting.
For a start you've got to decide upon the reality level. Do you want limited visibility, do you want the worry that some of your torpedoes could be duds, or do you want to increase the strength and agility of the Japanese convoys you're supposed to scupper? It's up to you, but when you're a rookie commander you should concentrate on guiding your sub above the clear water and taking target practice rather than diving and getting lost.
There are three major control screens: the bridge on top, the conning tower which is the control centre, and the maps and status reports. If you decide to forget about reality levels it'll be a lovely sunny day on the bridge. Scanning around the horizon you'll find a group of islands, the sea, and the enemy convoy.
It's target practice time so select the conning tower control room. There are six operations stations in the tower.
If you're looking for action the most important station is the periscope. When you get one of the convoy ships in the middle of your sight a two-line measuring image appears, framing the ship and making targeting easy. The target will of course be moving. It'll probably be zig zagging if you have that reality level set and you'll have to take that into account when you loose off a torpedo.
When you do press the Fire button for the best effect go on to the bridge make sure you're on the surface, though. You'll see the torp ploughing through the water, near the surface, and if you're lucky there's a red flash and the quarry will start to sink. If you hit it on the bows or stern the other ships in the convoy may rally to protect it and come after you with depth charges.
If you're counter attacked you dive. Blow all tanks, go as deep as you can and stop engines. Run silent, run deep as I'm sure Robert Mitchum said in one of his films. In this situation the map station becomes the most important part of the Conning Tower. Push the joystick to the right and the little commander standing in front of the periscope will move to the map station. Press Fire and an overview of the coastline with radar scanning of ships in the area and your position will be flashed on to the screen. You can also zoom in on particular features of the map using a box cursor. That's useful if you want to find places to hide around the coastline or if you're in deep water and can't use the periscope to see where you are.
Silent Service is the most powerful, convincing, simulation game I've seen for some time.
At first sight it seems hopelessly complex but, once you read the two poster-sized instruction inserts, which include an enemy ship spotting chart you'll see that convoy bashing at its simplest level is easy. Then you can begin to progress and use more of the simulations facilities to become a terror of the Japanese shipping lanes.
You'll also be able to take on one of the five special missions outlined in the instructions. The situations include circling around a convoy to make an attack, patrolling enemy waters at night on the surface attacking while submerged and escaping from a burning flotilla in shallow waters. All the situations are crushingly difficult and require mastery of this excellent simulation as well as a great deal of patience.
I was completely captivated.
This submarine warfare game is the best and most complex simulations to be released for months.