Log 01. Usually I spend longer than three minutes with a game before starting a review, but Silent Hunter 4's awesome intro movie demands immediate wordage.
Some shining soul at Ubisoft has decided to prologue this World War II Pacific-theatre sub sim with a 17th century poem about mortality. John Milton's powerful 'On Time', beautifully spoken over an arresting collage of game clips, has just left me tearful and quivering with anticipation. Best start to a simulation ever! Now, let's see if the game can live up to such an opening.
Log 02. Two hours have passed since that last paragraph was written. I've romped through the 'submarine school' and a couple of quick missions, and my brain's message log now contains the following nine thoughts:
1. Oooooh! Lovely interiors. Very atmospheric.
2. The helmsman's waxy pallor and malevolent glare is starting to give me the willies.
3. Great, all the old SH3 controls still work.
4. Now that's what I call a battleship!
5. And it's got little sailors on the deck!
6. Dang, now how does this new-fangled US stadimeter work?
7. Flotsam, jetsam and lifeboats. Very nice.
8. Great, it looks like crew management is a lot simpler.
9. I wonder what sex with a dolphin would be like?
Expanding on numbers 3 & 6, the sub school is pretty shoddy really (text-based, unimaginative, no explanation of manual targeting or crew management) but it does teach enough to get newcomers up and silent-running. As in Silent Hunter 3, if you stick with automated torp targeting, activate aids like unlimited fuel and oxygen, and cheat occasionally by doing recon with the freecam, there's nothing whatsoever to be scared of. Well, nothing except for the depth charges, the mines, the six-inch shells, the razor-sharp keels, and the ragged rocks.
Log 03. OK, my first SH4 campaign patrol is over. For the last few weeks (in-game weeks) I've been stalking Japanese steamers in a balmy corner of the East China Sea. The surface of that sea is now approximately 0.00000000000015mm higher thanks to the 40,000 tons of iron I have sent to its bottom. Highlights of the trip? Using the deck gun to junk a junk off the coast of Okinawa would be one. Watching a torpedo clip the bow of a listing troop ship near Iwo Jima would be another.
Lowlights? Running into a juicy Jap taskforce on the way home to Pearl and realising I had nothing to throw at it except insults and sweaty underwear. Wish me luck for my second tour of duty.
Log 04. Well, patrol #2 went well (apart from that duel with the destroyer that prompted the reload of In_for_a_penny.sav). I got a good haul of vessels and feel my thoughts about the game are beginning to crystalise. As Ubisoft promised, out on ops you don't feel quite as isolated as you did in SH3. Communications from COMSUBPAC (US HQ) provide lots of useful info about convoy activity (the Japanese merchant fleet is surprisingly organised early on) and messages from Fox supply interesting news about the wider war. Sadly all these messages are accessed via a clipboard interface so fiddly I'd have hurled it overboard if it wasn't chained to the screen.
Although there are still no chess or battleships mini-games (inexcusable), there is now a recreational wireless and a gramophone to help while away long voyages. Rather than reach for the x8000 time acceleration you can loll on your bunk, listening to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and ogling Betty Grable's shapely posterior.
That's the theory anyway. Actually there's very little period audio in the box (there are no mp3s for the gramophone at all and few of the 20-odd Radio Washington reports are longer than a minute). You'll have to wait for the community to rustle up some sounds before you can fill your sub with swing.