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             Review: Silent Service II from Guildhall Leisure
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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I'm certainly not what you'd call a "war movie buff."  But for some reason,
I enjoy a good submarine movie.  Sure, I know that in real life they're
cramped, smoky, and stinky, but for some reason it seems to be difficult to
do a bad submarine movie.

So I was somewhat enthusiastic when I opened the long-awaited box of
goodies from Guildhall Leisure, to mark the first bundle of their
Microprose re-releases I'd been sent, and found Silent Service II, a game
of submarine warfare in the Pacific during World War II.

Silent Service II dates back to 1990, and is itself a rework and updating
of the original, from the 8-bit era, back when Sid Meier really DID write
all of Microprose's software.

SSII puts you at the helm of an American submarine.  Your goal is to sink
as many Japanese vessels as you can and get home alive.  It doesn't exactly
sound easy and it's made worse by the fact that submarines are not the most
maneuverable ships in the ocean.  You have stealth on your side, but once
your cover is blown the Japanese navy has pretty good odds of blowing you
out of the water.

The game takes place in one of three modes.  In the most basic, you command
a submarine for a single battle, either taken from a historical pool or
generated at random.  The battle ends when either you or the Japanese
convoy you're attacking have been destroyed, or one side has successfully
fled the combat zone.

A bigger commitment is a single patrol, where you take a submarine from a
US port into an assigned zone of Japanese-controlled waters, searching and
waiting for contacts to pursue.  And even more demanding is a "war career",
where you begin the war at the date of your choosing (starting with the
bombing of Pearl Harbor) and end either when Japan surrenders or you are
lost at sea.

As you might expect, making all this visually appealing is a bit of a
challenge.  After all, when you're submerged you only have a periscope, and
when you're on the surface, well, submarines don't like to spend lots of
combat time on the surface.  So in the game, you rely quite a bit on a
chart which represents your position and the position and movement of other
vessels as lines on a grid.  The game tries to be authentic, but not TOO
authentic--the chart is updated in real time, not by a pencil or
marker-wielding crewman.

Microprose always aimed for authenticity in their simulations, and the game
adheres to the history of the war, making only certain boats or torpedo
model choices available when they are appropriate to the real course of
events.  You can only have radar, for example, when the US Navy started
installing it in submarines--and the Japanese only have it when they
started installing it reliably.

When you're not looking at the charts, you'll probably want to look out
your periscope.  Why?  To lock on to targets and shoot torpedoes at them,
of course!  The enemy vessel graphics are actually digitized shots of a war
historian's painstakingly recreated models of the ships Japan used during
the war.  But seeing as how this is an ECS game, the digitized shots are
greyscale, and all too often turn out to be all-alike looking grey blobs,
which is what usually happened when game designers used digitized shots on
16-color screens.

I found the action in the game to be sufficiently edifying if I was in the
right state of mind.  Mood lighting might be appropriate here--if you've
got some blue or red cellophane lying around, try putting it in front of a
lone light bulb.  (I haven't tried that yet, but it sounds like a good
idea.)

The game play is interrupted by tedious cut-scenes of torpedo launches or
depth charge explosions, which you can and should shut off.

There's a lot of strategy and patience required to really play this game
well.  If you just waltz up to a convoy of 8 Japanese vessels and shoot off
a few torpedoes, you'll find fast patrol boats overhead blowing you up in
no time.  Thankfully, there are accelerate-time options to make plotting an
ambush a little more bearable.

SS II is not the instant gratification of a SubWar, it strives to be much
closer to the real thing.  I found it pretty good fun.  I was also
substantially impressed that the game worked without problems on my
060-equipped 4000T, although I couldn't get the hard drive installer to
work to save my life.  SS II only requires that you make copies of the main
2 disks before playing, and once you're in the heat of battle there's no
loading (except cutscenes which as I said you should shut off.)  A full
printed manual and a flimsy keyboard cutout are provided, but after a few
hours of playing you should have the hang of the controls well enough to
set it aside.

For UKP15 (about $24) I could probably recommend one or two better games
for casual playing, but SS II is pretty good fun.  A bit limited after a
while since in the long run it's the same sequence of events over and over,
but there are enough really big fish in the sea to provide a challenge, if
you decide you're man enough to take on an aircraft carrier.

Guildhall Leisure (Acid Software)
Unit 15
Guildhall Industrial Estate
Kirk Sandall
Doncaster, DN3 1QR

+44 01302 890000 voice
guildhall@glsukok.demon.co.uk e-mail